Tag Archives: Diplomacy

Kosovo Talks: Progress Now, Problems Tomorrow?

Clearly, Kosovo still touches raw nerves and remains central to former Yugoslav states’ extraordinarily complex relations.


Prishtina wake up


As an unprecedented agreement on the status of Kosovo seems within reach, to the relief of many observers, the details of the settlement seem likely to close some chapters (at least for now) and open a series of others. Belgrade’s continued and dogmatic refusal to recognise Kosovo’s independence has not stopped considerable concessions being made on the Serbs’ part. Indeed, the acceptance of Kosovar border authorities exemplifies a gradual move towards de facto recognition of the state. Perhaps tired by diplomatic stalemate, instability, and lost political and economic opportunities, the Serbian Prime Minister, Ivica Dačić, has made distinct headway in negotiating an agreement for a working relationship between Belgrade and Pristina.

One of the most notable features of a likely agreement is the proposal for Serb “municipalities” with considerable degrees of autonomy in northern parts of Kosovo, where Serbs constitute a concentrated majority. In exchange for this, Dačić has conceded political control over Kosovar Serbs to Pristina, and the dismantling of Belgrade-sponsored “parallel state institutions”. This marks an important trend in reaffirming Serbia’s effective withdrawal of formal power in any part of Kosovo, even if its influence in the north shall remain pronounced. Despite the usual, strong rhetoric continuing, Dačić’s delegation seems to be softly moving Serbia firmly away from a territorially based stance on Kosovo (even going so far as to suggest that it was a “lie” that Kosovo had ever belonged to Serbs).

Thus it is quite possible that this pattern of de facto recognition shall become the basis for a working relationship between Belgrade and Pristina for the foreseeable future. As long as the question of Kosovo retains such sensitive and provocative political capital, both electorally and internationally, it seems implausible that official recognition of Kosovo’s independence shall come from Belgrade (and, by extension, from Moscow) any time soon. Yet if an agreement on the status of Serbs and the recognition of state authorities can provide a positive working environment for Kosovo and the region, this de facto status could enjoy relative success.

However, questions must be asked regarding medium-term and long-term implications of such an agreement, as well as the immediate ramifications for the region more generally. Firstly, for how long would Kosovars be satisfied with the status of informal recognition? As much of an improvement as it could offer, Kosovo would still be without the benefits of formal recognition from the United Nations, with only 98 member states recognising full independence. The European Union cannot unanimously give Kosovo its support, either; Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus have withheld full recognition for a variety of political reasons. Although the history of NATO action and sustained United Nations oversight gives a valuable level of security, it may not be sufficient to satiate Kosovars indefinitely. Although it is problematic to portray the EU membership as an irresistible attraction, it has proven to have considerable political impetus in the Balkans (not least in keeping dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina alive in previous years). Kosovo would surely be disadvantaged further if the majority of its neighbours were to ascend to membership (a foreseeable eventuality in the next decade), while Kosovo’s accession was hampered by lack of formal recognition.

Furthermore, following the probability of adopting the Serb municipalities model, minority groups in other states almost instantly raised demands for similar solutions in their own cases. Perhaps most problematically for Belgrade, ethnic Albanians in parts of southern Serbia have called for autonomous municipalities mirroring those in northern Kosovo. Some have even mooted the possibility of outright territory and population exchanges as a solution, although this does not seem to have been seriously considered at talks. It also comes at a time of unease in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the President of Republika Srpska (the Bosnian Serb entity), Milorad Dodik, recently called for autonomous status for the municipalities where Serbs constitute a majority within the Bosnian Croat and Bosniak Federation. Although the corresponding authorities have rebuffed such claims, it would likely become increasingly difficult to mollify minority groups were such disparities in policy to be realised.

Clearly, Kosovo still touches raw nerves and remains central to former Yugoslav states’ extraordinarily complex relations. Thus, while any progress in mediating tensions and easing Kosovo’s political and economic worries should be welcomed (Kosovo still has amongst the lowest GDP-PPP in the region), any agreement that may be soon forthcoming is unlikely to settle the web of issues once and for all.

N.B. Since last update of the page relating to number of states recognising Kosovo, Dominica and Pakistan have added their recognition, bringing the total to 98.


Photo Credit: Agroni

The Rise Of China: Peaceful Or Menacing?

Due to unprecedented economic growth, the actions of China have become increasingly scrutinised in recent years. With an expanding military, economy and population, is this rise peaceful or menacing? And to who?



[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he question whether the rise of China is peaceful or menacing is quite the quandary, and hardly a simple task. If anything, it spurs more questions for clarification. What is considered ‘peaceful’ or ‘menacing’? According to whom would China be considered a threat? In order to narrow the discussion, this article will assess how China’s unprecedented industrial growth is a threat in relevance to the United States, the seemingly gradually waning superpower. It would also look into how China may not be a real actual threat, but rather a fabricated fear produced by the US’s tendency to overly place importance on its national security, and consequently projects and campaigns its insecurity in a global fashion.

