The origins, roles and challenges of the multilateral system
3 Definitions and historical background
The word multilateral has traditionally been used to describe cooperation between three or more states, in contrast to bilateral cooperation which only involves two.
States have often chosen to establish intergovernmental or supranational organisations mandated with organising and further developing such international cooperation. Multilateral cooperation can be based on internationally binding agreements between states or on various non-binding arrangements. This framework of binding and non-binding modes of multilateral cooperation constitutes the multilateral system as defined in this white paper. All states are free to choose whether to participate in multilateral arrangements. Regional cooperation, such as in the EU, constitutes an important part of the multilateral system.
The parties engaged in the multilateral system have traditionally comprised states and the intergovernmental and supranational organisations they have established. Over the past decades, other participants have gained greater influence, such as international non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Such organisations do not constitute part of the multilateral system, but seek to influence the states’ and organisations’ conduct within the system. The same is true of private actors such as multinational corporations, philanthropists and foundations.
International law is the legal system that governs the relationship between states and between states and international organisations. The primary sources of international law are international treaties and customary international law. International law does not have a central legislator or police authority, and enforcement is therefore the responsibility of the states themselves. In the cases where a court of law has been established, the system relies on the state accepting the court’s authority, either in general terms or in relation to the specific case.
3.1 The emergence of multilateral agreements and international organisations
States have entered into agreements with each other since time immemorial. The earliest agreements often concerned war and peace, borders, trade and navigation. Later came agreements on shared resources such as rivers. As states have gradually developed ties, and globalisation has made it necessary to find solutions that cannot only be agreed between two states, international organisations have emerged. Such organisations can be global, supported by multilateral agreements, or regional, with agreements that are binding upon the states in the specific region.
After the Napoleonic Wars (1800–1815), attempts were made to resolve major European conflicts through conferences or congresses at which state representatives met to find mutually acceptable solutions. This was a continuation of the great European peace conferences of the 1600s and 1700s, with representatives assembling for long periods not only to discuss post-war settlement but also a wealth of other problems, and to establish rules for future peaceful coexistence.
The Congress of Vienna in 1815 was the first conference that led to the establishment of an international intergovernmental organisation in modern times, and sought to resolve conflicts concerning freedom of navigation on the River Rhine. Towards the end of the 1850s, several conferences of this kind were organised, and more and more states participated, including from outside Europe. This led to treaties that were eventually endorsed by a large number of states. In this way, the conferences became important arenas for the development of international law, as well as the development of European law that also influenced other parts of the world. Since the European states were in the majority and the major European powers had the greatest influence on the outcomes, values evolved on the continent and European legal traditions governed the content of the agreements.
Many major international organisations were established in the latter part of the 1800s. Globalisation as a consequence of the industrial revolution was an important factor in this context. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) was the first to emerge in 1865, followed by the Universal Postal Union (UPU) in 1874. The foundation for the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) were also laid during this period. Outside Europe, the Pan-American Union, the precursor to the Organization of American States (OAS), was formed in 1890 as an organisation for cooperation between the Latin American countries and the US.
In all, it is estimated that between 30 and 50 intergovernmental organisations were established in the period 1815–1914. The organisations and the agreements they developed herald the start of the multilateral system as we know it today. Many of the original organisations are still operative. Sweden and Norway participated in several of the above-mentioned conferences, joined the ITU and UPU, and ratified the conventions relevant to us.
The drawback of the conference system was that each time a new problem arose, a new conference, ideally in a new place, had to be convened. The breakdown of the London Conference on the Balkans (1912–1913) and World War I led to the understanding that another form of organisation was necessary. The solution was a more permanent forum where small and large states could meet. This was the basis for the establishment of the League of Nations, precursor to the United Nations.
3.2 The development of new intergovernmental organisations and rules of law in the interwar years
The League of Nations was the first attempt to form a worldwide alliance of states with a view to ensuring peace and security, and to develop international cooperation between people and societies. The league was established in 1920 and dissolved in 1946, following the establishment of the UN. Norway was a member of the League of Nations from the start, but not all states participated. This was one of the organisation’s weaknesses. The US was not a member, even though President Woodrow Wilson was one of its main advocates. Germany, Japan and Italy withdrew from the league and the Soviet Union was excluded in the 1930s. At the most, 58 states were members of the League of Nations, and because the colonial powers still controlled large parts of Africa and Asia, the organisation covered a large part of the world.
The league had a general assembly and a security council, both of which are precursors to those found in the UN today. In contrast to the very earliest international organisations, the League of Nations had responsibility for a number of sectors.
In addition to its work on peace and security, the league also played a role in developing new international law. Over 30 agreements were negotiated under the League of Nations, including the agreement on the Åland Islands and the agreement on Turkey’s national borders following the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire (the Treaty of Lausanne).
The International Labour Organization (ILO) was also founded as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, acknowledging that the major social conflicts of the era could not be solved by individual states alone but required international solutions. The ILO was established in 1919 and had negotiated six international conventions on working conditions within its first year. Today, that figure is 186.
The establishment of intergovernmental organisations continued to gain momentum in the interwar years.
3.3 The development of the present multilateral system after WWII
The first decades after World War II saw an immense growth in the number of international organisations and pertaining conventions.
The United Nations (UN) was founded in 1945 to protect coming generations from the scourge of war. 50 countries, including Norway, took part in the negotiations and signing of the UN Charter. The UN Charter is the foundational treaty of the United Nations, an intergovernmental organisation. The UN Charter articulates a commitment to uphold the human rights of citizens and outlines a broad set of core rights and duties on states, such as the prohibition on the use of force and the right of self-defence.
The founders of the UN were cognizant of the failures of the League of Nations and committed to making the UN a global and more robust organisation. The organisation currently has 193 member states, meaning that nearly all states of the world are members. The UN’s guiding principle is that all members are sovereign states and thus of equal stature, with the same rights and obligations. Each state therefore has one vote in the General Assembly. According to the UN Charter, the states have a duty of loyalty to the UN and must assist the organisation in the measures it decides to implement. It is also stipulated that the states’ obligations pursuant to the UN Charter take precedence over their obligations under other treaties. The UN Security Council can make decisions that are binding on member states, including coercive measures intended to maintain international peace and security. France, China, Russia, the UK and the US have permanent seats and right of veto on the UN Security Council. In addition, the General Assembly elects ten members that sit on the Security Council for a period of two years.
Developing international law and promoting respect for international law have been a main purpose of the UN since its inception. Numerous treaties have been negotiated under the UN umbrella, such as the Convention of the Law of the Sea and various international human rights treaties. The UN also plays a major role in maintaining peace and security through international political efforts and peacekeeping operations. The UN agencies, funds and programmes invest significant efforts in promoting human rights, and social and economic development.
