Does multilateralism have a life-cycle? Perhaps paradoxically, this essay suggests that current pressures on multilateralism and multilateral institutions, including threatened withdrawals by the United Kingdom from the European Union, the United States from the Paris climate change agreement, South Africa, Burundi, and Gambia from the International Criminal Court, and others, may be natural symptoms of those institutions’ relative success. Successful multilateralism and multilateral institutions, this essay argues, has four intertwined effects, which together, make continued multilateralism more difficult: (1) the wider dispersion of wealth or power among members, (2) the decreasing value for members of issue linkages, (3) changing assessment of multilateral institutions’ value in the face of increased effectiveness, and (4) members’ increased focus on relative or positional gains over absolute ones. Exploring how each of these manifests in the world today, this essay suggests that current stresses on multilateralism may best be understood as the natural growing pains of an increasingly mature set of institutions. The open question going forward is what form the next stage of development will take. Will strategies of multilateralism continue or will they be replaced by smaller clubs and more local approaches?
Harlan G. Cohen,
, 112 Am. J. Int'l L. 47
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.uga.edu/fac_artchop/1285