The perceived threat of China’s novel superpower status will be described through a number of factors: economic, military, ideological and national stability. Economically, the magnitude to which China stands as a threat to the US relies on the nationalistic belief that any potential challenge to US’s global economic dominance would be considered ominous.  According to a poll by CNN, about 58 percent of Americans presently see China as an economic superpower, and believe it is a threat to the United States. And rightfully so. Within the past three decades, China surged from a poor and stagnant country to one of the world’s major economic power states.  Between 1979 and 2006, China increased its gross domestic product (GDP) continuously on an average annual rate of nearly ten percent, resulting its economy to grow 11-fold, its per capita GDP to grow 9-fold, and move its world ranking as a trader from 27th place to 3rd. Presently, China overtook Japan’s second place and will probably become ranked first within the next decade.

As miraculous and grand this growth may be, US policymakers are wary of its rapid development. Some are concerned that China will surpass the US in the next few years as the world’s largest trade economy, and even become the world’s overall largest economy in the coming decades. With this thought, China’s rise translates to American’s decline by the American people.  In addition, the growing US trade deficits with China are worrisome as they have increased considerably within two decades, from $10.4 billion in 1990 to an astounding $232 billion in 2006. Some Members of Congress state that this indicates that China is employing unfair trade practices in terms of undervaluing the currency, subsidizing to domestic producers and failing to protect US intellectual property rights, flooding the US markets with low-cost goods. It is feared that this would restrict US exports and, in turn, drastically affect the US economy by limiting jobs and decreasing wages. Analysts caution that the scenario would worsen when China decides to lean towards manufacturing and exporting of more high-value products, such as electronics and automobiles.

The United States Trade Representative (USTR) stated in the 2006 China World Trade Organization (WTO) compliance report that most of the problems in China’s implementation of its WTO obligations comes from its reluctant transition to a free market economy. Recently, the attempts by the Chinese state-owned firms to merge and acquire US businesses and collecting of US Treasury securities are becoming alarming for the US government. As a result, the advancing apprehension projected pessimistic congressional outlooks of China’s economic practices and influenced the creation of many defensive bills. Such bills suggest imposing sanctions against China until it amends its industrial and foreign policies, like the currency policy that would allow countervailing laws on Chinese goods. Overall, it is clear to state that US views China as a foreboding figure that would threaten the US’s economic security.

On the contrary, the International Monetary Fund Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, stated last month that China’s economy is actually slowing. China has set a lower goal of 7.5% of growth instead of the usual 8% in the previous years. Even though the actual growth will be higher than the set goal, it is predicted it would still be below last year’s great reach of 9.2%.  Last year, China’s gross domestic product fell below 3%, a far cry from the 10% reported in 2007. Household disposable income fell from 65% of GDP in 2000 to less than 60% in 2010. Although IMF’s recent declaration of China’s currency being undervalued emphasized the debate by the American policymakers about how China continuously undervalues its currency in order to enjoy a trade advantage, the IMF also refer to the trade data by the World Bank that the Chinese government have made considerable progress to rebalance its economy away from exports and investment and more towards domestic consumption.

Due to China’s decline in external economic balance that reflects a weaker global demand (it posted a $31.5 billion trade deficit this past February), domestic consumption is now considered the alternative route that would help sustain China’s development. As China expressed interest in the stability of the global economy, the Chinese central bank published a three-step strategy that described the nation’s goal to loosen the government’s strict capita controls. In turn, this would allow foreign investors to become much bigger players in the Chinese stock and bond markets and make the currency, the renminbi, take on a bigger international role.  Although such reform would take a while to initiate, this could mark as China’s economic rise to be of a peaceful outlook, rather than an envisioned menacing one the US creates.

Militarily, much speculation spurred when China increased their military spending up into the double-digit range within in recent years. It is not doubtful that China is rapidly modernizing its armed forces. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reported that the defense spending increased from $30 billion in 2000 to nearly $120 billion in 2010. The US’s defense budget still exceeds China’s budget by four and a half times more, but SIPRI noted that if China continues its trend of increasing its budget, China’s military budget would overtake the US’s in 2035.

The US government fears that the increased spending will change the capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The PLA is the largest army in the world, consisting of almost 2.3 million soldiers. Twenty years ago, China’s military primarily was consisted of numerous ground soldiers in arms. The traditional tactic was to combat an enemy in a face-to-face manner. But now, there is much suspicion in Washington that China is attempting to obtain jargon A2/AD, also known as “anti-access/area denial” capabilities. This tactic focuses on using targeted ground attack and anti-ship ballistic missiles, develop a fleet of more modernized submarines and cyber and anti-satellite arms to exterminate or disenable another state’s military bases from afar. In America’s eyes, this would pinpoint or jeopardize American aircraft-carrier groups and air force bases in the Western Pacific, such as in South Korea, Japan, and even Guam. It is then deemed that this would limit American military power in Asia considerably, as well as be more costly and riskier, hindering American allies’ faith in America’s capability to deter any hostility or fight against subtle forms of coercion. But such fear is exaggerated.