A number of economic organisations were also established during the post-war era. The Bretton Woods institutions – the World Bank and IMF – were set up at a meeting of 43 countries in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, USA in July 1944. The intention was for the Bretton Woods group to become a trio that included the International Trade Organization (ITO). These plans encountered opposition from the US, however, and were eventually replaced by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The idea was revived with the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995. These organisations play a major role in the stability and development of the global economy. Many regional development banks have been added to the multilateral system, including the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
The Organization for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC) was established in 1948 by 16 Western European countries. Its purpose was to administer Marshall Aid from the US to rebuild Western Europe after World War II. By encouraging individual governments to recognise their mutual dependency, a close and successful cooperation was achieved that, in turn, led to the US and Canada endorsing what became the OEEC’s direct successor at the global level – the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The Convention on the OECD entered into force in 1961. Japan joined the OECD in 1964 and numerous other countries have since followed suit. The OECD currently has 36 member states. It also has extensive cooperation with non-member states, including the five key partners Brazil, India, Indonesia, China and South Africa.
The objective of avoiding the horrors of war was also a core consideration when six European countries joined forces to establish the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951. The collaboration, which had supranational elements, intended to make war and conflict not only unthinkable, but practically impossible. It was extended and elaborated in the Treaty of Rome signed in 1957 and a number of other treaties leading up to the Treaty on European Union in 1993, most recently updated by the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007. The establishment of the Internal Market in 1993 was a milestone in European economic development. The EU played a key role in stabilising the continent after the fall of the Berlin Wall by extending the cooperation to the Baltic and central European countries, and developing close ties with neighbouring European countries.
The EU member states are closely integrated through common rules that apply to the Internal Market and in justice and home affairs, and they cooperate closely on foreign and security policy. EU institutions have been given competence in a number of areas. In certain fields, the EU has exclusive competence to adopt legislation and to monitor that it is upheld, for instance as regards trade policy and monetary policy (for the Euro countries). In other fields, such as social policy, competition policy, and agricultural and fisheries policy, competences are shared between the EU and its member states. In areas such as health and some areas of industrial policy, the EU is authorised to support and coordinate the actions of member states, without harmonising them. The European Court of Justice ensures that member states and EU institutions comply with EU law, and that EU law takes precedence over national law.
Together with the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland and Portugal, Norway was among the founding members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) in 1960. From its very beginning, the EFTA cooperation, similarly to the incipient EU cooperation, was aimed at strengthening the economic ties between its member states through free trade, and thereby contributing to the broader economic integration in Western Europe, although without the supranational elements included in the EU treaties. Iceland, Finland and finally Liechtenstein joined EFTA at a later stage.
Norway voted against membership of the European Communities (EC) in 1972 and the EU in 1994, but is a part of European cooperation through the EEA Agreement, the Schengen Agreement and over 100 other agreements we have entered into with the EU. The importance of European cooperation to Norwegian interests is discussed in Chapter 6.
NATO was also formed after World War II. The alliance was established through the North Atlantic Treaty, which entered into force in 1949. It came as a reaction to the threat from the Soviet Union and became an important framework for collective defence in Europe, and for the United States’ security guarantee in relation to its European allies. Norway was one of the founders of the alliance, along with 11 other countries in Europe and North America. Like the EU, NATO has also grown in the post-war period, particularly after the end of the Cold War, and the alliance currently comprises 29 member states and is expected to hit the 30 mark in the course of 2019. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the expansion of NATO has played a significant role in European stability and in providing security to the new member states in the East. The core provision of the North Atlantic Treaty is Article 5, which states that the Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all. Collective defence and deterrence have gained renewed importance in recent years as a result of shifts in Europe’s security policy challenges. The importance of NATO to Norway will be discussed later in the white paper.
The international cooperation developed under the Antarctic Treaty also sprung from the desire to find solutions to prevent new global conflicts. In 1959, 12 countries, including Norway and the six other states with territorial claims in the area, agreed to dedicate the continent to peace and science. Environmental protection was added as a third cornerstone at a later date. Today, over 40 states participate in this unique international cooperation, which has ensured that a whole continent has been kept out of the shifting cycles of global politics for 60 years.
In addition to the organisations mentioned above, a number of other international cooperation bodies were established in the post-war era. Norway was one of the founders of the Council of Europe in 1949. The organisation was assigned the important task of protecting human rights, democracy and rule of law principles in Europe. This is based on the belief that democratic states that respect human rights are more stable, both within their own national borders and in relation to other states. New member states joined the organisation after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It now comprises 47 countries and is the only pan-European organisation.
The development of stronger ties between the Nordic countries also became an important part in Norway’s participation in international collaborative structures during this period. The Nordic Council was founded in 1952. The Helsinki Treaty, which came to form the formal basis for the parliamentary cooperation in the Nordic countries, was signed in 1962, while the Nordic Council of Ministers was established in 1971 as a formal framework for intergovernmental cooperation. The Nordic countries currently comprise one of the world’s most integrated regions.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is an arena where Norway and 56 other countries cooperate on security, conflict deterrence, human rights and other common challenges based on values and principles negotiated and further developed from the mid-1970s and up to the present.
It is difficult to estimate the number of intergovernmental organisations that are currently active, but the figure has greatly increased, with more organisations being founded every year. The multilateral system has become more and more complex and fragmented over time, and this trend continues.
3.4 The liberal world order
A world order is an arrangement of power and authority that provides a framework for cooperation and policy at the global level. The term «the liberal world order» describes the order that was primarily developed in the decades after World War II, but that has roots all the way back to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the Congress of Vienna in 1815, as well as the League of Nations in the interwar years.
In its post-war form, the liberal world order rests on a set of common rules and liberal values, such as individual rights and liberties, rule of law, democracy, and open, market-based economies and free trade. To create a rules-based international system where right prevails over might, the multilateral system was reinforced by a range of institutions. Organisations and forums such as the UN, the World Bank, GATT and IMF were founded to maintain the rules and facilitate peaceful cooperation between sovereign states.
The liberal world order has never been global. The world order was originally built on the values and norms that had evolved in Europe. After World War II, it was the US that had the power to sustain this world order. American political, economic and military power have supported the rules-based system, with a network of alliances with countries in both Europe and other parts of the world. Towards the end of the 20th century, an increasing number of states, from different regions of the world, became actively involved in further developing the liberal world order.
The liberal world order and the multilateral system thereby encompass many common elements, but are not the same. Although many of the multilateral system’s key institutions were established to underpin the liberal world order, the content of the cooperation is determined at all times by the power dynamics between and the values of participating states.
