Pradeep Mehta of CUTS International called for adopting polylateralism for resurrecting multilateralism

September 18, 2020, New Delhi

“In order to resurrect multilateralism, we need to understand the values that polylateralism can bring for global peace, security, stability and prosperity. That means that taking forward the concepts of multilateralism should not just be the prerogative of sovereign governments but it is equally important to make it a multi-stakeholder approach including involving the civil society organisations,” said Pradeep Mehta, Secretary General of CUTS International, a global public policy think- and action-tank on trade, regulations and governance.

“There is a remarkable similarity between the world that we are witnessing today and that about a century ago – during the inter-war years, which resulted in the demise of the League of Nations. While at that time a rising power refused to join the international comity of nations, this time another rising (and expansionist) power is doing everything that goes against ‘trust’. It in this context we need to understand the implications and aftermath of a number of disruptions including trade and technology wars that the world has witnessed recently,” he added.

He was delivering opening remarks at a webinar titled “Imperative of Resurrecting Multilateralism” organised by CUTS International. More than 50 participants participated in a lively discussion which deliberated upon the importance of multilateralism in under-writing peace, security, stability and prosperity for all.

Initiating the discussion, Kishore Mahbubani, Distinguished Fellow, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, said that “There is no more important mission in the world today than resurrecting multilateralism. This is because of the fact that the world is completely inter-wined. But the Covid-19 pandemic has killed the common boat, which all of us were riding.”

“We have to dispassionately analysis what’s right and what’s wrong with the current state of multilateralism. We have to understand the thesis behind it, the emerging anti-thesis, which has eroded the virtues of multilateralism and then to arrive at a synthesis.”

“While the weakening of the multilateral system primarily lies on the United States and the European countries, it is also true that it is now in the interest of the west to once again strengthen the multilateralism. That is primarily because of changes in the power structure from the west to the east.”

According to Lydia Kulik, Head of India Studies at the Moscow School of Management, “Russia strongly believes in the concept of multilateralism. The current situation as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic shows us that there is no alternative to address the current scale of problems faced by the world without adhering to the principles and norms of the multilateral system.”

“Ensuring the stability in the Eurasian region is another priority for Russia. This can be done through the betterment of trilateral relations between Russia, India and China.” In this context, she recalled the resolution of border disputes between Russia and China and also talked about the partnership that Russia and India are developing for the development of Russia’s Far East region.

She added that the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa initiative is another priority for Russia. She underlined the importance of the New Development Bank for enhancing infrastructure connectivity in these countries and with their neighbours.

Speaking on the occasion, Asoke Mukerji, former Ambassador of India to the United Nations, said: “Multilateralism is not only a preferred structure of international cooperation, for countries like India it is non-negotiable as it is about ensuring equity. A time has come to revitalise multilateralism through the application of a multi-stakeholder approach. We need to think about how we bring in stakeholders other than the governments.”

He added that “We need to keep in mind how we enforce multilaterally-agreed rule of law in an equitable and transparent manner by taking into account the interests of all countries. That remains a challenge. The imperative of understanding the ‘unity of mankind’ holds the key for underlining the values of multilateralism.”

According to Henry Huiyao Wang, Founder and President of the Center for China and Globalization: “We are facing many common threats such as health pandemic, climate change and they can only be addressed through discussions and cooperation among countries.”

“The question is what we can do for not just reviving the multilateralism but with a clear understanding of what it can do for the next 75 years. We need to see a long-term horizon.”  He also called upon reforms in the multilateral trading system, which is governed by the World Trade Organisation and for that to happen he called upon think-tanks from around the world to work together in a more collegial manner.

Echoing the thoughts of other panellists, Vijay Latha Reddy, former Deputy National Security Advisor of India: “While it is important to ensure equity in various areas by adopting a multilateral approach, in practice it often becomes a club of like-minded countries.”

Talking about the importance of cyber-security, she argued for an international system for governing the Internet. Otherwise, we may see another global pandemic like the Covid-19 in the cyber space as well.

Supporting the idea behind practicing the concept of polylateralism, she said that there are many groups such as the Paris Peace Forum and they need to be used effectively for generating interests among multiple stakeholder groups on the importance of multilateralism. “This is an imperative for better delivery of global public good in a fair and equitable manner,” she added.

The panel discussion was followed by an interactive session between the panellists and the participants. They underlined the importance of regional cooperation as building blocks for multilateral cooperation. According to them, regional economic communities are not just about discussing regional issues but, as like the Association for Southeast Asian Nations, they should also deliberate upon issues on which global cooperation are needed.

They also underlined the need to understand the differences between short-term losers and long-term winners. For example, there is no other than organisation than the World Trade Organisation which has helped most of its members to lift millions of poor out of poverty.

Concluding the programme with a vote of thanks, Bipul Chatterjee, Executive Director of CUTS International, said: “What is needed is ‘trust-building’ among the nations for the delivery of global public good. That is possible if a better sense about the virtues of being a ‘good international citizen’ prevails. Different countries have different values and they are intrinsic to their sovereignty. Some of them may be thinking that there is too much of multilateralisation of sovereignty. We need a much more balanced approach for understanding and exercising the values of ‘agree to disagree’.”

This was the second of a series of webinars that CUTS International has organised on the future of multilateralism. The first programme was held on 3rd September, 2020. A consolidated report from these webinars will be presented before the international community during the forthcoming United Nations General Assembly, which is an annual event and will begin at the UN headquarters in New York next week.


For more information please contact:

Bipul Chatterjee, +919829285921,

Vijay Singh, +919910264084,

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