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Multilateralism in trouble but could still emerge as potent force in world affairs 

Feb 20, 2018

ExpertSpeak at the FICCI-KAS Dialogue Series' first interaction on 'Multilateralism at Crossroads'


NEW DELHI, 20 February 2018. Experts on geo-strategic and economic affairs today discussed the future of multilateralism with opinions ranging from high hopes to deep despair, with speakers advancing cogent arguments in support of their claims.


The occasion was the FICCI-KAS Dialogue Series' first interaction on the topic, ?Multilateralism at Crossroads', organised here on Monday evening.


Dr. Sanjaya Baru, Secretary General, FICCI, led the discussions expressing 'realism' rather than pessimism or optimism and opined that it would be erroneous to think that China will dominate world affairs when we should be confident in the belief that Indian and Germany can make a difference. Indian business, he said, wanted international rules for business and expressed confidence that India and like-minded countries such as Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Brazil can have a big say and create a workable multilateral system.


Dr. Jasper Wieck, Deputy Chief of Mission, German Embassy, said that while multilateralism today might be under stress, as it has often been in the past, but eventually multilateral structures and institutions will prevail while adapting to a changing international environment. Multilateralism provides for inclusiveness, ownership and transparency and therefore offers enhanced legitimacy when coping with the challenges that we face.


Mr. Peter Rimmele, Resident Representative India, KAS, said, "Multilateralism is constantly at crossroads, under challenge; some would even say it is permanently in crisis. But this is no reason to neglect the idea of multilateralism completely and favor uni- or bilateral solutions. India and Germany as strategic partners successfully and closely coordinate in the G20, the UN, and other multilateral fora.


Ms. K Kavitha, Member of Parliament, said today's world was defined by global leaders who talked of building walls instead of bridges. The emergence of regional groupings was a direct result of the failure of multilateral institutions to respond to  issues of concern to different nations. Multilateral institutions, she added, needed to be updated with software to adapt to the new challenges emanating from the mushrooming of regional groupings.


Ambassador Kanwal Sibal, Former Foreign Secretary, Government of India, in his remarks, pointed out that the UN has not been able to perform because it was  seriously flawed structurally. The outlook for multilateralism, he said, was unpromising, citing examples such the UN's inability as yet to define terrorism and the international community?s failure to curb Islamic fundamentalism.


Dr. Ajay Chhibber, Chief Economic Advisor, FICCI, expressed scepticism about how multilateralism would shape the future as the rise of China was fraught with dangers in bring about a global consensus on a rule-based system. China, he said, hold the prospect of shaking the world though its own devices while at the same time professing to abide by the global system.


Mr. Yuri Afanasiev, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in India, pointed out that the future of multilateralism was extremely bright, adding that while consensus on reform of multilateral institutions was hard to arrive at, such a possibility could be foreseen in about 10 years from now. He said, ?International cooperation is key to achieving our developmental priorities as nations and as a planet. Nowhere is this interdependence clearer than in the Sustainable Development Goals. I am encouraged by India's dynamic leadership in this new landscape - its ownership of the climate action agenda, support to the Paris Agreement, commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, the pledge to contribute $100 million to the India-UN Development Partnership Fund, and strengthening engagement with UN agencies, UN Peacekeeping, and regional groups like ASEAN and BRICS. Countries like India will shape the contours of multilateralism in the 21st century."


Dr. C Raja Mohan, Director, Carnegie India, held a dim view in that multilateralism was in trouble, while underlining the need to have limited and modest expectations where the State is back in control in a situation that is messy and complex.


Mr. Siddharth Varadarajan, Founding Editor, The Wire, shared the pessimism expressed by earlier speakers and stated that today the world community was at a dangerous moment. The accentuation of big power rivalry and instability in various regimes around the globe called for new and pragmatic solutions to problems between nations and India would be well advised not to choose sides and get associated with one or the other power.


Mr. T.S. Viswanath, an expert on WTO affairs, noted, the problem lay in the lack of dynamism amongst countries to alter their ways in dealing with the WTO. There is a need to recognise that there are new leaders emerging such as China, who were trying to drive negotiations. Multilateralism, he added, was under stress because of the surge in bilaterals with the signatories mainly looking at market access.


Prof. Rajesh Rajagopalan, CIPOD, School of International Studies, JNU, said that multilateralism was in a lot more trouble now than earlier. The post-cold war period saw the emergence of multilateralism, which was primarily the creation of the US. The difference now was that the balance of power between US and China was far narrower now than between the US and the Soviet Union during the cold war period.


The First Dialogue in the FICCI-KAS series invited thought leaders and opinion shapers to discuss new paradigms in international cooperation, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, Cyber security in a digitally connected world, India?s priorities and the role of industry.






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