It is important to distinguish between the erosion of multilateral forms of cooperation and changes to the content of this cooperation. Certain governments that currently challenge the liberal world order also declare themselves defenders of multilateral cooperation. In some areas, multilateral cooperation is stronger than ever, despite the fact that the content is not necessarily in line with the values on which the liberal world order is based. When other values and norms take precedence in multilateral cooperation, the multilateral system changes.
4 The functions of the multilateral system
The multilateral system is valuable in many ways: As the developer of common norms and rules, as the system that initiates and implements these, as a dispute settlement mechanism and monitoring body, as an idea and knowledge producer, and as an arena and platform. In most areas of society, one or more international organisations have been founded to fulfil these functions.
Support for multilateral arrangements is based on the acknowledgement that many problems can only be solved, or can be solved better and more efficiently, through multilateral cooperation rather than bilaterally or single-handedly. The system produces global public goods for the world’s population, such as better health, security and knowledge. It also plays a number of more specific roles within the individual sectors.
4.1 Rule and norm developer
Developing common rules and norms is perhaps the most important of the multilateral system’s tasks. Over the years, several thousand agreements have been developed that cover most aspects of intergovernmental cooperation, globally and regionally.
The states of the world would not have been able to arrive at common global goals like the Sustainable Development Goals without multilateral mechanisms. The set of rules developed under the WTO have led to increased international trade and value creation. The ILO has contributed to improving labour standards. States have agreed on guidelines for handling infectious disease outbreaks through the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO can also set professional norms and standards for international and national use. The EU acquis today covers almost all areas of society, from trade and labour market standards to the environment, greenhouse gas emissions and national border control. A great number of these European rules apply to Norway through the EEA Agreement, the Schengen Agreement and a number of other agreements entered into with the EU.
Multilateral agreements and instruments can take many forms, and with different mechanisms to ensure compliance. Some agreements establish courts, such as the European Convention on Human Rights, which established the European Court of Human Rights. Other agreements impose legally binding obligations without procedures through which other countries can address violations or invoke sanctions. There are also instruments that are politically binding without being legally binding under public international law. The 2030 agenda with the Sustainable Development Goals is only politically binding.
The multilateral system also plays a role in developing international norms, which constitute rules of action based on expected conduct rather than rules of law or agreements. The UN system, the OECD, the multilateral development banks and IMF are examples of important socio-economic standard setters. A single resolution in the UN General Assembly cannot change the world, but the sum of resolutions can be of substantial normative significance.
4.2 Initiator and implementer
The multilateral system facilitates the joint implementation of tasks by member states. This could be specific tasks, such as when the International Maritime Organization (IMO) determines regulations for ships and crews, and approves sailing routes, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) runs refugee camps, or the UN Development Programme (UNDP) implements development projects. In their most advanced form, the organisations can be assigned responsibility for whole policy areas, such as when the EU has been authorised to pursue a common trade policy on behalf of member states, or coordinate the member states’ implementation of international climate agreements.
Many organisations have the authority to make decisions that bind member states. With a few exceptions, the UN decision-making bodies generally have voting rules that entail majority decisions. Consensus is often sought to avoid voting processes and to ensure that as many states as possible support the decision. Working in accordance with the consensus principle often means that decisions take more time, but this also means that they have broader support, thereby ensuring greater compliance. There are also organisations that can make supranational decisions with direct effect in the member states’ legal systems. The EU is the prime example of this.
The UN Security Council has a unique position because it can make decisions that are binding on all UN member states, and approve the use of military force and other measures as sanctions.
4.3 Dispute settlement mechanism and monitoring body
The multilateral system also functions as a dispute settlement mechanism for states. Before World War II, disputes between states were resolved by arbitration or by the Permanent Court of International Justice, which was established in connection with the League of Nations. After WWII, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague was established as one of the principal UN bodies, with authority to rule on disputes between states that agree to it hearing the case.
The establishment of a dedicated court interpreting European Union law (then Community law) and applying it equally to all member states was an idea that spawned from the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community, the precursor to the EU. We have subsequently seen the emergence of more courts and dispute settlement mechanisms related to specific areas or individual conventions. The best known of these include the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), the European Court of Human rights, and the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Within the framework of international organisations, supervisory bodies have also been established that, through reports and country visits, consider how states meet their obligations and provide advice and guidance to the states. Such supervisory bodies are common in the area of human rights. Examples are the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies and special procedures of the Human Rights Council, and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. The hearings in the UN Human Rights Council under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) scheme institutionalise dialogue on the human rights situations in different countries.
4.4 Idea and knowledge producer
Multilateral institutions can contribute knowledge and ideas that are valuable to both the organisation’s own work and to member states. High-quality data and analyses contribute to a common international reference framework, as well as forming the basis for well-informed national decisions. The OECD’s statistical and analytical work is an example of this, as is Eurostat in the EU. The IMF is also important for the production of statistics. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is responsible for coordinating information and activity between countries and regions, thus providing information about the state of the atmosphere and the most precise weather forecasts available. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) produces statistics and provides a knowledge base for food production and the global nutritional status.
Another example is the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which aims to provide all countries with the best possible scientific basis for understanding climate change and its potential effects on people, the environment and society at large. The World Bank and the regional development banks also possess vast amounts of empirical knowledge on what does and does not work in the fight against poverty. Reports from these organisations form the basis for international and national debates on how policy can be improved. Data collection also contributes to valuable monitoring and evaluation functions.
Multilateral institutions are important arenas for the expert communities of member states working within the institution’s area of responsibility, both to present common solutions and to discuss what constitutes good policy. An example here is the many expert groups that have been established to advise the European Commission during the process of preparing new regulations. The EEA Agreement ensures that Norwegian experts can take part in relevant groups. Similar processes take place in the Council of Europe, where Norway actively participates.
4.5 Meeting place and platform
The multilateral system constitutes a meeting place for the states of the world and other international parties. Many multilateral forums function as institutionalised arenas for dialogue between states. Both official meetings and informal dialogue are important elements of addressing intergovernmental disputes and finding good common solutions.
Multilateral forums also function as an arena for carving out new policy and as a platform for communicating political messages. A good example is the UN General Assembly’s high-level week, where every autumn, all governments of member states are given an opportunity to present their own opinions and listen to those of other states. In the EU, such sharing of opinions between member states takes place on a daily basis at all levels. The multilateral system also functions as an arena for dialogue between states and civil society, the private sector, expert communities and other relevant parties. Platforms, events and fixed cooperation structures provide opportunities for civil society, expert communities and other parties to influence national authorities.
