Multilateralism reached a new stage when the Western countries agreed that collective military action is legitimate if the international community is confronted with genocides (the example being the massacre in Srebrenica) or collective political action is much needed under global threats like climate change. The collective NATO action (bombardments) in January 1999 targeted against the Miloseviç regime institutions was among the very few that eventually succeeded. Miloseviç was defeated by a popular vote in favour of the democratic leader Kostuniça, without any internal violence.
But the world economic order associated to the multilateralist approach was not really a system. It was neither stable, nor always rational and it was not intentionally a fair design. There was a set of arrangements, as the “right track” syntagma used by the Western leaders talking to the new democratic leaders of the Central and Eastern Europe. Marilynne Robinson recently characterized those arrangements as “highly profitable for some (countries and) people but gravely damaging the world”.
Fortunately, for the former European Communist countries the perspective of joining the European Union, strongly supported by the American administrations of those years, ensured the development of democracy and the integration of their economies into the European single market.
Multilateralism could be positively understood in light of the JCPA agreement with Iran or the Paris Agreement on climate change. In the meantime the non-collective international intervention in Syria is a failure of epic proportions and horrendous consequences,
Today, the American administration and an increasing number of other governments prone to a nationalist attitude are ignoring multilateralism if not treating it with contempt. De facto, they are breaking up the post-World War II and post-Cold War arrangements. The political domestic reasons prevail and even worse: those reasons are well-served by the leaders posturing as true national leaders when the international bodies like the UN, WTO, WHO are attacked. It doesn’t matter that in many cases those attacks are not well-founded, if not simply irrational. They are hostile to the past, impatient of the present and cheated of the future. True, in years we’ve accumulated many griefs and we are frustrated by the inability of the UN Security Council, for example, to stop terrible situations occurring in many places in the world. But let’s imagine our world without the UN. The world would be a place with no recourse for the vast majority of militarily weak countries and an excellent aggressive play field for the powerful.
Paraphrasing Konrad Adenauer, global problems can only be solved under a multilateralist roof. I replaced “German” for “Global” and “European” for “Multilateralist”.
Cooperation is vital for the world’s collective ability to deal with climate change, mass-migration, disease and famine, genocide and massive movements of refugees. In fact, cooperation is the only solution. In the meantime, a faithless cooperation is doomed to failure. There should be faith in common purpose, there should be faith in a future for all. The Covid-19 pandemic is an agent for the renewal of faith, a “wake-up call to the global community”.  We love to pronounce and repeat these phrases but we cannot ignore that to many leaders around the world, they are maybe nice, but useless words. Nevertheless, if we have faith we have to keep up tenaciously with our endeavour to build a more effective multilateralism. There is already a tremendous commitment of the people in the whole world to find an appropriate cultural expression of the global problems which in turn could support the political one. I found an interesting example in a recent survey realized by Oxford University. To the question: “Has migration had a positive or negative impact on Britain?” in 2015 the answer was 43% negative and 34% positive. Today, after the Brexit, the answer is shockingly 48% positive and only 27% negative and an overwhelming majority want the number of migrants coming to Britain to work in care homes. This reverse of the cultural expression was certainly influenced by the fact that 93% of the doctors who have died of Coronavirus in the United Kingdom have been ethnic minorities, mostly from overseas. The “executioners” of the immigration in UK became victims (of the COVID-19) saved by immigrants who died saving them. That fact sets an example: if we cannot tame global turbulences we can at least humanise them. “Man is capable of great deeds. But if he isn’t capable of a great emotion, he leaves me cold”, said Albert Camus. That makes me wonder: is globalism shaping up multilateralism or multilateralism will tame the excesses of globalism? Globalism as a new form of monopolist capitalism generally prevailed while multilateralism is in dire mood. But the underlying anarchy of global governance indicates that both multilateralism and globalism are in reverse.
Economic self-reliance is “a l`ordre du jour” in America, China, India, Japan and also inside the European Union”. “Strategic autonomy” is the new concept. The open system of trade that dominated the world economy is obviously in trouble. And the most vulnerable, the poorer countries will suffer in this more expensive and less free world trade. The result could be a fractured world.
The glue that holds financial order together is made of capitalism’s ability to guarantee global prosperity. And that glue continues to be the American economy strongly intertwined with the Chinese economy. But the surge of the animosity between the two countries, the emergence of a new, ideologically rooted, Cold War, could reach a dangerous critical threshold, a threshold behaviour, beyond which something radically different and negative might occur. Under the American no-guidance, cooperation (and knowledgeable politics) has stretched itself to the point where neither the world nor our intelligence can find a real foothold. Moreover, preventing extremely negative or plainly horrendous situations in the world (from genocides to climate change) are not as popular as they should be, not clearly aligned with national interests, in many countries and first of all in the United States.
And it’s true that the voters who count are still as national ever.
Right now we are still more distant from the passion for the common destiny of humanity and closer to indifference. The explanation could lie in the Samuel Moyn analysis of liberalism “falling prey to an economic libertarianism in practice that produces more conformity and hierarchy than choice and individuality”.
Globalism, as a new form of capitalism, is not only a social reality; it is a reality of our civilization due to its facility for adaptation and reconversion. Fernand Braudel, who demonstrated that capitalism is a creation of the world’s inequality, also acknowledged that: “The advantage and superiority of capitalism resides in the possibility of choice. A corporation disappears? Well, a new one will emerge! It is about the death of capitalism, the one of the grandfather and of the father, not the one of the son and of the grandson”.
Differentiating multilateralism from globalism these days means, as a perfect example, that multilateralism would promote a vaccine against the COVID-19 available for all people and free, while globalism will be much more about profits.
The cost of doing big business is often associated with hostility to collective action. The hyper-ambitious multinationals have a long record of abusing the authorities which have a mandatory job of protecting the working force and the consumers. It’s a pattern of behaviour not just an intent to get more profit. The common good, although not clearly defined in many cases, is easily sensed. To delete the difference between truth and false ultimately beggars belief. Otherwise all will be true and right because it is stated so. Humanity exists and didn’t fell apart because common good is what it is.
The dignity of human beings and the beauty of the natural world are unrelativisable, using the Camus’ word.
John F. Kennedy is still guiding us: “If we cannot end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity...and direct attention to our common interests”.
Multilateralism and globalism are challenges that will continue to shape our future. We have to try thoroughly to understand them.
 Marilynne Robinson, “What have we done with America?”, NYRB, June 11, 2020
 Gordon Brown, Letter to G20 leaders, 22nd of May, 2020
 “Goodbye globalization”, The Economist, May 16th – 22nd 2020, page 8
 Samuel Moyn, “The Trouble with Comparisons”, NYRB, May 21st 2020
 Fernand Braudel, “Une leçon d'histoire”, Arthaud-Flammarion, 1986, page 142