Overall, China is not a military threat to the United States. Unless Dr. Fu Manchu truly exists and is continuously plotting world domination with his army of hostile minions and chemical warfare, there is no real indication that China is a global threat by its military force alone.  There are three factors that limit China’s potential and interest in military domination. First, unlike its Russian neighbour during its Soviet Union days, China has expressed a genuine interest in the stability of the global economy. Many of its military leaders continuously state that the development of the nation that still resorts to median income and plagued with poverty is a more imperative matter than ambitions for military growth. If one takes out the defensive and emotional context placed by the US, the increase in military spending can simply reflect the growing Chinese economy, rather than solely to fulfil an interest in military world domination. China has always spent the same proportion of GDP on military and defense, using a little over 2% whereas the US spends approximately 4.7%.

The only real predicament of China’s intent to sustain a constant military budget will come when China’s economic growth begins to slow even further. In fact, Chinese officials are more concerned over internal threats rather than the external. For the first time, the internal security budget was higher than the military budget last year. With its huge senior population and impending health care complaints, focusing on the demand for better health care would probably become a higher priority than military spending. Like any other nation, China faces the “bread or guns” question, and it actually started to implement a new national health insurance system just last year. It is evident that China is finally unlocking its savings to more so uphold the plan to shift its economic outlook towards domestic consumption than concentrate fully on military expansion.

Second, the improvements to the PLA are not as threatening as it seems in the reports. Chinese military technology has deteriorated by the Western arms embargo imposed after the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. China may be improving its military department, but it still remains unorganized, inefficient and too dependent on technological imports from Russia, who also exports to India and Vietnam, China’s local rivals. In terms of ground forces, the PLA does not have up-to-date combat experience. The last instance it faced a true military confrontation was during the Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979. If anything, the US has the far advantage from the previous decade of wars by American forces that honed its military skill and performance. True, China holds 2.3 million personnel compared to US’s 1.4 million soldiers, but that is with the US holding less than a fourth of China’s population. China has approximately 8,000 miles of borders to patrol and oversee that also border Russia and India – not exactly the friendliest neighbours to have, especially considering their past history – compared to the American neighbours, Canada and Mexico.

Third, it is simply not surprising that a nation with such importance and influential history could possibly want a good standing in the world, thus create a worthy army to reflect this opinion. Its desire for a bigger army was very much guided and developed by past events.  The idea of China becoming an emerging power was unfathomed a decade ago. As any country without a strong world footing, numerous international factors fed into the fears of insecurity. Nationalistic resentment was naturally spurred when the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was deliberately bombed by US and NATO in 1999. In its own backyard, heavy American forces are planted throughout the region with strong alliances with its Asian rivals. It was in this apprehensive environment that China is interested in improving its military capabilities to uphold any sort of global strategic interests it may have.

The distinct differences in ideological and cultural factors of China compared to the West make it a threat. For neo-conservatives like President George Bush, the fact that China still retains remnants of a communist perspective makes other democratic states instantly view it as an adversary. China’s ideology includes Marxist-Leninist and Maoist components that are against democratic values. This includes: a belief that conflict and competition are inevitable, the opposition to imperialism, a motivation to spread communism through the Chinese model, and the potential revival of the concept of Maoist insurgency in the 21st century.

An example of an unfavourable outcome due to Chinese ideological influence would be the Nepali civil war. The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) managed to overthrow the monarchy of Nepal and establish the Federal Republic of Nepal. Some scholars consider this as a sign of a “revival” of Mao in correlation of China’s growing power. Currently throughout central India, many armed Maoist groups have considerably control over a broad range of territory, violently fighting against the Indian government’s endeavours to make the resource-rich forests area safe for mining and other commercial affairs. Even domestically within China, there have been reports of some citizens proudly rekindling the Maoist concept by parents sending their children to universities in the countryside to decrease foreign influence, texting to each other Mao Zedong quotes via mobile devices, and broadcasting the eerily familiar “Red” songs on the state-owned television and radio channels.

But those are events of conflict occurring outside of China in destitute regions and limited reports of innocent nostalgia of the past by elder citizens. Indeed, it is true that concepts of Maoism may exist in China’s foreign policy, but China’s overall perspective seems to have changed. Dr. Kang Ziaoguang, a professor at Renmin University in Beijing, argues that Confucianism is becoming China’s new state religion. As enthusiasm for communism is gradually waning, movements for the return of Confucianism – the ethical and philosophical system of humanism – is widely present throughout China, from political ideas to personal ethics. Study of Confucian ideas has increased in the Chinese education system, ranging from kindergarten to universities. What is more evident is the adaptation to Confucian ideas by the Communist Party. President Hu Jintao has always promoted his campaign with slogans that ring with Confucian undertones of balance, harmony, and order since 2002. The party may be more inclined to accept Confucianism that dictates to respect authority and not to challenge its rule. Also, unlike communism, Confucianism is a home grown religion.

