Why we shouldn’t give up on multilateralism

Sunday, April 24 marked the fourth annual celebration of the United Nations (U.N.) International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace, which has been observed by the organisation since its inception in 2019. 

The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines “multilateralism” as: 

“The process of organising relations between groups of three or more states… an indivisibility of interests among participants, a commitment to diffuse reciprocity, and a system of dispute settlement intended to enforce a particular mode of behaviour.” 

The Day’s primary purposes are:  

  1. to reaffirm the Charter of the U.N., 
  1. to acknowledge the advancement of U.N. pillars of sustainable development, peace, and security, 
  1. to recognise the U.N. as the most representative international organisation and utmost expression of multilateralism,  
  1. to recognise the urgent need to promote and strengthen multilateralism, and  
  1. to recognise further the role of international, regional, and subregional organisations that promote and preserve multilateralism and facilitate diplomacy. 

(Full details of the U.N.’s official resolution to declare April 24 as International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace can be found here.) 

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Since Russia’s unprovoked invasion on February 24, 2022, news headlines across the globe have been dominated by the war in Ukraine. It is almost impossible to pick up a newspaper, switch to a television channel or tune into a radio station without being reminded of the terrible conflict which has already claimed the lives of up to 20,000 Russian soldiers and about 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers, and led to 2,104 confirmed civilian deaths with a further 2,862 injured (although unofficial estimates are much higher, with the mayor of Mariupol claiming that approximately 21,000 civilians have been killed in Mariupol alone). 

The grim inevitability of the invasion of Ukraine despite the best efforts of world leaders and government diplomats to seek a peaceful solution to rising tensions has led some to conclude, rather pessimistically, that international diplomacy is limited in its effectiveness when governmental leaders of world superpowers are hell-bent on waging war. 

Notwithstanding, we have witnessed the effectiveness of multilateralism in the form of sanctions imposed against Russia, as well as the en masse exodus from and cessation of trade in Russia by over 750 companies since the outbreak of the war. As sanctions, company walkouts and freezing of oligarchs’ assets by the European Union and the United Kingdom continue, Russia risks its international status sliding further into “pariah state”. This has added to mounting internal and external pressures on Vladimir Putin and his inner circle to cease his illegal war in Ukraine, which has only been possible through multilateral coordination. 

If you would like to read more of our coverage of the war in Ukraine or to find out what you can do to help, visit the “Wales for Peace in Ukraine” section of our website. 

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Despite scepticism regarding the effectiveness of diplomacy in preventing the war in Ukraine, there have been success stories elsewhere. 

Most notably, in Yemen, the U.N. has succeeded in brokering a two-month truce – the first of its kind during a conflict which has caused an estimated 377,000 deaths since it began in 2014. The importance of this ceasefire cannot be stressed enough. The civil war in Yemen has been described by the World Food Programme as “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis”, with over 20 million people suffering from hunger and malnutrition; a situation which has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his statement in Amman on April 1, the U.N. Special Envoy to Yemen Hans Grundberg commented that the agreement “would not have been possible without international and regional support” and confirmed that the U.N.’s work with all parties involved in the conflict will intensify in order to ensure that a permanent ceasefire be reached. 

At present, the U.N. is overseeing twelve peacekeeping operations in the Balkans, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia in challenging situations and under immense pressure.  

Not only are these operations important in terms of peacekeeping within the affected countries, but they help entire regions remain more stable than they would be if the countries were plunged into full-scale wars, encouraging further regional economic and political development. 

It is clear that without the multilateral co-operation and diplomacy that April 24 aims to celebrate, the U.N.’s peacekeeping missions across the world would not have enjoyed the many successes that we have witnessed in recent years.

At the Welsh Centre for International Affairs, we have a longstanding history of multilateralism and diplomacy. Our base at the Temple of Peace’s “Peace Wing” in Cathays, Cardiff, was once the home of the Welsh League of Nations Union and the United Nations Association (Wales) and we look to continue carry this legacy forward with our work. We continue to work closely with the Cardiff & District and Menai Branches of the United Nations Association, and are collaborating with them on key matters including global climate action. 

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