5 Challenges to the multilateral system
The world is facing major global challenges that no state is able to solve alone. At the same time, states are less inclined to turn to multilateral organisations to solve common challenges through compromise and cooperation. A recent example is how the UN Security Council, the international community’s preeminent body for international peace and security, has handled the situation in Syria. Here, states have proclaimed their own standpoints rather than working together to find solutions.
We also seen this tendency in other organisations at the global level, such as in the WTO, and at the regional level, for example in OSCE. The EU, and to some extent NATO, also experience more severe internal conflicts. Multilateral cooperation is weakened when states choose to act alone. It undermines the international community’s ability to find joint solutions, and the smallest and weakest states will be the first to feel the impact.
Fatigue, increased polarisation and inadequate funding affect much of the multilateral system today. Increased pressure can revitalise multilateral institutions if it mobilises the system’s defenders, but the more multilateral cooperation is neglected, the harder it is to maintain well-functioning organisations and the will to reform.
It is therefore important to emphasise that significant parts of the extensive network of institutions that make up the present multilateral system still function well and continue to safeguard Norwegian interests. For example, this is true for organisations working in the fields of humanitarian assistance, copyright, economics and security, but also a number of other areas.
This chapter discusses some of the main challenges the multilateral system faces today: changes in the balance of power; growing bilateralisation; values, norms and rights under pressure; criticism against economic globalisation; a lack of representativeness, efficiency and results; in addition to new challenges that need to be addressed.
5.1 Changes in the balance of power
The multilateral system has been in a constant state of change since its establishment. The changes we are seeing now, however, are more fundamental and are unfolding faster than previously. This is not least due to changes in the global balance of power.
The US and the EU remain major economic powers, but the growth rates in China, India and other emerging economies, which far exceeds growth in Europe and the US, are shifting the economic centre of gravity eastwards. This is changing the global balance of power. The trend is reinforced by the fact that the military balance of power is also shifting. The power of the US and Europe is weakening relative to other great powers and actors because others now possess a greater ability and willingness to play an international role. This changes the conditions for international cooperation.
Bigger political differences and more rivalry in and between states make it more difficult than before to find good multilateral solutions. There is no longer one unrivalled global power, and therefore no dependable ‘centre’ to navigate by in a world with multiple poles. This creates more unpredictability between states and tension in the multilateral system. At the same time, it is more challenging to deal with the growing international footprints of authoritarian states when the unity between the US and important European states is challenged by internal disagreement.
The situation that the multilateral system is currently facing has not suddenly arisen, but is rather the result of shifts in global power over time. Because of this, there is disagreement regarding the extent to which traditional developing countries, including countries such as China, India and Brazil, should take on more commitments in step with their economic growth, or still be allowed to retain the privileges they have enjoyed in line with smaller or poorer developing countries. This applies in particular to the trading system and climate agreements, where the requirements for developing countries have been more lenient than for wealthier countries. The US in particular, but also the EU, as well as Norway and other countries, argue that China should no longer be able to use its status as a developing country to avoid taking on greater commitments.
Historically, the US, as the world’s biggest economy, has contributed by far the most to funding the multilateral system. The economic development in China and other emerging economies means that these states must cover a greater share of the costs. This is the case in the UN, among other organisations, where new estimates of states’ mandatory contributions puts China as the second biggest contributor in the period 2019–2021. Increasingly, emerging economies are also expected to pay more in voluntary contributions. China in particular is showing a greater willingness to shoulder this responsibility. Increased financial support from emerging powers also gives them greater possibilities to set the agenda for and influence the organisations’ work.
The conflict between the traditional industrial countries and what are now emerging economies is also about the latter’s position in the world not being sufficiently reflected in the multilateral structures. Countries in Africa and Latin America, for example, do not have permanent seats on the UN Security Council, which reduces their willingness to take on commitments on behalf of institutions that are perceived as still being dominated by European countries and North America.
The changes in US–China power relations have resulted in a strategic rivalry between the two great powers. This rivalry has negative consequences for the multilateral system, which has been particularly visible in the area of trade. The crisis in the WTO is closely related to the ongoing economic conflict between the two states. A temporary solution to the trade conflict will not change the underlying causes of the strategic rivalry between the US and China. This rivalry could be long-lasting and plays out in a number of international arenas.
China has accounted for half of global growth since the financial crisis in 2009. The prolonged belief that economic growth and engagement policy towards China would lead to a market economy and democratisation, has been replaced in many countries, and particularly in the US, by frustration over what many feel is a lack of Chinese compliance with economic rules of the game and a fear of being outcompeted. Many American politicians wish to level the playing field, both economically and militarily. China is conducting a major military build-up, with particular focus on naval defence, and in 2018 surpassed the US as having the world’s largest navy with over 300 ships. It will take long time before the Chinese fleet can measure up against the US military force because of the US’ military technological advantage, but China is challenging the US in an increasing number of strategic areas, such as long-range precision weapons, nuclear weapons and space-based defence systems.
While China previously tended to avoid the costs related to international leadership, today its ambitions for wielding power in multilateral institutions is growing. This inspires other emerging economies that also wish to convert their economic and military importance into multilateral influence. This power struggle, which is both understandable and unavoidable given the shifting global balance of power, must be resolved to secure the future of the multilateral system.
China has generally chosen to work within established institutions such as the UN, the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO. Although the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) was established on China’s initiative and as a potential rival to established institutions, it operates in accordance with multilateral principles and has to date worked closely with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a new structure for cooperation between China and a number of other countries and organisations to promote connectivity in the broad sense – infrastructure, trade, communication and energy cooperation. BRI offers China significant influence through a number of economic commitments and close bilateral ties to other states.
China and other emerging powers use their weight to advance values and norms in the multilateral system that are different to those on which the liberal world order is based. This manifests itself in different ways, for example in votes or in the choice of words and terms used in texts negotiated between the states. An example is the growing debate in the UN on the concepts ‘win-win’ and ‘mutually beneficial cooperation,’ which China increasingly promotes in resolution texts. These apparently unifying concepts have been the subject of debate because they emphasise cooperation between states, at the expense of the state’s obligations to comply with rights.
It is difficult to see how it is possible to make any substantial progress in global cooperation if the US and China cannot work together. If pressed to take sides in cases where the interests of the US and China conflict, the rivalry between the two states can also restrict the room for manoeuvre for other states and the possibilities for finding solutions in the multilateral system.
