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Multilateralism possible without hegemony

A few days ago, Financial Times op-ed “Multilateralism without American Leadership” offered an interesting discussion on changes in the current world order. Even though an opinion piece tends to oversimplify the reality, more so when it is dealing with the entire world, it can raise pertinent questions for a new debate.
The op-ed is right about the emergence of a multilateral system without American hegemony, occurring well before Donald Trump took power. The turning point was seen during the 2007-08 global financial crisis, which was, however, the apex of a longer process worthy of summarizing. Since the collapse of the Bretton Woods system in 1971, the international debate within the UN has pointed to the insufficiency of the US-G7 order. I am referring to the debate on the so-called New Economic Order (NEO) during the 1970s.
The inadequacy and unsustainability of global governance can be traced back to the institutional under-representation of the new emerging order driven by three blocs (West, Soviet Union and non-aligned countries): few countries (G7) took decisions for all and one country (US) provided the currency for the entire world. In addition, after some interesting attempts at reforms (e.g. SDRs and development finance) to answer legitimate critics from third world countries, the US-UK-Europe combine promoted what is known as the “monetarist counter-revolution,” inspired by neoliberal policies.
As a matter of fact, the so-called neoliberal trend, given birth by the US, the UK and Europe, created decades of severe financial crises, first in the peripheral countries and then in the emerging and transition nations. These decades, from 1980s up to now, recorded more than 120 financial crises involving each continent. It is from this that the necessity to form a G20 and transform the Financial Stability Forum into a wider Financial Stability Board (FSB, 2009) emerges.
Moreover, the G20 and FSB are only pieces of a puzzle of constant, gradual change in global economic governance. In the last few years, we saw the launch of new multilateral banks (New Development Bank and above all the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank), the launch of the Belt and Road initiative and its global reach, the new cooperation between the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and BRICS and many other movements driven by China and Russia. Instead of calling them counterhegemonic powers, we should see their steps and responses to the global crises as a counterbalancing process, at least going back two decades. To a certain extent, G20 and the projects driven by non-Western forces represent a necessary answer to the failure of the neoliberal world order, traditionally supported by US militarism and monetary hegemony.
After recognizing the declining role of US-G7 hegemony, the FT op-ed poses a wrong question – who will be the new hegemon. This is a distorted question coming from the Western experience of world order domination, usually based on replacing one center of power with another. More appropriate questions could be: Do we really need a new hegemon? Can we reorganize international relations differently?
My answer is that we do not need a new hegemon as conceived until now. We need powers which are able to reform global governance in keeping with cooperative and democratic methods, reforming the existing order with projects for peaceful coexistence. This is the value added of a rising China: a multipolar world, where no one small area is excluded from the new potential benefits of multilateralism, based on a traditional, real conception of the economy.
In addition, China’s approach to global affairs, with its new international prowess, is centered on a series of principles derived from the concept of mutual respect – the heart of Chinese foreign policy. Mutual respect is at the root of the principles of non-interference, non-imposition, rejection of the use of force, win-win cooperation and equality between countries. Communication and dialogue among peers, not military confrontation; partnership not alliances; exchange and mutual learning, not ignorance. These and other methodological-value references are necessary to overcome the Cold-War mentality.
The FT op-ed underlines that Japan, Canada, Mexico and Europe’s reaction to Trump’s protectionist measures should lead to more cooperation among nations. This approach would later marginalize economic nationalism – the author added – when the Trump era ends. However, by definition, economic nationalism is not against international cooperation. Balancing both perspectives, integration and cooperation whilst respecting national diversities and priorities would require a more complex, representative and efficient institutional governance, based on new key principles to manage international relations. On this, the West can learn a lot from the Chinese experience and collaborate with China to build a “community of shared future for mankind.” Why not?

The author is associate professor of international studies at the International Institute Lorenzo de’ Medici, Florence, member of CCERRI think tank, Zhengzhou, and member of EURISPES, Laboratorio BRICS, Rome. His latest book is Geofinance and Geopolitics, Egea. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn
(Global Times)

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