Samuel Huntington gives a concise illustration of the perceived threat. He says the “unholy alliance between Islamic and Confucian civilizations” is the most feared “clash of civilizations” and is perceived as a great crucial threat to the West. For nations that follow this belief – such as the US – a short-term, predictable and immediate response to this would be a containment policy with the possibility of confrontation, if needed. With the many conflicts between the US and the Middle East and now anticipating China’s power in its weakened state, it is no surprise that US’s fear is thriving. A long term aim would be an attempt to spread a peaceful transformation within China.

China has shown many signs of moving its rise towards a peaceful route. The incredible economic growth and sudden political governance caused sincere concerns over China throughout the world. As intense global attention increased, Chinese leaders are well aware that they have to quickly attempt to calm these concerns and prepare an amicable environment within the international community for its ascendancy. To appease the concerns of its rise, the Chinese government has sponsored many PR events, which includes holding exhibitions abroad, promoting the Chinese language through numerous programs and making official public announcements about China’s reformations to its policies.

In December 2003, the current Chinese head, Wen Jiabao, made a speech with the thesis of “China’s peaceful rise” at Harvard University. During this speech, Premier Jiabao addressed a couple of points.  The first main point stated that the maintenance of China’s successful development depends on peaceful world relations. Secondly, China will utilize peaceful and fair methods for its development. Third, China will turn to more domestic consumption, relying more on its own resources and market. Fourth, China is willing to work hard in a long-term process, which could last for several generations, to sustain its newly gained economic prosperity. The last point was directed more towards the West where it stated that although China has risen to the near top within these past few decades, China does not have any interest in seeking a hegemonic status or stand as a threat to any nation in the world.

To provide evidence to these claims of “China’s peaceful rise,” the Chinese government has been active at the diplomatic level in many ways. The first step the government took was to form “strategic partnerships with the second-tier powers.” China has reportedly signed treaties with Russia, India, and even the EU, in order to strengthen their diplomatic relationships. The Chinese government has also made it a priority to seek cooperation with the international community and avoid any confrontation with the United States. Chinese officials were sent to Washington to directly pass on a clear message that China is a conservative power and holds no interest to disrupt the status quo (US being the sole worldly hegemonic power). Not forgetting its Asian counterparts, China dedicated itself to promote a “good neighbour policy” in the Asian Pacific region. The policy helped China become an important trader within the region by increasing friendly trade and also allowed the surrounding Asian states to appreciate trade surplus with China. But it is important to recognize that China already initiated friendly relationships with its neighbouring Asian countries through various mechanisms of regional cooperation in the past. During the 1997 financial crisis in the Asia, China received positive praise for refraining from devaluing its currency and contributing to stabilize the regional economy by using its foreign currency reserve.

In the past decade of the US-led “War on Terror,” China has always been careful (and successful) in handling internal nationalism and American unilateralism. But there are some indications that show this temporary peaceful relation could end. As the US shifts its policy to focus from the Middle East to now China, a slight conflict may soon surface in the Sino-American relationship. Noting America’s past to immediately react to challenges and exert a coercive policy; such defensive and aggressive attitude could disrupt China’s intent for a peaceful rise. This week, a study ordered by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission reported that the US has miscalculated China’s military growth and grossly underestimated its development of anti-ship missiles and stealth fighter jets. This could entice the American government to react, as the Obama administration – like the Bush administration – already adopted a policy of containment against China’s economic and politic influence, such as creating broad outlines of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement with eight Asian nations.

Indeed, the US tends to label any distasteful nation it clashed with in the past as a serious threat if it feels challenged in any sort of way. The hegemony has always shifted from demonization to romanticization of China, from containment to engagement, by still retaining a dualistic and militaristic Cold War thinking patterns. The relationship between these two countries has always led to confrontation, to competition and then back to conflict, without any real effort to cooperate with one another. The reason for this “sweet and sour” Sino-American relationship is described by Leon Sigal, who states such relations truly reveal the fundamental nature of America’s foreign policy. Sigal analyzed and interpreted US diplomacy and noted that US foreign policy discouraged cooperation with its strong deterrent stance and has always promoted a “crime and punishment approach,” continuously naming unfavourable nations as “threats.” As General Yao Yunzhu of the Academy of Military Science stated, “We are criticized if we do more and criticized if we do less. The West should decide what it wants. The international military order is US-led—NATO and Asian bilateral alliances—there is nothing like the WTO for China to get into.”

Despite China’s reassurances to the world that the new and improved China would like to create friendly diplomatic relationships based on mutual trust and support, the world is not entirely convinced. Its concern is not about China’s rising, but rather apprehension about what happens after China has risen. The Chinese had faced major criticisms in regards to its policies towards Myanmar and Darfur. As China gains an unfamiliar broad audience, the close attention brought many of its domestic problems to light, such as its problem with Tibet and human rights.

