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The Necessity of Multilateralism

Global stability and security depends upon multilateral relationships among countries and multinational entities. Multilateralism broadly encompasses agreements, treaties, trade agreements, security and intelligence sharing, and more among more than three countries or as members of multinational entities, such as the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, the G7, NATO, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The focus is on cooperation that is based on adherence to norms and the Rule of Law. In many respects multilateralism is the exercise of soft power by its members as it opens the door for leverage should other issues falling outside the defined relationship develop. Multilateralism waxes and wanes among countries or entities..

“What is new today is that the United States in particular, but also the UK, Russia, and others, often contrary to their own interests, are trying to go it alone more often—whether by pulling out of international agreements, leaving international organizations, or annexing territory in violation of international law. It is too early to say, however, that multilateralism is on the wane: that depends on how the rest of world responds to these moves,” said Ian Bond, Director of Foreign Policy at the Centre for European Reform.

There are a few excellent examples multilateralism, including the OSCE’s Asian Partners for Co-operation and NATO. I had the privilege of speaking with Ambassador Clemens Koja (@KojaClemens), the Permanent Representative of Austria to the OSCE, which is based in Vienna, Austria and to Eirini Lemos (@ILEMOU), from NATO’s Political Affairs and Security Policy Division in Vienna, which maintains a relationship with the OSCE’s Asian Partners for Co-operation.

Excellency, you recently spoke at the Austrian Embassy in The Hague about the OSCE Asian Partners for Co-Operation, along with the Ambassadors from four or the five participating Asian countries – Afghanistan, Thailand, South Korea and Australia. Why is the Asian Partners for Co-Operation an important outreach endeavour for the OSCE?

Ambassador Koja: In an increasingly interconnected world it is clear that security does not end or begin at Europe’s borders: issues such as cyber security, migration, human trafficking or non-proliferation to name but a few are transregional or global in their nature.

For that reason the partnership between the OSCE and a number of Asian countries helps both sides to advance on security matters. On the partner side the OSCE is often seen as an important contributor to peace and stability and sometimes also as a model for deepening regional cooperation. Partners also take great interest in resolving conflicts in the OSCE area, in particular in the crisis in and around Ukraine, and contribute substantially to the OSCE’s activities there.

What do see as the greatest challenge facing the Asian Partners for Co-Operation?

Ambassador Koja: However, it is undeniable that Partners are by their nature diverse: Afghanistan shares a long border with the OSCE and for this reason takes a natural interest in the numerous OSCE projects in Central Asia. Other more remote partners place their focus more on the common security issues and lessons learned from the OSCE as the world’s largest regional security organisation.

Does the Asian Partners for Co-Operation discuss the issue of free trade and, conversely, trade wars?

Ambassador Koja: The OSCE increasingly discusses issues such as trade and environment, however does not duplicate EU or WTO activities. It therefore concentrates on the concept of economic connectivity as a means of enhancing trust and co-operation between partners and increasing political stability by increasing living standards.

Are there issues that fall outside of the ambit of the Asian Partners for Co-Operation?

Ambassador Koja: Obviously, the discussions with partners cover only issues within the OSCE’s ambit, i.e. the very wide and comprehensive security approach the OSCE stands for with its three dimensions.

Do you consider multilateral alliances and partnerships essential to creating a more peaceful and just world?

Ambassador Koja: In our perspective, it has become clear that the complexity of today’s challenges in several fields calls for multilateral approaches – at least for those aspiring to sustainable answers and solutions. More multilateralism also means more credibility and a stronger acceptance by the people.

The OSCE, as largest regional organization under Chapter VIII of the United Nations Charter, has always relied on the concept of comprehensive, indivisible security based on a cooperative method. In that vein, Austria has always advocated the promotion of effective multilateralism in order to ensure political stability, overall security, socio-economic progress as well as ecological sustainability.

The OSCE is comprised of 57 member nations. Has there been any objection by any OSCE member nations to the OSCE Asian Partners for Co-Operation or any other OSCE operation?

Ambassador Koja: With its 57 participating States, ranging from Vancouver to Vladivostok, the OSCE provides a vital platform for dialogue and and the sharing of norms, commitments and expertise. Yet, an outreach to our immediate neighbours is valuable, indeed indispensable, as our security is inseparably linked to theirs’s. This concerns both our partners in the Mediterranean and in Asia.

Nor is this approach questioned by the OSCE States. On the contrary, we are happy when third countries express their interest in the organization and seek an exchange. But it is clear that according to the basic principle of our organization – the consensus – all participating States must agree to a formalization of such a co-operation. As far as I am informed, China never applied for an official partner’s statute. However they were involved in the discussions on enhancing connectivity in the Eurasian area initiated by Germany’s OSCE Chairmanship 2016.

The OSCE’s Asian Partners for Co-Operation is supported by NATO. Ms. Lemos shed some light on the critical support NATO renders.

NATO established an office in Vienna for liaising with the OSCE Asian Partners for Co-operation. Why has NATO made this a priority?

Ms. Lemos: NATO has opened the liaison to the OSCE and other Vienna based organisations, following a Warsaw decision to enhance the practical and political co-operation with the OSCE. This reflects the long standing relationship, which dates back many years. As such the office doesn’t have any geographical focus, and is not specifically mandated to liaise with the OSCE Asian Partners for Co-operation.

