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Global Cooperation

A New Vehicle for Progressive Multilateralism

By September 18, 2018 No Comments

Proposal of an Alliance of Multi-lateralists to Fill Void

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has emerged as a leading voice in favor of international institutions and principles of multi-lateralism.  In a world where nationalistic, populist and authoritarian governments are becoming increasingly common, Mr. Maas proposed some striking and somewhat radical counter-measures.  Most notable is a proposal he made when visiting Japan at the end of July 2018, that Japan and Germany should start an “alliance of multi-lateralists” with a focus on the protection and promotion of liberal multilateral values.  He noted that this alliance could assume an important role that seemingly is being vacated by an increasingly nationalistic and isolationist USA.

Mr. Maas proposed an alliance where countries could jointly defend existing rules and could continue to develop them where necessary.  It could show solidarity when international law gets trampled underfoot.  It could also help fill the vacuum that is emerging as some countries withdraw from engagement in some parts of the world.  It could be committed to climate protection as one of the greatest challenges facing humankind, and it could assume responsibility for holding international organizations together financially and politically.

International Order Not Supported by “America First”

Mr. Maas perceives the current U.S. administration as failing to undertake the roles required to hold together the post-war rules-based international order.  Because of its prioritization of its own short term national interests under the so-called “America First Policy” the USA has shifted from being a “source of order” into being a “destroyer of order.”

Other members of this proposed bloc would be Mexico, Argentina, Australia, Canada and South Africa.  Mr. Maas hopes that by working together these nations would be able to overcome their comparatively small individual roles on the world stage.  This bloc is not proposed as a means by which to control or overpower the USA but rather as a way to make it impossible for the USA to control or overpower any other nation.

Multi-lateralist Proposal Received Mixed Responses

This proposal has received mixed responses.  Mr. Maas was openly criticized by Chancellor Angela Merkel for a later opinion piece he wrote where he said that Europe should push more strongly for greater autonomy from the USA.  In her retort Chancellor Merkel emphasized the mutual benefit that comes from the Euro-American relationship but strongly rejected the notion that Germany would benefit from pushing for more autonomy from the USA.  Nevertheless, her spokesman went on to say that the Chancellor shares many of his views.  Thus her response to his article cannot be viewed as a complete rejection of his views but merely an effort to avoid aggravating the USA.

Mr. Maas’s call for a “rebalancing” of the trans-Atlantic relationship has gained some traction and has stimulated debate.  Discussion on European autonomy in matters such as trade, security, and foreign relations is increasing.  Mr. Maas’s proposals for a more equitable Euro-Atlantic relationship is not falling on deaf ears, but whether it will result in implementation of his proposed “alliance of the multi-lateralists” remains to be seen.

Alliance Could Provide Stable and Equitable Global Order

Mr. Maas’s suggested alliance certainly has a great deal of potential.  The issue with U.S. “leadership” in the international community is that it will always to a certain extent be undercut by concerns that the USA will exploit its position for its own national gain.  This perception delegitimizes American actions on the world stage, making it harder for it to organize and lead collective multilateral actions.  This concern has been magnified by the policies of the Trump administration.  The USA’s international standing has fallen significantly and confidence ratings of U.S. global leadership is plummeting.

A novel aspect of Mr. Maas’s proposal is that it seeks to replace the concept of a “hegemon” in the usual sense with a coalition of mutually aligned states. Such an arrangement would minimize the risks of an “enlightened hegemony” mutating into a “predatory hegemony” as many argue has recently happened with the USA.  No one country would possess the power to unilaterally alter the course of the bloc. Through a focus on issues of mutual concern and mutual benefit the “alliance” could provide a more stable and equitable core to the international community.  It would offer a new paradigm for the structure of the global order.

Looking Back and Ahead

Mr. Maas’s proposed alliance seems a bit similar to a view advanced by some idealists of the early to mid-20th century.  During a similar period of rising nationalism and growing international tensions in the 1920s and 1930s, theorists such as Clarence Streit proposed that the liberal democratic countries should collaborate to form the core of a stable world order.  Mr. Streit’s proposal that all democratic countries should unite into a single federal union proved to be too much for those countries.  Instead they chose to prioritize the preservation of their national sovereignty.  Streit’s proposal failed to get enough support before it was derailed by World War Two.

Given the backlash against Mr. Maas’s more recent statements, he and his followers should confine themselves to language focused on what is to be gained by the “multi-lateralists” such as Germany and Japan while avoiding any open confrontations with the USA.   Then the proposal could gain traction without arousing backlash.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the official policy of Citizens for Global Solutions.

Charles Marsh

Author Charles Marsh

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