China’s military build-up and great additional defense spending strike as a contradiction to China’s international message of peace. Critics argue that China will eventually become increasingly opportunistic and shed its multilateral approach with global engagement. Thus, its publicized “goodwill” will probably only remain as long as its interests are not jeopardized. China’s confidence levels transformed from insecurity to assertiveness as it continuously participates in international politics power play as an equal and recognize it can actually create the rules of the politics game. Its international interests are legitimized by the international community, and only time would tell if it remains on a diplomatic route or will derail to a more egotistical behaviour.  If China ever wants the world to fully accept its plan for a peaceful rise, China still has to allow greater transparency so it can directly prove its intentions. Without it, no matter how diplomatically charming China may behave, it would be difficult to truly convince its audience otherwise.

There is also the fall of China to take into consideration. Contrary to the previous illustrations of China’s rise to power, some scholars are concerned that China would not be able to handle the sharp rise in power and would be a great global disaster waiting to happen if it suddenly collapses into a sudden Soviet-style death. If so, several crises would unfold. The population of China alone – making up nearly 20 percent of the world – would create an incredible refuge problem. Furthermore, the failure of the country and other concerns – such as internal conflicts, rise in crime, and nuclear proliferation – would be a bag of complexities the world is not equipped to manage simultaneously.
It is possible to view the “rise of China” in these recent years as a quintessentially political process.

After the Cultural Revolution irrevocably changed the country and produced three exigencies of ideological belief, faith in the Communist Party of China (CPC), and uncertainty for the future, the CPC looked to underscore their legitimacy as a nation. As the world became increasingly globalized and integrated as an international community, the CPC recognized that performance-based legitimacy was the last resort to perpetuate its rule, and focused on economic development as its highest priority. As a result, the success of its economic development ensued political assumptions, China being cautiously monitored by its neighbouring states and particularly, the United States. So far, China is deemed as a peaceful rise, and the US is criticized of being overly defensive. But the maintenance of this declared peaceful rise is yet to be determined as the situation settles after the storm.

Multilateral Diplomacy In A Post-9/11 World.

How valuable is multilateral diplomacy in a post-9/11 world?
{Department of War Studies, King’s College London}



[dropcap]M[/dropcap]ultilateral diplomacy is academically defined as diplomacy conducted via conferences attended by three or more states on the basis of generalised rules of conduct[1], while a UN envoy has defined it in simpler terms, depicting the diplomatic form as ‘a bunch of countries pushing their own barrows, but in the one room.’[2] The rise of multilateral diplomacy can be traced back to the nineteenth century when the Concert of Europe sat around the table together at the Congress of Vienna. Yet, this mode of diplomacy developed in its full form in the twentieth century with the creation of the League of Nations in the aftermath of the First World War and with the United Nations, the embodiment of multilateral diplomacy, born after the Second World War. Today, the United Nations has a worldwide membership and the global landscape is peppered with economic and regional institutions that are multilateral in nature, such as the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the G20.[3]However, the multilateral structure has been confronted with a multitude of challenges since the inception of the United Nations in 1945 and the relevance of both multilateral diplomacy and the UN has been vigorously debated, which begs the question: is multilateral diplomacy still relevant in a post 9/11 world?

This article will argue that, in an increasingly interdependent and globalised world, multilateral diplomacy is of value more so than ever before in its history. The UN, if reformed accordingly, will continue to be used as a viable multilateral channel to counter fresh global challenges which confront not just a few states but all states. In which case, multilateral diplomacy will indeed continue to hold importance and utility in a twenty-first century world. The first section will argue that, after a period of American unilateralism in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the arrival of Barack Obama at the Oval Office has rejuvenated multilateral diplomacy and substantially restored UN credibility. The second section will posit that the effects of globalisation have preserved multilateral diplomacy as an essential tool for the international community in adapting to the global issues of the twenty-first century. The third section will acknowledge that the UN is not perfect and that reform in the Security Council and its peacekeeping missions would restore the standing of the institution as the effective multilateral vehicle for the powers of the world and consequently increase the value of multilateral diplomacy. The final section will summarise and conclude the key points that have been argued in this article.

US Foreign Policy: From Unilateralism to Multilateralism

At the turn of the last century, 189 world leaders convened at the Millennium Summit and approved the Millennium Declaration which outlined eight specific goals that the United Nations was to achieve by 2015.[4] Yet, just a year later the 9/11 terrorist attacks tilted the world upon its head. The Security Council was rallied into action after the attacks and unanimously backed the United States against the threat which had caused so much devastation.[5] However, a wounded United States became increasingly relentless and unilateral in their ‘War on Terror’; when the Security Council refused to authorise a US attack upon an allegedly nuclear-armed Iraq, the United States, led by George. W. Bush, launched the assault anyway without UN approval.[6] This has been referred to as the ‘crisis of multilateralism’, as the United States undermined the very institution of which it is the biggest financial contributor and the most influential player.[7] If the founding member of the UN was refusing to follow the guidelines of the institution then why should other states follow the rules? This act set a worrying precedent for the rest of the world and, as Kofi Annan asserted, ‘undermined confidence in the possibility of collective responses to our common problems’.[8] Other instances of American unilateralism are Bush’s abstention from the Human Rights Council, his refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol and the US departure from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The United States was losing sight of the benefits that multilateral diplomacy has to offer.

