World Orders: Unilateralism vs. Multilateralism

By Morningstar, Richard L.; Blacker, Coit D. | Harvard International Review, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

World Orders: Unilateralism vs. Multilateralism


Morningstar, Richard L., Blacker, Coit D., Harvard International Review


We have heard much in recent years, during the administration of US President George W. Bush, about the tension between unilateral and multilateral foreign policy. Many claim that the United States, many claim, is unilateralist, while Europe is multilateralist. The issue predates the present debate, dating back to at least to the end of World War II. The United States does often act more unilaterally than other nations, and Europe does emphasize multilateralism. Yet neither has a monopoly on one paradigm or the other.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

For many, the debate has taken on moral overtones. Unilateralism is "bad," while multilateralism is "good." For some, multilateralism has become an ideology. Eschewing selfish national interest and adopting world governance and its corollary, universal jurisdiction, is the only way to survive the dangers of globalization and the challenges of the new century. Others take the opposite view. This is a "Hobbesian" world. We must be willing to act unilaterally to protect our interests, even when doing so is unpopular; to rely on the cooperation of others threatens our security. For committed multilateralists, multilateralism is a universal moral imperative, based on the primacy of international law and the notion that there is universal jurisdiction that should supersede national boundaries. The cynical Hobbesian would respond that this view is naive and ignores the realities and dangers of the world in which we now find ourselves.

More thoughtful commentators might adopt the view that any concept of universal jurisdiction is inherently undemocratic and, in fact, runs directly counter to US democracy, which is constitutionally based and which, through checks and balances, protects our values. Why should the United States subject itself to an organization like the International Criminal Court or even to the United Nations, which has members that are not democratically governed and might arbitrarily interfere with our freedom of action or even with our constitutionally based sovereignty in certain instances?

Yale law professor Jed Rubenfeld pointed out in his essay "The Two World Orders" that Europeans experienced the consequences of national polities gone berserk in both Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy. For many Europeans, universal jurisdiction is critical not just to guard against brutal dictatorships but also to protect against tyrannies associated with mass political psychosis. Some have argued that the United States has an obligation to act multilaterally because it was the prime architect of such postwar international organizations as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank. Rubenfeld drew the distinction that the United States was not itself acting multilaterally; rather, it was imposing multilateralism because it was in its national interest to do so. Its Security Council veto and weighted voting in the IMF protected the United States from the perceived dangers of multilateralism.

In the late 1940s, the United States scuttled a treaty establishing a formal international trade organization because Congress in particular feared that the United States would be surrendering some of its sovereignty. Even today, some US politicians say that the United States should withdraw from the World Trade Organization for essentially the same reason.

A more extreme version of the argument is that the United States need not subject itself to the dictates of any international organizations because in our "exceptionalist" view, we do things correctly. Our constitutional system protects democratic values, and multilateral organizations--to the extent we need them at all--are there to shield us from possible abuse at the hands of other states.

Bridging the Gap

The question then becomes, how can the gulf between unilateralism and multilateralism be bridged? The answer lies in how the issue is framed.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

World Orders: Unilateralism vs. Multilateralism
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.