Russia remains a key political and military power in the international system and has once again played a greater international role in recent years, including in multilateral forums. Russia takes a clear national perspective in its work in the UN Security Council, and is sceptical to relinquish any national decision-making powers. The country sees the multilateral system as an arena where the great powers can cooperate on areas of common interest, but is reluctant to recognise the institutions’ right to limit the room for manoeuvre of nation states.
Russia’s attitude towards the Security Council’s handling of the war in Syria is an example of this, where it has issued a number of vetoes and complicated the council’s work. Its vetoes have primarily concerned sanctions and investigations on the use of chemical weapons, rather than the use of military force by the international community. Russia also challenges the multilateral human rights architecture, including by attempting to undermine the UN Human Rights Council’s influence. At the same time, multilateral work is a high priority for Russia and it spends considerable resources on it. When common ground can be found with this country, it may persuade many other countries to follow suit.
Regional powers such as India, Indonesia, South Africa, Brazil, Turkey and Mexico have also emerged as important players in the multilateral system. The influence of emerging powers, however, is undermined by the lack of agreement between them. China and Russia, for example, are often acting in concert in the UN and other organisations, but do not share a common vision of what a new world order should look like. If there was more agreement and coordination among regional powers, the changes in the content of the multilateral system could have been even greater than what we see today.
The G201 is an example of a new concept that has sought to encompass shifting power relations in the international system. The group was established in 1999 as a forum for ministers of finance and central bank directors, but was upgraded to the head of government and head of state level in 2008 to find solutions to the financial crisis. Although the G20 is not formally a decision-making body, it has become an important agenda setter, also in relation to issues like climate and energy matters. The G20 does not have its own secretariat other than the resources that are provided by the participants, but uses global institutions like the IMF, the World Bank, the OECD and the WTO as its suppliers.
The shifting centre of power eastwards and to some extent southwards, has demonstrated the need for European countries that share the same liberal and democratic values to stand together to promote their interests and values in the multilateral system. The EU plays a key role in this respect. No EU member states, which are all small or medium-sized in the global context, have enough political influence to meet the challenges from the east and south on their own.
Well-functioning multilateralism is crucial to the EU, which itself is based on binding cooperation and respect for common rules and institutions. The EU is therefore among the most vocal defenders of the multilateral system and is a valuable partner for Norway, the UN and other regional organisations. In recent years, the EU has made considerable efforts to protect international agreements from which the US has withdrawn or threatened to withdraw. Given the changing global power relations, the EU’s role as an international actor and defender of liberal values is more important than ever.
However, the EU’s ability to play a role in the multilateral system depends on internal concord. Such concord cannot be taken for granted in a union comprising 28 member states. The greatest challenge is that the governments of certain member states have recently sown doubts about the basic principles of the cooperation, such as the rule of law principles, the value of an active civil society, and respect for common decisions and institutions. If such attitudes gain momentum and take root in core member states, the EU will become substantially weaker, also in the international arena. It will become more difficult for the EU to oppose unwanted policy from other countries when internal disagreement in Europe is more prominent.
NATO has implemented major reforms since 2014, and is one of few multilateral organisations that is more capable of fulfilling its duties now than just a few years ago. Shifting power relations that affect NATO are primarily Russia’s growing ability and willingness to use military force, and to some degree, the shifting US-China power relations. Russia’s use of force in breach of international law has undermined security in Europe and cooperation in the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the NATO-Russia Council. However, it has also made NATO more relevant, and created stronger ties among member states and greater willingness to prioritise collective defence and deterrence. This is playing out at the same time as the US is strengthening its military presence in Europe. However, we cannot ignore the fact that current challenges in the transatlantic dialogue also surface in the context of NATO.
Russia’s behaviour also challenges European states’ right to decide their own foreign policy, including which alliances they choose to join. This is in conflict with the basic principles of international cooperation to which Russia is also committed, such as those set out in the Helsinki Final Act and the Founding Act of the NATO-Russia Council. In 2017, Montenegro became a new member of the alliance while North Macedonia is expected to join in 2019. NATO has also reinforced its practical cooperation with Bosnia Herzegovina, Ukraine and Georgia.
Power is not only shifting between states, but also from states to other actors. Multinational corporations and non-governmental organisations also possess great influence that can be used to affect matters in the multilateral system of states and organisations. This increases the relevance of new models for international cooperation. Overall, these models can make it easier to reach agreement on important, but difficult questions, particularly with states that are keen to maintain their independence in policymaking. Transferring power to private parties at the expense of multilateral forums, however, can pose a challenge to the representativeness and legitimacy of the initiatives taken.
5.2 Greater preference for bilateralism
The multilateral system is challenged when powerful states choose to solve common problems bilaterally, or at worst unilaterally, rather than multilaterally. Such strategies undermine the negotiating position of small states and generally entail higher costs compared with solutions reached through multilateral cooperation within established institutions. A greater prevalence of bilateral deals can also lead to less predictable and more fragmented relations between states. This is true for trade and security policy, for example, where bilateralism can entail less transparent processes and might prevailing over right.
More bilateralism in international relations will lead to small and medium-sized states in particular having less influence and room for manoeuvre. While multilateral organisations often ensure that all member states have a voice, bilateralism mainly serves the states that have the power and capacity to impose their will in their relations with other states. More bilateralism in international politics is therefore a particular concern for small countries such as Norway, which will find it more challenging to defend its interests.
There are a number of reasons why states turn away from multilateral forums and rather choose to solve matters directly with other countries or unilaterally. In multilateral organisations, decisions often require consensus among all members and can therefore be lengthy processes. This, in turn, weakens the organisations’ room for manoeuvre and undermines nations’ trust in and support for them. For example, trust in the UN diminishes when the organisation does not adequately succeed in maintaining international peace and security. Another important trend is that populist tendencies within countries reduce governments’ willingness and ability to make the necessary compromises, on which multilateral agreements rely. Populism and nationalism have become impactful political trends in Europe, the US and a number of other areas, and can lead to greater opposition to international cooperation.
The strategic rivalry between China and the US also plays out as a competition over the provision of various benefits to individual states in exchange for bilateral partnerships, military bases, economic investments and loans. The BRI is an example of this, which uses economic diplomacy to strengthen China’s bilateral relations. Although the BRI may appear to be a multilateral initiative, it is in reality a number of bilateral agreements in which China has extensive control and is able to use its economic power as a lever.
Russia is to a greater degree than China a regional actor, but has ambitions beyond this. The clearest indication of Russia’s level of ambition was its invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the subsequent destabilisation of Ukraine. This was a clear violation of international law and posed a major challenge to the security architecture in Europe. After the invasion, tensions increased between Russia and Western states, including in Russia’s relationship with organisations such as NATO and the EU. Today, like in the past, Russia prioritises its relations with important capitals such as Washington, Berlin and Paris, above multilateral forums like NATO and the EU.
