III Which global governance and multilateral peacekeeping?

Multilateralism in crisis: a European perspective

Michael Zurn

The year 2016 was a fiasco for multilateralism. Every part of the globe, but especially - and paradoxically - the West, witnessed a revival of nationalism. Almost everywhere in Western Europe, authoritarian-populist parties such as the Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) and the Alternative for Germany (AfD) created niches for themselves in the party systems of their respective countries (see, e.g., Inglehart & Norris 2017). In addition, British voters decided by a narrow majority to quit the European Union. Finally, in the US - to general astonishment and more than a little murmuring - Donald Trump was elected president. All of these political forces consistently have opposed open borders for people and goods, rejected any transfer of competence to political institutions beyond the nation-state, and emphasized unconditional national sovereignty. They are not afraid to enter into coalitions with authoritarian potentates like Vladimir Putin of Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, and Viktor Orban of Flungary, who have attacked the political independence of the courts and the media and regularly disregarded basic individual rights in their own countries. Even the occupation of the Crimea, contrary to international law, did not stop Putin from playing a central role in this network. At the same time, some of the world’s rising powers have shown a deep dissatisfaction with global governance and multilateralism in its present form. Thus, it is evident that multilateralism faces a crisis today.

Let us begin with a simplified definition: multilateralism means that governments should seek joint solutions, but ones in which all the countries involved put forward their own points of view (cf. Ruggie 1992; Keohane 1990). Currently, the prospects for multilateral gatherings of this kind appear to be rather dim. Multilateral meetings, when they are held at all, are tension filled and rarely produce tangible results. Still, the heads of governments continue to assemble in multilateral forums such as G20 summits.

Nevertheless, the crisis concerns more than multilateralism in the narrow sense. It affects not only multilateral meetings but also norms, rules, and existing practices in the global realm (Qin 2014). It is more far-reaching, amounting to an overarching crisis of global governance and especially of the international political system that emerged in the 1990s. Why did the crisis happen? This chapter offers an endogenous explanation that lays the blame on the procedural weaknesses of the global governance system. As I will argue, this crisis is really about the deficit of legitimacy. Moreover, the failure to produce successful legitimation narratives is built into the system. The institutionalization of inequality and a technocratic bias in the justification of authority are responsible for this failure. A look at the most important challengers of the global governance system shows that they all more or less explicitly focus their criticisms on these legitimacy deficits.

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