Once upon a time, multilateralism

Appeared in the eighteenth century, this idea only materializes after the First World War. This old dream, questioned in particular by the arrival of Donald Trump in the United States, is more necessary than ever.

Time to Reading 4 min.

Subscribers article

Story of a concept. It is an old dream that of multilateralism. It inspired the UN system born of the "never again" after the Second World War – and it is now challenged by the country that was once the pillar. "As President of the United States, I will always put America first. Just like you, as leaders of your countries, always put and always have to put your country first " Donald Trump launched in September 2017.

Since his arrival at the White House, he has withdrawn the signature of the United States on a number of treaties signed by Washington, from the Paris climate agreement to the Iran nuclear agreement to the text reached with Russia on the limitation of intermediate nuclear weapons. Multilateralism is threatened today as never before.

The idea is however very old: it goes back to the Enlightenment. Create, instead of a world based on the law of the strongest, a large society of states, equal in law and in duties, endowed with mechanisms for the peaceful settlement of disputes: the concept appears, from the XVIIIe century, under the pen of Grotius, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Emmanuel Kant, who wrote in 1795 a Perpetual peace project. The social contract should not, according to them, be limited to a few nations but involve the whole of humanity.

The first diplomatic expression of this collective approach is the 1815 Vienna Congress

"It is difficult to determine the date of the appearance of the word itself, but at the time we are already talking about laterality and multilaterality. says Bertrand Badie, professor emeritus at Sciences Po Paris. The concept of universal is there. "

Even if it is groping, the first diplomatic expression of this collective approach is the Vienna Congress of 1815. On the rubble of the Napoleonic adventure, the four victors (the United Kingdom, the Austrian Empire, the Empire of Russia and the Kingdom of Prussia), then joined by France, understand that they risk being swept away if they do not build a stable European order based on a true "concert of nations". This inclusive project guarantees a century of relative peace on the Old Continent: it is in this spirit that the first real multilateral peace conference is held in Paris in 1856, after the Crimean War. The international community is beginning to take shape.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here