The OSCE is an important organization for NATO (reflected very well at the Warsaw Summit declaration), not least for its role as a custodian of the rules based order and important European security agreement and CSBMs.

NATO is an excellent example of a working multilateral institution. Does NATO consider multilateral alliances and partnerships essential to creating a more peaceful and just world?

Ms. Lemos: NATO attributed great importance to multilateralism and relations with external partners and international organizations. This was very much enshrined also in our comprehensive approach policy, already in 2008, where we endeavored to include NATO’s efforts as part of an international strategies for sustainable piece efforts. Our experience in Afghanistan and in the Balkans demonstrated the need that security and development go hand in glove. Multilateralism complements bilateral relations, and allows a more comprehensive perspective of addressing challenges.

As you know, in the same spirit in 2010 we opened an office to UN.

So NATO’s outreach to its associated partners, be it in the MD or Asia will be through regular OSCE events and activities, whenever we are involved.

How is NATO working with the OSCE and its Asian Partners for Co-operation on the five established areas: new security threats and a new security paradigm; search for conflict prevention in the new security circumstances; confidence- and security-building measures in Northeast Asia; comprehensive security in Central Asia, the human dimension of security, and human trafficking? Is the relationship “generic” or of a general consultative nature?

Ms. Lemos: NATO has developed its own partnership agreements with a number of countries in the Asia-Pacific region, namely Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia and New Zealand. These are not related to NATO’s cooperation with the OSCE. You can find more on these partnerships on the NATO website.

Failed Multilaterism

It is not just multilateral relations between countries that are suffering, it is also the institutions created through multilateral treaties, especially those tied to the Rome Statue, that are failing their essential purpose, such as the United Nations Security Council, and the International Criminal Court, which has lost members in the last two years. Even the stability of the European Union has been threatened by nationalism, including Brexit, which can be roughly translated into a fear of the influx of refugees.

The Trump Administration

Sadly multilateralism is on the decline, in part, due to the Trump administration’s isolationist and bilateral policies, Brexit, and to China’s expansionist and bilateral foreign policies. The United States is losing allies as fast as China is gaining partners.

It started immediately after Donald Trump’s inauguration when he abandoned the Transpacific Trade Partnership, and has continued with the Trump administration backing out of the Paris Climate Agreement, the Iran nuclear deal, the threats to abandon NAFTA, combined with threats to impose stiff tariffs on imported steel and aluminum on the European Union, China and Canada, and the obscene failure of President Trump to work with the United States key allies at the G7 Summit or, as some are calling it, the G6 + 1.

Currently, the United States currently has 20 bilateral trade relationships, which came under harsh criticism by Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who stated that because the United States is “…bigger than any other partner that comes along…many partners will [not] be keen to deal with you bilaterally.”

Meanwhile China has been scooping up countries left standing out in the cold by the White House creating innumerable partnerships with America’s former allies. At the 2018 World Economic Forum President Xi Jinping commented that, “The global market system is the ocean we all swim in and cannot escape from. Any attempt to…channel the waters in the ocean back into isolated lakes and creeks is simply not possible.”

An excellent case in point in Japan as explained in a December article that appeared in The Diplomat: “[In November 2017] Japan finalized a free-trade agreement (FTA) with the European Union (EU) that will encompass some 600 million people and roughly 30 percent of gross world product: it creates what the Financial Times calls ‘the world’s largest open economic zone.’ When Washington withdrew from negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) at the beginning of last year, the 11 remaining countries that had been participating in deliberations pressed forward, with Tokyo taking the lead. They agreed on the core elements of a revised deal this past November — the so-called Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) — and are hoping to ratify it early this year. Japan is simultaneously contending with China to shape the contours of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, an FTA that covers approximately half of the world’s population and a third of its output and, notably, excludes the United States. Most recently, Tokyo has agreed to help finance Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.”

The United Nations Security Council

The UNSC is comprised of five permanent member nations, and ten rotating member nations elected by the five permanent members to staggered two-year terms. At the time of its creation, the world’s five greatest superpowers were afforded the privilege of serving as permanent UNSC members: the United States, the United Kingdom, France, the Russia and China (P5). There is no provision in the U.N. Charter requiring that designation as a UNSC permanent member ever be reviewed or revisited.

The P5 have de facto control over the UNSC by virtue of their exclusive veto power over exercised when any permanent member casts a “negative” vote on not only “substantive” draft resolutions but as to what constitutes a substantive issue. The most recent abuse of the veto power was by the United States in resolution as to its highly inflammatory decision to move the Israeli Embassy to Jerusalem, which it singularly recognized as the capital of Israel. China did not even participate in the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s case concerning its violating the Exclusive Economic Zone in the South China Sea as it knew it could veto any UNSC action to enforce the adverse decision. For the same reason Russia fears no UNSC action as to the illegal annexation of Crimea. There will never be a resolution as to Syria as Russia and likely China would cast their veto.

The P5 has been criticized for failing to deliver justice, provide security, and adhere to Rule of Law, including its responsibility to protect (R2P) by former statespersons, such as Kofi Annan, the seventh U.N. Secretary-General and Nobel Laureate, former United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and former Canadian Foreign Minister Dr. Lloyd Axworthy, calling into question whether the U.N. Charter needs to be amended. Very few statespersons still in office are willing to criticize the P5 fearing retribution with two exceptions being New Zealand’s Prime Minister Helen Clark and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have boldly joined the chorus.

A portion of this article first appeared in the SHR Monitor.