Current Developments in the Multilateral System

multilateralThe multilateral system is going through turbulent times. The GIIS studies multilateral cooperation against the backdrop of globalization, multiple crises, geopolitical shifts, and contestation. While the global financial crisis, climate change, the record number of refugees since World War II, and many other challenges seem to require a high level of global cooperation, we see a nationalist-populist backlash spearheaded by US President Donald Trump.

The partial retreat of the US is met by an assertive China that engages with the existing multilateral architecture in complex ways and has embarked on building a China-led multilateralism revolving around the Belt and Road Initiative.

The impact of China’s rise on multilateralism is somewhat reminiscent of the much more pronounced US lead in both the creation of universal multilateralism in 1944-’45, and from a few years later on, the development of a US-led Western architecture with institutions such as the IMF, NATO, OECD and G7.

These trends deepen the fragmentation of multilateral governance, adding to regime complexity and coordination challenges. Still, multilateral governance fails to deliver on the provision of global public goods, sustainable development, and the reduction of inequality between and within countries.

This observation is linked to the marginalization of poorer countries and groups in several parts of the multilateral architecture, exemplified, among other things, by the erosion of the centrality of the United Nations. The comprehensive UN Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals, launched in 2015, however, is an indication of the realization in many political and civil society circles that many global challenges are intertwined and that they need an urgent and integrated response based on universal multilateralism.  

Concretely, the GIIS focuses on the following research topics:

  • The UN Agenda 2030 and SDGs, including institutional architecture, ideational underpinnings and implementation
  • The role of the United Nations
  • The causes, consequences and management of regime complexity
  • Rising powers and multilateral institutions
  • Informal major power groupings such as the G7, G20 and BRICS.
  • Recent developments in international taxation governance