However, the arrival of Barack Obama at the Oval Office has revived multilateral values within US foreign policy. The Obama administration has realised that it must now engage with the UN and this has marked a ‘transitional moment in the history of multilateralism’.[9] In his 2010 National Security Strategy, Obama acknowledged the fact that the US had been successful after the Second World War by pursuing their interests within multilateral forums such as the United Nations and not outside of them.[10] The global financial crisis of 2008 and the European Union’s sovereign debt crisis have demonstrated just how interdependent the economies of the western world are and these crises have created an age of austerity in which multilateralism is needed more than ever before.[11]  The US has overstretched its resources and is now currently winding down two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; they have realised that they simply do not have the means to conduct their foreign affairs exclusively anymore.

Clear indications of Washington’s improved multilateral engagement with the UN since Obama’s inauguration, and the changing attitude in US foreign policy, are the economic sanctions negotiated over Iran, Obama’s decision for the US to join the Human Rights Council and, more specifically, its participation in the recent Libya mission. In Libya, the US provided support for the mission, yet played a subdued role in the campaign, allowing its European counterparts to take the lead. In contrast to his predecessor, Obama is displaying pragmatism rather than sentimentalism in his search for partners, making alliances in order to adapt to the emerging multipolar world; this is typified by Obama’s recent visit to the Asia-Pacific and his tour of South America (Brazil, Chile and El Salvador) in 2010. For the time being, US unipolarity looks to be a thing of the past; its foreign policy is changing from Bush’s unilateralism at the start of the century to a more multilateral approach at the beginning of a new decade under Obama.[12] This is the correct precedent that the most powerful nation in the world should be setting for other states to follow. The fact that the US is now engaging with the UN to counter global problems has restored the credibility that the UN had lost after the Iraq debacle and, by setting this example, other nations will follow suit and the international community as a whole can only benefit. From this change in US foreign policy, it is clear that multilateral diplomacy is of more value today than it was a decade ago.

Multilateral Diplomacy in a Globalised World

Towards the end of George W. Bush’s second term in office, Ban Ki-moon asserted that the forthcoming period would be the ‘most intense period of multilateral diplomacy ever in the United Nations’ history’.[13] The Secretary-General’s claim is debatable but there are substantial reasons to believe that this statement is likely to prove accurate. As the world becomes smaller through advances in technology and communications, and the more interdependent the world becomes, the further multilateral diplomacy will develop as a vehicle for international cooperation on major global issues. Regional multilateralism is beginning to develop further with the creation, in the last decade, of organisations such as the African Union and the Eurasian Union, the continued enlargement and integration of the European Union after 9/11, and established organisations such as NATO and the Arab League remaining prevalent.[14] Growing regional organisations in the multilateral system such as the EU can be of useful assistance to the United Nations and both have already outlined their will to cooperate.[15] A fully integrated and stable Europe which specialises in soft power can only be an advantage to the multilateral system and the international community. Additionally, other regional organisations have cooperated together to produce flourishing results, such as the Arab League’s recent coordination with NATO allies on the successful Libya campaign.

It is this need to cooperate in an increasingly globalised arena that ensures that multilateral diplomacy still holds value in today’s world. 9/11 symbolised the era of globalisation and the borderless evils that it has bred. The attackers used the internet, mass travel and the attack itself was covered across the world by the mass media. International threats now permeate the unregulated global space and are no longer conscious of territorial borders; issues such as disease, famine, terrorism, transnational crime, cyber warfare, nuclear proliferation, migration, economic security and climate change all rank high on the international agenda.[16] These global issues are precisely why the United Nations requires assistance from regional organisations and are consulting with non-state actors from civil society more frequently. Since 9/11, international institutions have played an important role in multilateral counter-terrorism, energy security and nuclear non-proliferation, whilst non-state actors have assisted with the reconstruction efforts of areas struck by disaster or war and have supported scores of people affected by disease and famine.[17] Participants in multilateral diplomacy are evidently rising and, as a result, it is becoming increasingly polygonal as the threats that now confront the world affect the security of humanity as a whole and not solely the security of states.

Multilateral diplomacy looks set to continue in importance because of these threats and also because of an emerging multipolar world. The world is now moving away from US hegemony and the emerging states of Brazil, China, Turkey, South Africa and India are becoming important regional powers. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that ad-hoc coalitions of the willing are to decrease in importance as states will have to accommodate the new power centres of a multipolar world. In a recent speech, Paddy Ashdown made the intriguing point that the emergence of a multipolar world in the twenty-first century will bear some resemblance to the nineteenth century ‘Concert of Europe’ whereby states will have to cooperate with each other upon common interests and not upon mere common values.[18] On his first trip to Europe, President Obama outlined this idea, asserting that the United States were no longer ‘looking to be patrons of Europe’, but to be ‘partners of Europe.’[19] Major powers will become increasingly pragmatic in their diplomatic relations and will have to work outside of fixed alliances to achieve their economic and foreign policy aims. Consequently, it is reasonable to assume that multilateral diplomacy will be nothing short of essential in an increasingly multipolar world.

