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Multilateralism in a G-Zero World

Summary:
When effective global leadership eventually reemerges, the world can get to work building a better multilateral system, underpinned by common interests and a sense of shared responsibility. In the meantime, political leaders must do whatever it takes to keep the current multilateral system, flawed and limited as it is, alive and viable. MADRID – This year’s gathering of world leaders for the United Nations General Assembly in New York has been called off. The news of the cancellation – the first in the UN’s 75-year history – came a week after a planned G7 meeting at Camp David was scrapped, and a month after the G20 abandoned plans for a virtual summit. At a time when the global nature of today’s most pressing

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When effective global leadership eventually reemerges, the world can get to work building a better multilateral system, underpinned by common interests and a sense of shared responsibility. In the meantime, political leaders must do whatever it takes to keep the current multilateral system, flawed and limited as it is, alive and viable.

MADRID – This year’s gathering of world leaders for the United Nations General Assembly in New York has been called off. The news of the cancellation – the first in the UN’s 75-year history – came a week after a planned G7 meeting at Camp David was scrapped, and a month after the G20 abandoned plans for a virtual summit. At a time when the global nature of today’s most pressing challenges is more apparent than ever, the instruments of multilateralism are not just underperforming. They have stopped functioning.

The implications are even worse than they initially seem. Of course, there is the COVID-19 pandemic – an unprecedented public-health crisis that demands cooperative action, not least to develop and deploy a vaccine quickly and widely. And the most severe economic slump since the Great Depression will probably pop an unprecedented global debt bubble.

But that is only the beginning of the world’s woes. Geopolitical tensions are also on the rise, including on the Korean Peninsula, along the border between China and India, and between the United States and China. Even the transatlantic alliance is under serious strain, with US President Donald Trump’s recent decision to slash the number of American troops in Germany just the latest sign of fraying ties.

Furthermore, strategic competition in the Arctic is escalating. Climate action remains woefully inadequate. Outer space is being militarized. And the forward march of transformative technologies like artificial intelligence is generating serious – and potentially dangerous – uncertainty.

Each of these developments, individually,...

Ana Palacio
Ana Palacio, a former Spanish foreign minister and former Senior Vice President of the World Bank, is a member of the Spanish Council of State, a visiting lecturer at Georgetown University, and a member of the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on the United States.

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