Return to Multilateralism (1992–)

James P. Muldoon

in International Relations

ISBN: 9780199743292
Published online July 2012 | | DOI:
Return to Multilateralism (1992–)


Since the end of the Cold War, scholars and practitioners of international relations (IR) have exhibited a growing interest in the concept of multilateralism as a way to describe, analyze, and/or explain world politics. Traditionally, multilateralism is defined as the practice of policy coordination among three or more states through formal and informal international governmental institutions such as the United Nations, the European Union, and nonproliferation regimes or ad hoc arrangements such as the G-77 and the “coalition of the willing” during the 1990–1991 Gulf War. It had become a norm of diplomatic practice and a fundamental feature of international organizations, reflecting the structure and processes of intergovernmental and interstate relations and a core characteristic of the post–World War II international order. But with the breakup of the Soviet Union, the onslaught of globalization, and the rise of nonstate actors in the 1990s, IR scholars recognized that the conventional understanding of multilateralism had to be revised to reflect a dramatically changed political, economic, and social landscape of a globalizing international system. Initially, the discussion focused on how to make the existing multilateral system, especially the United Nations system, work within the rapidly changing international environment of the early post–Cold War period. This evolved into a broader debate about the nature and direction of globalization and the implications of global change for the international system and world order in the 21st century. It became abundantly clear that globalization and the revolution in telecommunications technology were making the world a much smaller place and changing patterns of interaction among states, business, and civil society on the international level. Moreover, it was no longer practical to minimize or ignore the role played by nonstate actors in contemporary world politics, nor did it make sense to think of multilateralism only in terms of states and interstate relations or of intergovernmental organizations and regimes. This led to the notion of global governance that enlarges the scope of multilateralism to include a range of nongovernmental and societal forces transforming the international system. The objective of this article is to familiarize readers and researchers with the evolution of multilateralism, both in theory and in practice, since the end of the Cold War, using various works from the 1990s to 2011. The article examines multilateralism from a variety of perspectives found in the literature of diplomacy studies, international organizations, and global governance.

Article.  7902 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

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