United Nations Reform

With the United States now working multilaterally through the UN and with the onset of a multipolar world, it appears that multilateral diplomacy will continue to be relevant in the twenty-first century, with the United Nations as the foremost institution for international cooperation. However, the United Nations is not perfect and for multilateral diplomacy to be effective and efficient in an increasingly challenging environment, the UN must embark upon a programme of comprehensive reform. The Security Council is especially outdated and reform of the Council has been debated at length with many proponents for modifying the most powerful UN organ.[20] The fundamental purpose of the Security Council is to ensure the ‘maintenance of international peace and security’ and the permanent members of the Security Council consist of China, Russia, France, Britain and the US (otherwise known as the P5).[21]  This power arrangement represents the world in which the Security Council was created, and there have been calls for the Security Council to be enlarged to represent the real distribution of power in the world today, with the emerging nations of Brazil, China, Turkey, South Africa and India specifically referred to.[22]. It can also be argued that France, Britain and Russia are shadows of their former selves and that Japan and the EU deserve a seat on the Council as Japan is one of the biggest financial contributors to the UN’s budget and, if the EU was to be given a seat, Britain and France would retain influence within the council.

However, there remains a lack of consensus over the exact countries to bestow membership upon and what power these countries will hold within the Council itself[23], and there has also been much proposed reform which has failed to enact real change to the formation of the Security Council such as the Razali Paper.[24] Reform is especially difficult to achieve as all of the P5 retain the power to veto any modification to the Council and, understandably, none of the members wish to relinquish the power in their hands. Nevertheless, reform to the Security Council is essential to maintaining its authority and credibility in a burgeoning multipolar world. The Security Council has had its successes; the fact that a quarter of all Security Council resolutions in the UN’s history were implemented from 2001 to the present, that the Anglo-French led mission in Libya was successful[25], and that the sanctions placed upon Iran through the International Atomic Energy Agency were pushed through with the coordination of the P5+1 group[26], illustrates that the Security Council continues to be of use in a modern world that is more demanding than ever.[27] Yet, this does not negate the fact that reform to the Security Council by enlarging its membership to become more representative of the world today would make it more credible and effective.

Reform to the UN’s peacekeeping operations is a necessity also; the value of multilateral conflict prevention is evident as there are presently sixteen UN peacekeeping operations situated on four continents and there have been some notable successes in Namibia, Nicaragua and El Salvador.[28] These successes have been tempered by a number of UN failures in its peacekeeping mandate, specifically in the 1990s. In 1994, the Security Council refused intervening action in the Rwandan Civil War and approximately 800,000 people (a mixture of Tutsis and Hutus) were killed. This led to UN admittance that their reaction had been a failure. This, combined with the UN failure to intervene in the 1995 Sbrenica massacre and the placing of food aid in the hands of warlords in Somalia in 1993, offers evidence for the need of swifter multilateral action and emphasises the fact that the UN must reform its peacekeeping operations to provide quicker warning and response times.[29]  The Brahimi Report asserted that a lack of a standing army in the UN was hindering its response time to atrocities.[30] The notion of a standing army in the UN is plausible but it is a simple fact that powerful states need to contribute more to the UN’s peacekeeping operations; such contributions would ensure that the failures of the 1990s would not be repeated. As stated above, the UN is not perfect; there is always room for improvement and if reforms to the Security Council and the UN’s peacekeeping operations serve to make these divisions of the UN more efficient and effective, the credibility of the institution in the international community would be greatly improved and this would only serve to increase the value of multilateral diplomacy.


It is realistic to conclude that multilateral diplomacy remains relevant in a post 9/11 world and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Multilateral diplomacy, especially through the United Nations, plays a crucial role in the global interaction of sovereign states and non-state actors. After 9/11, multilateralism undoubtedly experienced a period of crisis with the onset of the Iraq War yet, today, Barack Obama has shifted US foreign policy from a unilateral to a multilateral stance in light of the economic downturn and the emergence of a multipolar world. This position has restored UN credibility and revitalised multilateral diplomacy. The increasingly global nature of the threats that the world faces and the interdependency that is present amongst states mean that multilateral diplomacy remains, and will continue to remain, relevant in the twenty-first century. The Libya campaign and the efforts to counter Iran’s nuclear threat are perfect examples of multilateral diplomacy being used effectively in a post 9/11 world. Furthermore, with reform to the United Nations, by increasing and altering the membership of the Security Council in order to represent the current global hierarchy, and by learning from past failures and by increasing commitment to ensure fast and responsive peacekeeping operations, the UN will be in better shape to deal with the problems of the globalised world. By taking all of these factors into account, it is therefore logical to concur with G. R. Berridge that ‘multilateralism is here to stay’.[31]

[toggle title=”Citations”]

[1] Berridge and James (2003); Keohane (1990), p. 732; Ruggie (1993), p. 11.