Bilateral and regional strategies are particularly on the rise in the area of trade policy. According to trade theory, trade agreements encompassing as many economies as possible will provide the greatest welfare gains. It has nonetheless been difficult to reach agreement in the WTO over the past 15 years on new trade agreements that encompass all members, because of diverging interests. Due to these and other disagreements, states and regional groups have chosen instead to negotiate new bilateral and regional trade agreements. This trend is further strengthened under the sitting US administration, which is of the view that the US can achieve the best results by using its national influence in bilateral negotiations. In 2017, the US withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), and the 11 other states in the group instead entered into a separate trade agreement without the US.
The current US administration appears to a greater degree to see international negotiations as zero-sum games, where some win while others lose. In the past, the US has been more willing to give other states gains to conclude international agreements that benefit the international community as a whole. An example of this is the Paris Agreement, which the US has announced it will leave. Trade cooperation in the WTO is another example. Considerations are now more transactional than has previously been the case in Washington, D.C. The current approach is that what the US pays and the commitments it makes must be in line with what it gets in return, including in the short term. If cooperation does not deliver sufficient returns, the US shows a clear willingness to look elsewhere. National room for manoeuvre and immediate results take precedence over support for a rules-based world order, even though the benefits from such an order will be greater over time, including for the US. This zero-sum approach provides incentives for giving preference to bilateral relations.
Historically speaking, the US’ attitude towards international cooperation has swung like a pendulum between isolationism on the one hand, to a willingness to carry the multilateral system on the other. The current tendency towards withdrawal precedes the sitting administration. The pressure from American voters to reduce the US’s international involvement has increased over the past three decades, and is expected to continue in the years ahead. All of the previous three presidents have advocated a more limited American role abroad. There is bipartisan agreement in Congress on the need for better burden-sharing in international organisations, and on the need to ‘win’ the strategic competition with China. The US view of and approach to China has fundamentally changed in recent years.
A crucial question in the years ahead will be how to prevent one or more of the great powers withdrawing from or blocking the work of important multilateral organisations, and the organisations imploding as a result. It is therefore important to take the great powers’ concerns about the shortcomings of the multilateral system seriously.
At the same time, it is cause for concern that certain influential countries place less weight on multilateral cooperation than previously. In particular, there appears to be less willingness to enter into binding agreements. While there is progress in areas where the states agree on general policy goals, such as the 2030 Agenda with the Sustainable Development Goals, few intergovernmental agreements are entered into at present that entail limitations to national sovereignty. This is a problem because solving challenges in areas such as climate change and environmental degradation, security and trade requires states to compromise and take on commitments.
5.3 Values, norms and rights under pressure
The liberal world order has been crucial to the development of the multilateral system’s rules and institutions after World War II. This has put pressure on states to respect the rule of law, individual liberties, human rights and democracy. When the substance of the multilateral system changes and becomes less liberal, the system’s normative role will also change. It will, for example, be more difficult for the UN to promote human rights internationally if illiberal states succeed in weakening the formulation of such rights in the resolutions adopted by the UN. Today, we see that more states are less concerned about receiving criticism than previously, and that they can violate established norms and commitments under international law, including in the area of human rights, without political cost.
More people than ever get their social and economic rights fulfilled. In 2015, around a billion fewer people lived in extreme poverty than in 1990.2 At the same time, however, there have been setbacks and deterioration of civil and political rights in many countries. The Freedom in the World 2019 report by Freedom House showed that the very cornerstones of democracy, such as free and fair elections, minority rights, freedom of the press, and the rule of law, have been undermined in many states. The report found that 68 countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties during 2018, while only 50 countries registered gains. The global trend has been negative every year for the past 13 years.3
Pressure is mounting from many corners. Authoritarian states demonstrate greater confidence than previously in international organisations such as the UN. They do not accept what they refer to as definitions of and standards for democracy and human rights dictated by the West – even when they stem from agreements they themselves took part in negotiating. These states often see multilateral mechanisms as restricting national control and imposing a policy of supranational, unwanted demands. They place high priority on the principles of sovereignty and non-interference in matters of internal affairs. It is more important to many of these states that the multilateral system contributes to development, prosperity, stability and peace at the national level rather than stipulating normative standards.
When states rank human rights, with the claim that economic and social rights should take priority over political and civil rights, this challenges and complicates the work of multilateral institutions such as the UN Human Rights Council. China in particular argues that economic development must come before other considerations, and has succeeded in promoting this view, among other things by funding and promoting certain Sustainable Development Goals.
We are also increasingly seeing an artificial contrast being created between territorial security and human rights. In addition, the states have different views of what constitutes human rights violations, how valuable it is to hold the authorities accountable for such violations, and to what extent bringing the parties to justice can contribute toward stability and sustainable development.
When illiberal and authoritarian states become more active in the multilateral system, liberal, democratic states face a dilemma. Should they support multilateralism because of its intrinsic value, even if the results from multilateral processes would weaken established rights and are not in accordance with the democracies’ liberal foundations? Or should states stand by their values even if it means greater polarisation, inability to act or the deterioration of important institutions? If the development continues in the same direction as today, this dilemma will become increasingly difficult to handle.
Liberal values and fundamental rights and freedoms are not only being challenged globally, but also in our own region. The developments with regards to the rule of law, democracy and human rights seen in a number of European countries are troubling. A number of political leaders have exploited their majority power and introduced legislative amendments that challenge or violate international commitments. Civil society and the freedom of the press have been noticeably curtailed in certain countries. It will become more difficult for the EU to be a significant normative actor at the international level when its member states no longer see eye to eye on certain liberal values.
In the OSCE, the normative work is relatively stagnant. Attempts are being made to undermine commitments, norms and values, and to limit civil society’s participation in the OSCE’s human rights and democracy work. The OSCE’s arms control work and confidence-building security policy measures also face severe challenges. The situation reflects the conflicts between countries at the regional and global levels. The OSCE is an arena for debate on international values and interests, where the dividing lines also run across the usual East–West division, characterised by polarisation and confrontation. The OSCE’s practical work at the national level on promoting democracy, human rights, equality, security sector reform, and the prevention of violent extremism and terrorism is nonetheless still of great importance.
There has always been a certain spectrum of values among NATO’s member states. However, the alliance has experience in maintaining cooperation, even in periods where certain states pursue a policy that, in some areas, is in violation of the alliance’s common values. The effect of these differences on the alliance’s practical policy has therefore been limited. Candidate countries are subject to the same strict requirements as previously, and despite the development, NATO has in recent years strengthened its work on ensuring that relevant UN standards are reflected in the alliance’s operations, particularly in relation to women, peace and security, children in armed conflicts and civilian protection.
