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Multilateral Institutions: Building New Alliances, Solving Global Problems

Date: 2007
The mountain of global problems, viz. the list of world tasks that can be solved only collectively by the international community, continues to grow. At the same time, the multilateral institutions find themselves in the midst of a difficult process of change, one marked by a high degree of mistrust and fragmentation in the international community as well as by a low level of willingness and ability to tackle global tasks in the multilateral framework. This trend has been due to certain unilateral reflexes that emerged when the Cold War drew to a close and above all to the experiences the world has made in the time since 9/11. This has left its mark in particular at the United Nations, which has responded to the crisis by embarking on a difficult course of internal reform. The economic and political rise of a number of “rising powers” - led by China and India - is providing for additional adjustment pressure. They have called into question the political arithmetic of “transatlantic multilateralism,” tying up in particular the work of the international financial and trade institutions - the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO. Further blockades are brought about by the “North’s” growing penchant for protectionism and sealing off its borders, a development rooted in irritation among the populations of the “rich world” over the undesired consequences of the ongoing surge of globalization. Germany is a respected and welcome actor in the world’s multilateral institutions, one that, with its constructive and mediatory approach, has accumulated a substantial measure of political capital and trust. The unmistakable features of German politics in the multilateral arena include an internationally anchored human rights policy, an active development cooperation, and a sound record as a contributor of funds. In participating in international peace missions, Germany has again stepped up its multilateral engagement. In raising a claim to a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, the German government is at the same time expressing its aspirations for a larger political voice in world affairs. Europeanization of UN politics and the EU’s clear-cut commitment to an effective multilateralism may be seen as further features of the international policies pursued by Germany. Taking a look at the future of the multilateral institutions, we find that two conceivable paths are open. The present-trend scenario holds promise of a gradual redynamization of global politics, with the “rising powers” finding integration within the multilateral system and the trend toward unilateralism abating. Established alliances are being revitalized and new ones created to supplement them. New responses are found to the most pressing global problems - in particular to the challenges posed by climate change. The crisis scenario, on the other hand, foresees a progressive erosion of the multilateral system, with multilateralism being supplanted by a patchwork of bilateral and regional approaches. Germany should respond proactively to the tumultuous changes and challenges currently facing the multilateral institutions. Germany has accumulated the trust and the know-how it needs for the purpose. One approach of key importance for improving the international community’s problem-solving capacity is to build new alliances, a process in which the German government should become actively engaged. The need to create new forums and to reform international institutions is another construction site at which Germany could lend a helping hand. Other aspirations, though - like Germany’s desire for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council - should be formulated in moderate terms and be regarded more as a reward for pursuing imaginative, forward-looking and partnership-oriented policies in the multilateral institutions.

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