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A 'Rashomon' Story. Latin American Views and Discourses of Global Governance and Multilateralism

Jose Antonio Sanahuja

Global Governance through Multilateralism: Principles, Norms, and Discourses

Effective multilateralism and/or global governance—two closely related but different concepts, seem to be principles that are widely accepted in the international discourses and practices.[1] It can be argued that they are already part of the liturgy of world politics, and most statements or declarations arising from intergovernmental fora usually contain generous references to them. They could be in many cases declaratory or even rhetorical, but reaffirm the key role of multilateralism as the legal basis of international order, either in the universal or regional realms. They play an evident role of discursive legitimization regarding the nature of international organizations, their authority, and, ultimately, their power and influence. But they are also arenas for social conflict and a space of socialization and learning, as well as a relevant scenario for agenda setting and consensus building in the international arena. Ideas and practices about multilateralism and global governance are often the target of fierce bargaining and lobbying, both by governmental and nongovernmental actors, due to their varied purposes and definitions.

Multilateralism often contributes to shape actors' identities as a guiding principle and/or a moral aspiration. It has been an essential component of

US foreign policy since 1945, and the Pax Americana world order. But it was always contested in the US, because the strong libertarian and isolationist strands of US political culture, as illustrated by the Republican opposition to Clinton's globalism of the nineties, or to the Obama presidency's efforts to return to multilateral fora to justify more cost-effective and legitimate external actions in reaction to the G.W. Bush unilateralism inspired by neoconservatives.

For the European Union (EU), multilateralism is considered an imperative rather than an option. The EU's own experience of integration is also seen as a contribution to multilateralism—a 'building block' rather than a 'stumbling block' to fulfil the growing needs of global governance. The EU's commitment to multilateralism has been endorsed by the Lisbon Treaty and by the first European Security Strategy, A Secure Europe in a Better World (European Union 2003). It underpins the discursive construction of the EU identity, goals, and practices as a global player (Biskop and Drieskens 2005; Ortega 2007; Barbe 2012), and it became a foundation of what Bretherton and Vogler (1999) describe as the EU distinctive actorness in the international system.

In the developing world, multilateralism has also been a common aspiration, with a significant sense of closeness and ownership towards the UN and regional organizations, particularly in Latin America and Africa. This could be explained by the crucial role of the UN in supporting international law against colonialism, on behalf of the principle of self-determination. This would illustrate the constitutive function of the multilateral order for an international society of sovereign states, and the fact that the very principle of sovereignty is a multilateral norm constitutive of the state, and not only or even primarily the expression of the territorial foundation of a state's power. These countries have also viewed the UN as a guarantor of collective security and specifically of their nation-building and socio-economic development aspirations (Alden, Morphet and Vieira 2010, p. 83). Traditionally, developing countries have expressed their support of multilateralism and the UN when that organization was blocked or weakened by the bipolar confrontation, or the post-Cold War US unilateralism deployed after the 9/11 attacks. Certainly, the 'Global South' has disputed the representativeness, legitimacy, and ideological orientation of other multilateral institutions and their rules. This is because multilateralism rests on the 'embedded liberalism' of the postwar economic international order, such as the GATT-WTO, the Bretton Woods institutions, and a G7 seen as oligarchic and illegitimate. Of course, this criticism was made on behalf of the 'Global South' demands for an international system governed by balanced, representative, and legitimate multilateral rules and institutions, and, ultimately, on behalf of multilateralism as a political and legal principle for global governance.

This 'southern' approach is particularly visible in Latin American countries, for which multilateralism meant a strong involvement in international treaties and regimes, and their relevant contribution to international law. Specifically we refer to the principles of sovereignty and non-intervention, outlined in the Pan-American conferences and later endorsed by the UN Charter. Latin American active participation in regional integration processes is also a feature of his particular approach to multilateralism, and this 'regional multilateralism' is also a constitutive feature of its identity and their foreign policy (Legler and Santa-Cruz 2011). It could be explained by economic and political reasons, but it is also rooted in the 'Bolivarian' unionism—the project of a Latin American union drafted by Simon Bolivar, or the Morazanist federalism, as a legacy of the Central American Federation build up by Francisco Morazan after independence. The historical record of Latin American countries for seeking peaceful conflict resolution and their experiences in preventing war through international organizations is further evidence of their multilateral stance. According to Russell and Tokatlian, the region:

has sought to impose limits on the interstate domestic violence and promote international cooperation through multilateralism. This task and at the same time aim is largely related to their relative position of power as a peripheral area of the international order, but also with its Grotian identity, that has been strengthened over the years. (2009, p. 226)

Furthermore, multilateralism could be seen as a feature and a hallmark of the 'Western' strand of Latin America identity, culture, and politics—as a region expressively named as I'Extreme Occident by Alain Rouquie (1987). Quite often, Latin America is placed within the so-called 'Atlantic triangle', which would bring together the US, Europe, and Latin America. Multilateralism is stressed as a shared principle in political statements arising from the transatlantic dialogue between the EU and the US, the EU-Latin America and Caribbean Summits, and the Americas' Summits, albeit, as will be explored in sections 9.5-9.7, there are also significant differences that explain why these meetings are held between two parties but never between all three sides.

  • [1] The author is grateful for the comments of Celestino Arenal, Thomas Christiansen, CarlosClosa, Roberto Dominguez, Tatjana Evas, Andrew Hurrell, and Anna Triandafyllidou, and otheranonymous reviewers.
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