The US is one of the countries that has changed its policies, which in turn has added to the pressure in certain areas. It withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council in 2018, has harshly criticised the International Criminal Court and is no longer a like-minded country when it comes to women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), as well as the rights of vulnerable groups. The latter is clearly demonstrated by the US proposal to remove or dilute references to sexual and reproductive health services and rights in resolutions under negotiation in, for example, the UN. Abortion and sexual orientation in particular are topics that the current administration does not wish to discuss. This makes it difficult to make progress in these areas at the international level.
However, the global picture is not solely negative. There are indications of progress in some areas. An increasing number of countries have ratified the UN’s core human rights conventions. There has been positive development in countries such as India, Nepal and Japan in the area of sexual orientation and gender identity (LGBTI). There has also been progress in a number of countries with regards to the abolition of the death penalty, particularly in Africa. In addition, women’s rights have improved in a number of Latin American countries. Although the general trend is negative, the conditions for civil society organisations have also improved in some countries.
However, the situation indicates that we are living in a period of time where protecting and safeguarding established norms and rights is as important and necessary as pushing for progress. What this means for Norway is discussed in Chapter 6.
5.4 Criticism against economic globalisation
Increasing inequality within countries is one of the causes of greater discontent with economic globalisation and distrust in the international institutions that have facilitated it, particularly in the rich parts of the world.
Economic globalisation contributes to higher growth and productivity through access to larger markets and technology, increased competition, specialisation and division of labour. It has been a major factor in reducing inequality between countries and in achieving a major global reduction in poverty over the past 30 years. Freer trade between countries gives consumers and companies access to a range of goods and services at lower prices, which benefits everyone. It also means that producers gain access to larger markets. The rules-based multilateral trade system has formed the basis for this globalisation by facilitating more open, stable and predictable markets.
Globalisation increases the size of the economic pie that can be shared, but the gains are not automatically shared among all economic groups. Economic globalisation can also lead to increased inequality within countries, but the causation behind this is complex.
One explanation for this development is that the global supply of cheap, low-skilled labour has increased following the gradual integration of countries such as China and India into the global economy. Access to high-skilled labour has increased to a lesser degree. The changed composition of the labour force participating in the global economy has affected labour markets and the distribution of income in developed economies. Jobs for those with little education have been outsourced abroad, while higher labour migration has increased competition for the jobs that are left.
The OECD4 presents figures showing that real wages in member states over the past 20 years have not kept pace with the growth in productivity. This means that workers are now left with a smaller share of the economic pie than previously, while the owners of capital take a greater share. Both the OECD and IMF5 believe that technological change and globalisation explain most of the decline in the share allocated to wages in industrial countries post 1990. There is no agreement on which factor contributes the most to increased inequality, but evidence suggest that it is the introduction of new technology rather than trade in itself. Figures show that the richest pull ahead from both the middle class and the poorest in society. This contributes to increased inequality.
OECD numbers also indicate greater income inequality between workers today than previously. Automation has meant that the demand for labour with mid-range wage and education requirements has been undermined in a number of countries. The OECD6 has also identified increased inequality of opportunity, including access to education.
The increase in international market concentration can also lead to a more uneven distribution of the gains from globalisation. The importance of technological development, globalisation and changed market conditions are described in more detail in the white paper on distribution and social sustainability.7
Ensuring that the gains from globalisation benefit the whole population, and that inequality is reduced, puts great demands on states’ domestic economic policy. Much of the discontent with the effects of globalisation are caused by a lack of or poor distributive policies within states. This challenge cannot primarily be solved at the international level, but must be addressed by politicians in each country.
Increased inequality and the economic stagnation of the middle class can lead to populism and diminishing trust in the authorities, particularly if many feel excluded and are unable to achieve a better life through readjustment, education and political participation. This tendency is strengthened and underpinned by nationalist currents, with populist parties using identity politics to generate opposition to the types of binding international cooperation that are seen as restricting the sovereignty of nation states. History has also shown that increased inequality can in some cases lead to conflict.
Some political leaders use protectionism as a simple answer to a complex question, but this kind of policy entails higher costs for consumers and less prosperity to distribute. Nor does protectionism necessarily lead to better distribution. It can, however, lead to weaker demand and lower investment levels. In the long run, this can result in weaker growth in the country’s economy. Historically speaking, increased international integration and trade between countries have been vital to growth in the global economy. If protectionist measures are adopted in several major markets, it can weaken the global economy.
Opposition to economic integration can also be linked to the issue of national sovereignty. Trade cooperation can mean that commitments made restrict states’ freedom to decide rules by themselves. Determining the right balance between international commitments and national sovereignty can be a controversial matter.
The development described above can lead to a loss of legitimacy for international organisations among the groups of the population that see them as symbols of globalisation. Many critics of globalisation consider the multilateral system to be more of a threat to national sovereignty than a forum where national governments can solve problems together. The portrayal of international collective solutions as being forced on nation states reduces popular support for organisations like the UN and the EU, and may diminish their normative power. Employees of international organisations are portrayed as global elites who are above national policy, despite the fact that they work under mandates from member governments. In the long term, this can lead to political pressure against participation in and funding of the multilateral system.
5.5 Lack of representativeness, efficiency and results
Trust in international cooperation is dependent on it being relevant, legitimate and productive. This trust diminishes when international organisations are perceived as incapable of acting, inefficient or unrepresentative. Without change and reform, many of the organisations we have today will not survive. Without attractive multilateral solutions, member states must address their needs in other ways, through forms of cooperation that may be more costly and less inclusive.
The emergence of the system of international organisations must be seen in conjunction with the need to solve concrete challenges as they have arisen. There has not been a ‘master plan’ for the development of multilateral cooperation. When new needs have arisen, a new organisation has often been established, rather than adapting existing organisations to solve new tasks. When states have found their views unsatisfactorily addressed in an organisation, they have established new mechanisms. This practice has gradually led to a range of organisations and mechanisms with overlapping mandates. Overall, the multilateral architecture has become more complex, more fragmented and less transparent, and in some areas, also less cost effective.
Often, organisations with overlapping mandates do not have the same member states, making it harder to reform and dismantle organisations that are outdated since the states’ interests differ. Nonetheless, many of the major challenges we are currently facing, such as climate change and ensuring sustainable development, demand coordinated action across sectors on the part of the global community, at the national, regional and international levels. To achieve this, the multilateral system must be more coherent than is currently the case.
