Think Tank
Pandemic and New Opportunities for Multilateralism
List of speakers

On Thursday, June 11, the Valdai Club, as part of the Think Tank project, held an online discussion in partnership with the Argentinean Council on Foreign Relations (CARI), titled: “The Crisis of Multilateralism: How COVID-19 is Changing Our Perceptions of the International System”.

The discussion brought together an impressive group of participants –political scientists, diplomats and journalists from Russia and Latin America, including leaders of the Argentine Council for International Relations, a partner of the Valdai Discussion Club. The focus was on the problems of multilaterism that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic and the prospects for a more just international system that takes into account the interests of all players.

The pandemic has become a serious test for all countries, throughout the world. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the UN General Assembly during its 73rd Session, said that there has not been such a deep crisis since World War II. The pandemic reminded us of our fragility and interdependence, she emphasised, but at the same time revealed a deficit of solidarity in the world and individual regions: most states chose to act according to the principle of “everyone for himself”, and Latin America was no exception. Meanwhile, the consequences of the crisis for the economy of its countries will be enormous: by the end of 2020, a 5% decrease in GDP, an increase in the number of poor people by 30 million, and 40 million additional unemployed (since the previous year) are expected. The question of whether regional integration groups are able to take coordinated measures to overcome the crisis, as the European Union ultimately did, remains open.

At the same time, it was noted that the crisis, aggravated during the pandemic, originated long before it. Thus, the current tightening of the confrontation between the United States and China is rooted in the presidency of Barack Obama, when Washington formulated the current US policy towards Beijing, said Francisco de Santibañes, Secretary General of CARI. Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Foreign Affairs, opined that the current crisis will not change the international agenda at all. In his opinion, “time bombs of a much deeper occurrence are laid”. “Such a storm as the coronavirus pandemic, in fact, does not change or affect the motivation of many states in the international arena,” he emphasised. According to Kosachev, the central problem of the international system is Washington’s bid for global leadership, which does not suggest alternatives to a “US-led world order”.

Nevertheless, the participants in the discussion stated that the multilateral international system is not only fair, but also beneficial for its participants: for both great powers, such as Russia or China, and middle ones, such as Argentina. Apart from the UN, which, according to Garcés, remains the centre of the multilateral system despite its challenges and shortcomings, new formats of multilateralism are emerging. Interaction is ongoing within the framework of the G20, which Valdai Club Chairman Andrey Bystritskiy called “the only structure capable of thinking for the whole world”. A dialogue is developing between regional integration associations, such as MERCOSUR and the EAEU. According to Lila Roldán Vázquez, Head of the Committee for the Study of Russia and Eurasia, CARI, this is in line with the ideal of a multipolar, interdependent world. This point of view was supported by Yaroslav Lissovolik, programme director of the Valdai Discussion Club, who said that a huge resource of regional cooperation is not sufficiently involved in global governance models and we are at the very beginning of the development of intercontinental alliances, one of which is the BRICS+ format. This format is of great interest to Argentine partners, as evidenced by the proposal of CARI President Adalberto Rodríguez Giavarini, to study its capabilities together with the Valdai Club within the framework of T20.

Summing up the discussion, which lasted two hours, Andrey Bystritskiy noted that the impact of the pandemic on the world order should not be overestimated. The “crumbling world” began to show signs of malaise long before it (this, in particular, is the subject of the most recent report of the Valdai Club). Anarchy reigns in the world, in which there is no full-fledged leadership, and the freedom of each is limited by the freedom of others. The world becomes more complex, no one has a clear image of the future, as, for example, in the era of ideological confrontation of the 20th century. In a world that “lives on its own”, everyone can only learn to live his own way, based on their own understanding of the world.