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Multilateralism and its Challenges

Multilateralism and its paradigms

Many geopolitical theorists and doctrinaires, as well as from the legal field, had not considered the possibility - or at least-concretised their thoughts - that the Cold War might end, but it did. The silence generated by the lack of response to the following questions: How to prepare for a crisis that will inevitably happen? Or should one be aware of the possibility of it happening? Over the past years, it has moved to conflicts disguised as failed relationships. As an example of this joint failure of perceptions, the recent war in Ukraine unveiled possible failures in using multilateralism, the concept of international law, in war prevention. The emergence of community interests in various areas of international law after the Second World War is a phenomenon that has attracted significant attention and has generally been explored from the perspective of the so-called humanisation of the law of nations and from that of the verticalisation of international society. Felipe Alamino, explains in 2021, in his book "Annexation of Crimea: the concept of aggression in international law" that this war had already started in 2014 with Russia's invasion of Crimea, so much so that the European Union and the United States imposed sanctions on Russian companies in response to the peninsula's annexation.

In this scenario - until proven otherwise - as explained in 2023 by Reykers in his article "Ad hoc coalitions in global governance: short-notice, task- and time-specific cooperation," the responsibility rests with international organizations, which are created in reaction to the crisis, and most of the time, based on the experiences of their creators, such as theUnited Nations (UN), North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and European Union (EU). In this sense, one of the most significant responses was the creation of NATO to keep the United States engaged, to determine that Russia would remain outside the European context and that Germany would remain peaceful. For many years the context of stability and predictability in the European Union was maintained. The goal of mutual consensus was achieved, as can be seen, for example, in the partnership between the BU and the countries of the European Union, as stated in the "The United Nations and the European Commission working together in Development and Humanitarian Cooperation."

Figure 1: Markus Spiske (n.d.). Stop War. Pexels.

From undesirable to desirable

Thus, it is known that in certain areas, international law needs to catch up on purely bilateral relations to embrace a perspective based on community interests. Geraldo Vidigal raised in 2013 through his article: "From Bilateral to Multilateral Law-making: Legislation, Practice, Evolution and the Future of Inter Se Agreements in the WTO" the following idea: "In the multilateral law-making model, the issue of 'internal' and 'external' becomes less relevant than the existence of a common intention' or 'common understanding.'" In the sense of understanding that, as the author mentioned above explains, through negotiations, they could change situations from the 'not desirable' to the 'desirable' so that the community would be served (Vidigal, 2013). From the understanding of the international scene, what is observed would be that Russia could become "one of us," capitalists, democrats, and liberals. Does that happen? So, what is expressed from this conjuncture is precisely this quest for peacekeeping, which, without accurate planning, could be responsible for collapses in the geopolitical scenario.

In this way, the freezing of situations, without foreseeing or wanting to foresee the occurrence of an imminent war, is generated by too much complacency, reflected in the actions of international organisations. Thus, the following is observed: the alleged multilateralism preached by the European Union over the last few years was, in reality, a complacency to all imminent crises between countries. War does not happen overnight. Multilateralism has been a great machine of peace throughout human civilization and should be treated carefully. A German philosopher warned that the alternative is to "find perpetual peace in the vast grave that swallows both atrocities and their perpetrators" (Kant, 1991).

Figure 2: Polina Tankilevitch (n.d.). Army. Pexels.

Currently, we observe a change in the language of organisations and society itself, a change towards defensive behaviour. Negotiations characterise the starting point for the "hard power" concept introduced in 1990 by the political scientist Joseph Nye. It is defined as the power of coercion, the ability to get the other to do what they want by violence. These demonstrations are perpetuated, in practice, by shifts in strategic speaking. Some examples of this language are changing "The war must end" to "Ukraine must win"; from "French-German axis" to "Eastern Europe was right about Russia" (Lucas, 2014). Before that, the defense of the European territory as an issue was a non-subject; the conventional wisdom crystallized around the idea that Russia was not and would not be a threat, speech repeated to make itself plausible, but without any sense of reality.

