Finding Multilateral Solutions Global Cooperation in Nuclear Non-Proliferation: Ruud Lubbers Is Minister of State of the Netherlands. He Formerly Served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from 2001 to 2005 and as Prime Minister of the Netherlands from 1982 to 1994

Article excerpt

A multipolar world now exists, but it took 20 years after the end of the Cold War for the concept of multipolarity to develop. In 1989, then US President George H.W. Bush spoke about a promising "new global order" and US political economist Francis Fukuyama predicted the "End of History," both referring to the triumph of the capitalist market-economy system and US hegemony. Indeed, the era of two superpowers--a landscape composed of the Soviet Union and the United States, with a Third World of non-aligned countries--came to a close, and the fall of the Berlin Wall resulted in only one superpower, the United States.


Following the end of the Cold War, the United States lost considerable respect for the United Nations, damaging the efficiency and credibility of the international institution. While US President George H.W. Bush believed that it was still important to receive support from the UN Security Council in order to liberate Kuwait, his son US President George W. Bush deliberately circumvented international approval, employed US Secretary of State Colin Powell to convince the UN of inevitable military action, and only later apologized for the misinformation. Furthermore, the position of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was undermined by mishandled Iraqi "Oil for Food" accusations and other high profile scandals. In this way, US hegemony did not bring the world--or even the United States itself--peace and prosperity.

Despite these facts, it is simply not fair to blame the United States for all global problems. The United States is often implicated in talks about terrorism and the related divide between the Muslim and non-Muslim world, about the challenge of climate change, about the Middle East and Afghanistan, about the failure of the 2005 Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review conference, and about many other transnational failures. But in the midst of the current economic crisis, US President Obama's acknowledgement of a new multipolar order represents progress. When discussing the interconnected economies of the world, Obama has voiced his wish to find multilateral solutions to global problems, therefore giving credence and substance to the idea of a multipolar world. This is an admirable goal, but a multipolar world cannot be created with mere attitude or political paradigm: it requires practice. World leaders therefore must understand that, if multipolarity is to flourish, multilateral solutions must always be considered when addressing concrete transnational issues and challenges.

Multipolarity and the Nuclear Challenge

When referencing multipolarity, one usually speaks about the Bretton Woods system, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank--international institutions that serve a global economy that is becoming ever more integrated. However, the multipolar approach to challenges extends far beyond the economic issues, with far-reaching applications to security and war concerns. One such transnational issue is the nuclear challenge: halting the spread of nuclear weapons while encouraging the use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

In April 2009, Obama embarked on his promise to work on "reducing and ultimately banning nuclear weapons" in conformity with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). He began by meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in London, and he made non-proliferation his main theme in a speech given later that month in Prague. The Nuclear Security Project initiated by Schulz, Perry, Kissinger, and Nunn is now joining forces with real politics. "Have beens" in other countries have gone on record as well. While it is time for multilateral action on nuclear non-proliferation, recent efforts have been problematic. First, there havenot yet been much effective preparation for the upcoming NPT Conference in 2010, exacerbated by strained US-Russian relations. Furthermore, a truly multilateral solutions would require revisiting NATO's role in Europe, particularly in the context of tactical (non-strategic) nuclear weapons. …