For the vast majority of the world’s population, there is a need for the provision of critical global public goods, such as public health, climate action, and sustainable development, beyond the classic “hard power” themes more related to issues of military scope. This is so since multilateralism is the only framework that can guarantee common solutions for all countries and peoples to challenges that, like the pandemic, are quite different in nature from those of the past, writes Ambassador Ricardo E. Lagorio. The publication of this article continues online collaboration between Valdai Club as part of its Think Tank project and Argentine Council on International Relations (CARI).
Let me begin with an excursus.
The world is going through a reckoning. To quote Dean Acheson, we are once again “present at the creation”. There is a gap between our perceptions and reality. For example, we are moving back toward dysfunctional concepts such as the Cold War as we postpone the real challenge of seeking to design, define, and implement multilateral cooperation.
First of all, I want to point out that in dealing with the subject matter of security and stability in the 21st century, I will stress more the concept of security than that of stability, because the former is much more related and dependent upon the behaviour of actors, while the latter is more of a systemic nature, thus is conditioned by the attitudes and actions of the actors.
I use the term “actors” in a generic way, since I believe that the matter of security in the 21st century must be addressed not only through a state-oriented approach, but also including the enormous variety of non-state actors.
Secondly, it is a fierce coincidence that in the year of the 75th anniversary of the creation of the United Nations, we are going through the first true global crisis, a crisis that is affecting We The Peoples, the opening words of the preamble to the UN Charter.
Our global system largely responds to 1945, when there was an international system comprised of 51 states, where sovereignty was much stronger, where conflicts were international rather than intra-national, and where problems were related to hard power, not soft power. But this scenario has been evolving and changing due to many factors, such as the diffusion of power; the acceleration and visibility of events because of the impact of science, technology and innovation; the expansion of a global agenda that affects all countries; and the new demands of emergent actors. This generates tensions in the existing governance system, which is not always able to respond effectively and efficiently.
We are confronting a once-in-a-generation crisis, of a different nature to all that we have lived through before.
Now I will raise three points, which I believe are relevant to the discussion.
First, as UN Secretary of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres has stated, the pandemic has been likened to an X-ray, revealing fractures in the fragile skeleton of the societies we have built.
Secondly, the pandemic has revealed itself as a symbol of the unity of the planet. An ecological unity that goes far beyond national borders and sovereignty.
And thirdly, the simultaneity of the phenomenon all over the world has made it very clear that we live in an absolutely interdependent environment. There is no margin for choice.
We must address these three dimensions at the same time; it is a wake-up call, illustrating the butterfly effect: a tiny disruption that can cause immense consequences.
Therefore, in this context, what is security in our turbulent time?
If I had had to answer this question some 30 years ago, when I was Undersecretary of Defence of Argentina, I would have answered it more in terms of hard power; however, nowadays I am much more inclined to address it both from a much more soft power approach, as well as a less state-centred vision.
This is so since multilateralism, as a means of pursuing global action, is the only framework that can guarantee common solutions for all countries and peoples to challenges that, like the pandemic, are quite different in nature from those of the past.
That is why we need a renewed commitment towards a more inclusive multilateralism, within which civil society, academia, non-governmental organisations, and the media should be part and parcel of its renewed constituency.
An active and real multilateralism should privilege as a starting point cooperation and collaboration as the main path towards addressing the real challenges of the 21st century. There are no unilateral solutions.
Then we should deal with issues that affect the real life of individuals, in order to overcome the dissatisfaction, frustration and fears of people.
Likewise, we should emphasize diplomacy over militarisation, since the latter dilutes diplomacy.
And for this to be truly effective over time, we must develop a culture of multilateralism, which is not only embraced by states from the top, but also by We The People from the bottom.
Furthermore, I want to stress that there is a deficit of diplomacy, and a greater recourse to the militarisation of political responses, which, in the short term, generates some results, but is not sustainable over time. Look no further than the euphemism used today to define sanctions: the weaponisation of economic interdependence.
I believe that the alternative to the aforementioned virtuous stage — a renewed and more inclusive multilateralism- could be a step back towards an à la carte bilateralism for the 21st century — what is called the new cold war — maybe more effective in short-term deliverance, but dysfunctional in helping to generate and guarantee global security in the long term.
Creating and developing a culture of multilateralism is both a need and a necessity; unless we have this “logistical” underpinning, it will be very difficult to overcome the current scenario, where state actors are more prone to lean towards national and indigenous responses, which does not always favour international cooperation or collaboration.
In this endeavour, think tanks can and should play a central role. Perhaps, the Argentine Council on Foreign Relations (CARI) and Valdai Discussion Club, both leading institutions in Argentina and Russia, could jointly take on this challenge and open a necessary path to building a peaceful and sustainable order for the 21st century.
Let me conclude with some words from Albert Camus’ Vers le Dialogue: “Ce qu’il faut défendre, c’est le dialogue et la communication universelle des hommes entre eux.” This roughly translates: “What must be defended is the dialogue and the universal communication of men among themselves.”