Testing Times For Multilateralism

Multilateralism has been central to the global order for 75 years. It has served the world well, promoting peace, improving economic welfare, and providing a platform for working through crises. However, we are now living in an era where questions are being raised about multilateralism and the international institutions that facilitate it. Consider:

  • The World Trade Organization (WTO) has been at the breaking point for some time, as its appellate body no longer has enough members to adjudicate trade grievances.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) faced criticism for its slow initial response to the pandemic and is facing the threat of funding withdrawal from its biggest contributor.
  • The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which provides financial assistance to struggling nations, are no stranger to distrust and controversies. The Managing Director of the IMF has been under fire recently, and the organization’s insistence on austerity in exchange for debt relief has been seen as overly harsh.

There has been a pronounced shift towards unilateralism over the past 15 years. The world’s two biggest economies, the United States and China, are at the center of this development. The U.S. remains a reluctant member of multilateral institutions. The Biden administration has reversed some of the policies of its predecessor, rejoining the WHO and endorsing the new head for the WTO. However, it has preserved unilateral tariffs on Chinese imports and refused to consider new nominees for appointment to the WTO’s appellate body.