Contemporary issues & multilateralism

This article is only the writer’s opinion, not the association’s one.

It is obvious that solutions to the problems of our era can no longer be limited to the national level and need to be addressed globally. Let’s take a look at some of the major issues in our millennium.

“It’s not so much a race, in the sense of competition” says Michel Pletschette, a researcher at the University of Munich. “But it is a race against time: Covid-19 pandemic poses a huge challenge to research.” Except in this race against time, participants are far from being united. According to the researcher, there are still too few bridges between the three main coronavirus research poles – the American, European and Chinese poles. Certainly more sudden than the climate crisis, the coronavirus pandemic emphasizes more than ever the need for nations to make decisions multilaterally.

The pandemic

While the principle of reciprocity remains one of the foundations of contemporary international law, it is not effective in all circumstances. Typically, the British government announced, on Thursday 13 August, any visitors coming from France would have to respect 14 days of isolation upon arrival in the United Kingdom, starting on Saturday 15 August. This measure has also been imposed on the Netherlands and Monaco. Malta, Spain and Belgium have also been added to this list. How did the French government react? “A British decision that we regret and that will lead to a measure of reciprocity”, those are the words of Clément Beaune, Secretary of State. Seriously, what is the point here of constantly shifting the blame? The implementation of these reciprocal measures, which are unfortunately utterly unilateral, will have a heavy impact on the employment market. According to France Info, the British tourists represent the largest number of visitors coming to France: their absence precipitates many French workers across the tourism sector into a dangerous situation of unemployment. Furthermore, according to Courrier International, 500,000 or so British nationals who were still on French territory on Thursday 13 August will not be able to return in time to avoid quarantine and will have to wait, again, to return to work. Let’s hope Paris and London will be able to work together in the future.

Climate crisis

On June 1st, 2017, President Trump announced his country’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, a decision that fits perfectly the spirit of his policy. The US puts its own economic interests first, turning their back to the rest of the world. Beyond the obvious financial consequences that result from the end of the American input, this withdrawal could jeopardize the Paris Agreement, in the medium or long term, according to France Stratégie. On the one hand, other governments may be pushed to consider that international treaties, and especially the global agreement on climate change, do not serve their interests and decide not to implement them, officially or otherwise. On the other hand, it is worth reminding that the implementation of the Paris agreement is based, first and foremost, on the credibility of its goals: if the actors doubt it – and the withdrawal of a major partner can only lead them to question themselves – they will inevitably be tempted to refocus on their economic interests and not make the necessary efforts. The growing phenomenon of interdependence revealed by this example (which is obviously not the only one) clearly reminds us of the huge impact of global cooperation between large and small nations, with the former exerting a significant influence on the latter.


One of the terrorists responsible for the Paris and Saint-Denis attacks in November 2015 is Salah Abdeslam. He had long been listed on Schengen S file at the time of these events. Still, after the tragic events, the terrorist successfully fled to Belgium; his file only mentioned convictions for common offences, which did not allow the customs authorities to detain him at the French border. On top of that, it appears Belgian authorities were well aware Salah Abdeslam was strongly radicalized and had previously fought in Syria. His escape was therefore the consequence of significant, to say the least, communication problems between French and Belgian authorities, revealing once again a lack of cooperation between the aforesaid countries. This lack of communication delayed the investigation for so long that the terrorist could not be arrested until four months after the Paris attacks. A few more weeks of incompetence, or at least lack of organization of the authorities, and an equally tragic event would have taken place. Again. The stakes are tremendous. We are dealing here with hundreds of deaths in a few hours, and above all with a scourge that continues to grow without border considerations.

For them, working through international institutions like the UN or respecting international law is a sign of weakness. I think they’re wrong”

Barack Obama

It would seem easy to assert that multilateralism represents an effective approach to the issues which are becoming more and more global. In this regard and to conclude, let’s quote an excerpt from Barack Obama’s speech at the commencement ceremony at the United States Military Academy at West Point in May 2014 : “There are a lot of folks, a lot of skeptics, who often downplay the effectiveness of multilateral action. […] For them, working through international institutions like the UN or respecting international law is a sign of weakness. I think they’re wrong”. Like Barack Obama, I strongly believe they are wrong; nowadays any climate change, any act of terrorism or as it is currently being proven by the pandemic, all those elements do not know country borders, they affect us all globally because of the nature of our way of life. Tragedies happen quicker than any changes to our approach, we need to wake up to a multilateral and interdependent approach.

Charlotte Philippe