[2] Downer diary, Spectator Magazine (2011).

[3] The United Nations Today (2008), p. xvii.

[4] UN Millenium Declaration (2000).

[5] Resolution 1368 (2001).

[6] See Ikenberry (2003), and Glen (2006), p. 312; Also, the Security Council did approve the US occupation of Iraq after the fighting had ended with Resolution 1483 (2003).

[7] Hutchings speech (2003).

[8] Newman, Thakur, Tirman (2006a), p.1.

[9] Forman (2009), p. 1; Brimmer speech, Brookings (2011).

[10] National Security Strategy (2010).

[11] Hamilton and Quinlan (2011).

[12] Obama speech, Strasbourg (2009).

[13] Ban Ki-moon press conference (2007).

[14] Mylonas and Yorulmazlar (2012).

[15] EC Commission, The European Union and the United Nations: The Choice of Multilateralism, (2003).

[16] Abbot, Rogers, Sloboda (2006).

[17] Romaniuk (2010).

[18] Ashdown speech (2011).

[19] Obama speech, Strasbourg (2009).

[20] Wilenski (1993), p. 442; Annan (2005); Weiss (2003).

[21] UN Charter, Chapter V, Article 24.

[22] Slaughter, Foreign Policy (2011).

[23] Muldoon (1999), pp. pp. 7–77.

[24] Razali Paper (1997); Weiss (2003), p. 149.

[25] Resolution 1970 (2011); Resolution 1973 (2011); Quarterman (2011).

[26] P5+1 members consist of US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany; Resolution 1929 (2010); Duss (2011).

[27] Forman (2009), p. 3.

[28] Current UN peacekeeping operations, of note, in Kosovo, Sudan, Haiti, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan.

[29] Tanner (2000), p. 557.

[30] Brahimi Report (2000).

[31] Berridge (2005), p. 170.


A Case For Ending The US Embargo Against Cuba

Looking at the political situation surrounding the US embargo against Cuba it seems unlikely that any further reforms or a repeal are possible in the near future.



The other day I was walking down High Holborn Street in London and I spotted a foreign flag. Not a terribly unique occurrence in this town, with embassies and high commissions popping up all over the landscape of central London. However what was different about this flag was that it was Cuban and for the first time in my life I was looking at an official piece of the Cuban state, a country that sits 90 miles of the coast of my own but has been virtually inaccessible for half a century.

February marked the 50year anniversary of the US embargo against Cuba. This policy was initially enacted at the height of the Cold War to restrict the flow of cash and goods to the small island nation with the hope of crippling the Castro regime. The policy also placed a travel ban on US citizens visiting the island (with the exception of journalists, academics, religious institutions, and other individuals who could show a non-tourism/business related reason for the visit). In recent years the Obama administration has relaxedmany of the embargo’s harsher points. Family members can now visit relatives, there are fewer restrictions on remittances, and telecommunications companies can begin to establish links. These reforms are predicated upon the thinking that promoting more person-to-person connections with the people of Cuba will start a “grassroots democracy” movement.

These reforms have been met with criticism, specifically from Members of Congress who represent districts where there are large Cuban-Diaspora populations who have strong feelings of hostility towards the Castro regime. One such district is represented by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who also chairs the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, where a bill repealing the embargo would have to go through. These parties oppose removing the embargo and feel that these reforms will do nothing to help the people of Cuba and will aid the regime.

Looking at the political situation surrounding this issue within the context of broader US debates regarding economic and foreign policy (at the moment focused narrowly on Iran) it seems unlikely that any further reforms or a repeal are possible in the near future simply because the White House will not use its limited political capital on the Hill to push it through. This is s shame because the current reforms will most certainly do nothing.

It is naive to think that simply allowing family members and religious groups to visit the island will have any substantive impact on the cultivation of democracy. After all, what about the close to 3 million visitors annually, many from Canada and Europe’s liberal democracies? If democratic ideals can simply be spread through contact wouldn’t these visitors from other free states have had some kind of impact over the past 50 years? What the US embargo gives the regime is a clear enemy, an entity that can absorb blame for all of the nation’s problems. The best course of action to liberalize Cuba is the full repeal of this Cold War relic and the re-establishment of full diplomatic relations. Will this aid the Castro regime? Probably in the short term, with an increase in revenue and an ability to claim that they ‘won’ the stalemate, but in the long term it significantly impedes their ability to demonize the US.

As the late Czech dissident Vaclav Havel astutely observed in his 1978 essay, ‘The Power of the Powerless’, restrictive systems of thought rely on ritual to sustain themselves. In the case of the Castro Regime this ritual is focused on the US as their main enemy. Removing the embargo challenges this ritual and the grievances of Cubans could then be focused on the regime itself rather than an external ‘boogey man’. Only when Cubans realize what is truly holding them back from democratic and accountable government, will any kind of movement be able to grow. Lets just hope it’s not another 50 years.