Explore the origins of multilateral diplomacy and its evolution within a dynamic and rapidly changing environment.
This course introduces participants to the diplomatic interaction among more than two actors, with particular emphasis on the multilateral diplomacy represented by the United Nations system. Participants examine an overview of all protagonists and their roles, as well as the complex framework, intricate rules and methods of multilateral diplomacy. These challenging topics are complemented by insights into the processes leading to the adoption of documents by states within international organisations, as well the current transformations affecting the multilateral system. Using illustrative case studies, the course blends an academic perspective with the experience of current practitioners of multilateral diplomacy.
By the end of the course, participants should be able to:
- Provide an overview of multilateral diplomacy from its origins through to current changes introduced by globalisation and new information and communication technologies.
- Describe the roles of traditional and new stakeholders with interest and influence in multilateral organisations.
- Discuss the various forums and forms of multilateral diplomacy, from the formal to the informal, identifying the rules, methods, processes and actors involved in each.
- Describe the institutional framework within which multilateral diplomacy operates.
- Provide examples, and analyse how multilateral diplomacy is responding to factors such as political changes, globalisation and the growing influence of the business sector and civil society.
Excerpt from course materials
Why is consensus necessary?
A widespread belief suggests that decisions taken by consensus have greater political force than those that one or more delegations have refused to support. Many governments and delegates dislike the overt confrontation and sense of victory and defeat that voting conveys.
Multilateral meetings are co-operative endeavours and one of their main tasks is to produce and project the assurance of a prevailing collaborative spirit. This spirit is visible if all participants consent to the decision adopted. A more practical interpretation, however, of why consensus is necessary is that on many issues most countries find it possible to accept language with which they are not entirely satisfied, but with which they are not in strong opposition. If called upon to vote on the same proposal or document, they might feel obliged to vote against or signify lack of enthusiasm or the presence of a reservation, by registering an abstention.
- Origin, evolution, and objectives of multilateral diplomacy: a brief historic preface covering key events that have marked the evolution of multilateral diplomacy. We examine existing intergovernmental organisations created by treaties concluded among member countries, dealing with the increasing number of issues that need international debate, action and regulation.
- Actors: sovereign states are still the main protagonists in multilateral diplomacy, but we are currently witnessing the increased involvement of non-state actors, including non-governmental organisations, representatives of civil society and the business community. Both traditional and new actors are discussed.
- Framework: we examine the increasingly diverse bodies within which governments and other actors cooperate, while their responsibilities and mandates cover ever more demanding areas and new challenges.
- Rules: despite the importance of the full observance of the constitutive acts of various international organisations, including their rules of procedure, multilateral diplomacy embraces constantly new forms of interaction, thus reflecting the need for flexibility and rapid adaptability to a dynamic environment.
- Methods: Nowadays only a part of the multilateral diplomatic effort takes place in formal and solemn settings. The interaction among various actors extends to a number of modalities, including informal contacts and spontaneous coalitions of the willing. We look at both formal and informal methods of multilateral diplomacy.
- Process: the preparation of diplomatic events is manifold, and depends on the level at which it is undertaken: national or international, formal or informal, on substance or on procedures.
- New Developments: We consider the crucial changes which globalisation has introduced into the multilateral context, including the emergence of new stakeholders with interests and resources to influence the behaviour and power of states.
- United Nations concepts for global governance: this final lecture proposes ways that the UN can change the world, its own vision and its instruments without changing the Charter. Innovative concepts constitute a reaction to the dynamics of world affairs and to the challenges of globalisation. The concepts are illustrated by several multi-faceted approaches to an increasingly interdependent world where classic concepts such as development and security no longer reflect reality.