When investigating the conflicts occurring in the international community and the inherent complexity, based on the legal perspective, there is the case of Gambia v. Myanmar (2019), in which Gambia has launched a case against Myanmar for violations of the genocide ban based on the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (The Gambia v. Myanmar), Order of 23rd January 2020. This case did not mean the valorisation of the interest of only Gambia but also of other countries, such as Canada and the Netherlands - which announced their intervention. There is an urgent need to attend to and reconcile the international community's interests. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has its relevant role in the international legal scenario. This shift is marked by the emergence of certain international law obligations owed to all the states parties to a treaty. These obligations are called erga omnes partes or, towards the international community as a whole, as erga omnes. (Lemos, 2014; Ragazzi, 1997).

Figure 3: Alex Green (n.d.). Chess Game. Pexels.


Indeed, some relevant statutes, such as Article 33 of the European Convention on Human Rights, state: "Any high contracting party may refer to the Court any alleged breach of the provisions of the Convention and the Protocols to that by another high contracting party," may confer a right to bring a claim concerning disputes for which states do not need to demonstrate any legal interest. In the contemporary international community, implementing certain obligations is in the interest of a plurality of states. In the case law of the ICJ, obligations erga omnes and erga omnes partes are similar in that both characteristics pertain to the holders of the relevant interests. Accordingly, both categories involve standing in cases of violations to indirectly injured states.

The European Union must think in possible scenarios rather than certainties: What institutional changes may it have to undertake to do what it has to do to achieve its strategic objectives? The world, mainly Europe, will not return to a state pre-February 2022. Change is here and will continue to come. However, it has yet to be discovered precisely what this change will be.

Bibliographical References

Alamino, F. (2021). Annexation of Crimea: the concept of aggression in international law. Memory Institute.

Allott, P. (1990). Eunomia: New Order for a New World, p. 324–325.

Benvenisti, E. & Nolte (2018). Community Interests Across International Law.

Cançado Trindade, Antônio (2020). International Law for Humankind: Towards a New Jus Gentium (3rd ed.).

Council of Europe (n.d.). European Convention on Human Rights.

Gaja, G. (2012). The Protection of General Interests in the International Community. Recueil des Cours.

Hoogh, A. (1996). Obligations Erga Omnes and International Crimes.

Kant, Immanuel (1991). Toward Perpetual Peace, in Kant: Political Writings, 2 . ed., H Reiss, ed., Cambridge nd University Press.

Mejía-Lemos, Diego Germán (2014). Obligations Erga Omnes Partes’ in Public International Law: ‘Erga Omnes’ or ‘Erga Partes’?. Ars Boni et Aequi, p. 177.

Nye, J.S. Jr. (1990). The changing nature of world power. Political Science Quarterly, p. 177-192.

Nye Jr, Joseph (2007). A smarter, more secure America. CSIS Commission on Smart Power. Washington: Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Picone, P. (2016). La responsabilità degli Stati tra codificazione e sviluppo progressivo della materia. Rivista di Diritto Internazionale, p. 756–758.

Ragazzi, M. (1997). The Concept of International Obligations Erga Omnes.

Reykers, YF (2023). Ad hoc coalitions in global governance: short-notice, task- and time-specific cooperation. Oxford University Press.

Sicilianos, Linos-Alexandre (2002). The Classification of Obligations and the Multilateral Dimension of the Relations of International Responsibility. European Journal of International Law, p. 1135.

Tams, C. (2005). Enforcing Obligations Erga Omnes in International Law. The Gambia v. Myanmar case (n.d.). International Court of Justice.

United Nations and European Union (n.d.). The partnership between the United Nations and European Union.

Vidigal, G. (2013). From Bilateral to Multilateral Law-making: Legislation, Practice, Evolution and the Future of Inter Se Agreements in the WTO.

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