Multilateralism's Life-Cycle

22 Pages Posted: 22 Jan 2018

See all articles by Harlan Grant Cohen

Harlan Grant Cohen

University of Georgia School of Law; University of Georgia - Dean Rusk International Law Center

Date Written: January 19, 2018

Abstract

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?

Keywords: multilateralism, multipolarity, international organizations, global governance, treaties, international law, linkages

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Cohen, Harlan Grant, Multilateralism's Life-Cycle (January 19, 2018). 112 American Journal of International Law (2018 Forthcoming).; University of Georgia School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2018-01; Dean Rusk International Center Research Paper No. 2018-01. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3105487

Harlan Grant Cohen (Contact Author)

University of Georgia School of Law ( email )

Hirsch Hall
Athens, GA 30602
United States
706-542-5166 (Phone)

University of Georgia - Dean Rusk International Law Center ( email )

100 Herty Drive
Athens, GA 30602-6018
United States

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