5. The changing shape of multilateralism

Multilateralism is new phenomenon in international relations. It has been coming to the fore of world politics through a long process of change. In the contemporary international system, multilateralism gained formal approval at the end of World War Two with the agreement on trade and tariffs. Since then, it has been employed in other fields of action and policy areas, especially in security, and has been taking different forms and features. At the same time, the analysts have been concerned with interpreting its meaning and understanding its nature. The panel investigates the changing shape of multilateralism, and aims at discovering its current state and future trends.

Chair: Fulvio Attinà (University of Catania)

Discussant: Anna Caffarena (University of Turin)


Confirmed Papers

1. Mario Telò (Universitè Libre de Bruxelles and LUISS, Rome) - Multilateralizing multipolarity: insights from a historical comparative approach

This paper provides with a historical background and an input into a comparative approach to multilateralist research within multipolar contexts. It focuses on two historical examples of multilateral cooperation within the changing multipolar world order from the 19th to 20th century. The paper first analyses the origins and developments of multilateral arrangements within the context of the evolving multipolar Concert of the Great Powers which framed the European and, to some extent, global modernity before the First World War.  Several multilateral civilian arrangements area analysed. Secondly, the chapter addresses the grand multilateral design driven by the US since 1944-45 and its transformation during the Cold War. This historical  comparative reconstruction will be conducted with the 21st century scenario in mind, where the current uncertain transition to a new heterogeneous multilateral cooperation within the emerging multipolar world takes place, where the legacy of the post-World War II institutionalized multilateral system is in trouble and new actors are emerging in East-Asia, the Americas and Europe, notably regional multilateral entities. The post-hegemonic framework of the current multipolar system to some extent recalls the context of the 19th century multilateral cooperation. Comparative research is possible through conceptual tools such as “reciprocity”, “multi-layered governance”, “efficiency and legitimacy gaps” and within a theoretical framework which is combining neo-institutionalism and constructivism, and goes beyond the mere traditional rational-choice approach.


2. Fulvio Attinà (University of Catania) - Multilateralism and rising minilateralism in international security

This paper argues that the current change of peace operation agency is associated with the change in the political conditions of the world system. In particular, these conditions pertain to the actions of states which share either the same or compatible orientations towards the existing structure of the government of the world system. The general hypothesis tested in this analysis is: the features of the phase of global political competition determine the form and agency of peace operations deployed by the United Nations and other actors such as the European Union and regional organizations. During the contemporary period of world politics, these features have affected the practice of peacekeeping by changing the original function and tasks of peace missions, and promoting new actors as the organizers of peace and security operations. The paper explains why this change is the main cause of rising minilateralism in international security.


3. Sonia Lucarelli (University of Bologna) - “Multilateralism”: ostinate or obsolete?

Since the creation of United Nations system actors in world politics have ever more relied on the construction of multilateral agreements to face collective challenges. Such a tendency has acknowledged an acceleration in the 1970s and has become a wide, complex and variegated reality since the end of the Cold War.  It is for this reason, that since the early 1990s IR scholars have devoted a great deal of attention to the concept of Multilateralism. So much so that it would be difficult today to confirm James Caporaso’s statement of 1992  that “the treatment of multilateralism in the scholarly international relations literature is less than would be expected on the basis of its observed importance in the world”. Scholarship, first debated the concept of multilateralism with an aim to identify its peculiarities with respect to a generic form of cooperation among state; later devoting attention to study multilateral cooperation in specific thematic areas - like international trade, climate change, the war on terror, or nuclear non proliferation. Great attention has been given to the specific role played by the US in its creation, maintenance and/or trasnformations. More recently, scholars have wondered on the faith of multilateralism and more broadly the institutions of global governance in a world characterized by the rise of emerging powers as well as transnational actors, the transformation of traditional states and their tendency to prefer “minilateral” solutions to cooperation problems. In other words, since its first use, the concept of multilateralism has never abandoned scholarly research and has adapted to the analysis of a changed environment.  However, it is difficult to affirm that after so much research, the concept has become less vague: it is used with very different meanings and referred to very different institutional forms of interaction. The main question nowadays is whether the concept is still useful to describe the type of cooperation and integration undertaken by the main actors to solve problems in the public space. This chapter deals with the concept of multilateral governance, looking at the early evolution of the practice of multilateralism and the first definitions, the more recent evolution of the global governance, and an evaluation of the extent to which it can be considered multilateral.


4. Marco Clementi (University of Pavia) - Multilateralism in security affairs after 1989

Multilateralism and multilateral institutions featured in the international order before 1989. One may wonder whether this might also be the case after 1989. This question seems to be particularly important in security affairs, because the contemporary international system has experienced both military power concentration at the state level and military power diffusion at the non-state level, that might respectively have put into question reciprocity and inclusivity in security relations.

This paper aims at contributing to the debate on multilateral institutions in security affairs after 1989, by studying the form taken on by security agreements, namely by formalized agreements signed by states– or by states and international organizations–in order to manage production, transfer and use of military capabilities; to develop security relations; and, to declare common security goals. To this aim, firstly, the paper offers a quantitative overview of the closed/exclusive vs. open/inclusive form of security agreements signed from 1989 to 2010. In this regard, on the one hand, it presents data both about systemic trends and great powers’ cooperative behavioural patterns; and, on the other hand, both on universal and regional trends in multilateral inclusive security cooperation. Secondly, the paper focuses on security cooperation on arms control and development, and compares the post-89 security agreements devoted to rule capabilities production and transfer to those signed during the Cold War


5. Carla Monteleone (University of Palermo) - Multilateral institutions under stress? Old and rising coalitions in the UN Security Council

The paper investigates the creation and variation of political coalitions within the UN Security Council (UNSC) by looking at UNSC draft and approved resolutions and the issues around which coalitions form. Attention will be brought on the most divisive issues in the UNSC (sovereignty limitations and UNSC powers of intervention), issues on which the divergence between the coalition that has traditionally dominated UNSC agenda-setting (the transatlantic coalition) and a potential coalition in the making of rising powers (among them Russia, China, Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia) has become particularly evident. An increased competition within the UNSC will also be showed, and attention will be brought on the institutions limits that potential coalitions alternative to the dominant one face. This bears important consequences for the authority of the UNSC, as the increased activism of the rising powers seem to be associated with their dissatisfaction with the existing organization of the international system and its main institutions, the UNSC above all, but the - so far - limited consequences on the UNSC agenda risk having a negative impact on their percesion of UN legitimacy and, ultimately, on its authority.


6. Veronica Lenzi (MEDREG - Association of Mediterranean Energy Regulators) - Multilateral Energy IGOs: Alliance, Membership and Infrastructure

The goal of this paper is to provide an explanation for the formation of energy intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) among energy consumer or consumer/producer countries, predicated on the need to make multilateral alliances for energy security. The paper uses a two-stage model to explain the formation of energy IGOs and following this formation, the actions of the state within the IGO. The first stage, called the bargaining stage, involves the negotiation process for formation of the energy IGO, which is based on existing alliances and shared energy concerns. The second stage, called the enforcement stage, involves the actions of the state within the IGO, including the formation of shared energy security frameworks and common policies, based on shared energy concerns and infrastructure development needs. Two qualitative analytical case studies, the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), are used to demonstrate the use of this model and provide support for the hypotheses