The Evolving ‘Doctrine’ of Multilateralism in the 21st Century
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Multilateralism is a concept which has been given increasing attention, particularly by western democracies, since the end of the Cold War, even if its practice dates back at least to 1815. The issue of whether it has now become a ‘doctrine’, that is a coherent guide to policy practice, is more arguable. If it has, then the European Union is the leader in conceptualising and articulating such a doctrine. Indeed, it comes closer than any other single concept to expressing what the EU stands for in world politics. The idea of multilateralism is used often to legitimise EU actions, although it has been qualified after 9.11. by the term ‘effective’, thus hinting at the European wish to avoid mere idealism, and willingness to make hard choices. This dilemma is matched by that between regional and universal multilateralism, which faces all actors in international politics. The EU experiences it keenly in the areas of both security and trade. A further sharp difficulty is over multilateralism as end and multilateralism as means: in practice the EU looks on the concept from both perspectives, and codifies it in the form of declarations, recommendations and speeches which, however, usually serve to make it even more difficult to identify a coherent ‘doctrine’. The European Security Strategy of 2003, updated in 2009, which adopted the idea of ‘effective multilateralism’, did not amount to a parsimonious solution to this problem. More consensus, but also more research on the EU’s practices, will certainly be needed if a clear doctrine of multilateralism is to be enunciated.