It is also a challenge, however, that the world is changing faster than international institutions are able to reform. States with reduced geopolitical importance are rarely willing to let go of their own institutional power obtained in another age. There is therefore an inherent inertia in the international institutions’ ability to adapt to changed geopolitical power relations, since most institutions are governed on the basis of the consensus principle. Even in cases where member states agree on the need for reform, it can be difficult to agree on what form it should take. Reform therefore takes time, and the delay may cause the organisations to become less efficient and lose legitimacy.
The UN is an example in this context. Resolutions on budget and reform issues in the UN are adopted by consensus. The organisation therefore evolves slowly and only after major and prolonged international effort. This poses a major challenge since there is undoubtedly a major need for reform in the UN system. It has long been an issue, for example, to ensure that the various parts of the UN coordinate their efforts well. This applies not least at country level, where the UN operates. The problem relates to how the UN organisations, offices and peacekeeping forces are organised and funded. Extensive reform processes have now been initiated that address the UN development system, management and peace and security work. It is essential to the efficiency and relevance of the UN in the future that these reforms succeed.
States largely agree that reforms are needed in various parts of the multilateral system, but not on the solutions or how to go about reaching them. Norway and other countries share the US view that several multilateral organisations are ripe for reform. The solution, however, is not to tear down the system that the states have carefully built, but to reform it from within. The Government’s approach to reform strategies in various multilateral organisations is discussed in Chapter 8.2.
For multilateral cooperation to maintain credibility, national implementation must also be improved. It is ultimately the member states that must comply with their commitments under multilateral agreements. Lack of compliance diminishes the multilateral system’s relevance. It is also the case that no multilateral organisation or mechanism can be stronger or more dynamic than its member states are willing to make it, as exemplified by the UN Security Council.
5.6 New problems to be solved
The world is facing a range of new and complex problems that the multilateral system is not currently set up to handle. The UN Security Council and international humanitarian law were created at a time when wars were largely fought between states, rather than between states and non-state parties such as terrorist groups. Climate change is a complex issue and requires new forms of cooperation that also include stakeholders in areas other than climate and the environment, and cooperation between the private and public sector. Technological developments, such as artificial intelligence, also entail a need for common rules and standards. Developments are unfolding quickly and are difficult to regulate in the international organisations and with the forms of cooperation currently at our disposal. This section discusses some of the new problems that will challenge the global community’s ability and willingness to cooperate going forward.
Transnational security challenges
Transnational security challenges are a threat to individuals, societies and states. International terrorism, organised crime, piracy and challenges in the digital space have to be met with international cooperation. The global community has a joint responsibility to strengthen and abide by relevant norms and rules to enhance global stability, safety and development.
The threat from non-state actors is increasing. Terrorist organisations, violent extremist groups and criminal networks are the most prominent actors, and constitute challenges that every state must address, regardless of its geographical and political position. It is difficult to implement response measures, not least in fragile states. Criminal networks thrive in areas with a weak rule of law and widespread corruption. Such networks prevent the development of democracy, good governance, business and tax regimes, and are an obstacle to sustainable economic growth. Another trend is that certain states use non-state parties to act as proxies to avoid being identified.
Illegal trade, human trafficking, illegal financial transactions and other crime generate large cash flows for terrorists, militias and rebel groups. Piracy is an example of organised crime that erodes political structures and has consequences for many countries. Efficient cooperation across national borders is essential to solving these challenges.
Development in digital space has changed the international community and human interaction in a short space of time and in ways we could barely imagine a few years ago. The internet has become the world’s most important infrastructure and now constitutes the artery of the global flow of goods, services and information. At the same time, digital threats have become an integrated part of the global security challenges Norway and other countries face.
Digital attacks can in some cases confer as much damage as conventional military force. In conflict situations, conventional military force, digital attacks and a number of other instruments are increasingly used together in what is often referred to as ‘hybrid threats’. The purpose is to achieve political or economic objectives, including to undermine political concord, decision-making capabilities and institutions.
Digital attacks, dissemination of disinformation and other tools are also used by states in peacetime, to sway elections and diminish trust in democracy and the rule of law in other countries. An example of this is the attempts to influence the American election in 2016. Norway and other countries see a need for closer international cooperation to reduce the threat level in digital space. The UN, NATO, the EU and OSCE are among the organisations currently discussing this matter.
Artificial intelligence will lead to major changes in areas such as health and transport and in the military sector. Rapid developments in this field have led to a technological race between the great powers. Their views on the security policy, legal and ethical implications of these developments vary, for example in relation to how artificial intelligence can be used in warfare. Finding multilateral solutions that regulate use of this technology may therefore prove to be particularly problematic.
Climate and environment
Problems related to climate change and environmental degradation constitute some of the clearest examples of an area where cooperation across national borders and sectors is necessary.
The solutions require coordinated efforts between actors working in the area of climate change and the environment, and actors and agreements in areas that may have a positive or negative effect on these, such as those relating to trade and the economy. There are clear links between climate and environmental status and global health.8 Climate and environmental problems can also impact human rights such as the right to food and water. However, political and civil human rights can also contribute positively to improving climate and environmental policy.
The Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement were important steps towards solving the problem of climate change. It will be essential that all parties endorse the implementation of the Paris Agreement and raise their ambitions in the coming years. However, it is challenging to reach agreement on international mechanisms and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that require economic restructuring and policy changes.
Climate change may undermine the extensive global progress in combating poverty. There is also increased acceptance of climate change as a global security challenge. Global warming and its consequences are a direct threat to certain countries and can impact the underlying causes of conflict. Research on the consequences of climate change on security policy show a risk of more conflicts arising over scarce resources.
Migration and refugees
Regular migration may contribute to economic growth globally, reduce inequality between countries, and allow millions of people to work their way out of poverty. Norway, for example, has benefited greatly from the free movement of labour that has followed from the EEA Agreement. Migration can also be of benefit to individuals.
People moving for different reasons across state borders is nothing new. What is new is the great volume, speed and dramatic circumstances that surround migration today. Irregular migration in the form of illegal border crossings and residence is an extensive and increasing problem, not only in Europe and Africa, but also in other parts of the world. Persecution, war, conflict, oppression, poverty and states that do not provide basic services are among the reasons why people leave their country of origin, often combined with an expectation of protection and/or a better standard of living elsewhere. Climate change and population growth are likely to further increase migration pressure in the years ahead.
Few topics create more polarisation and political divide than migration, both with respect to individual countries and in international organisations. A recent example is the work on the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) within the framework of the UN. It is also evident in discussions in the EU, particularly on the development of a common asylum policy and a solidarity mechanism for sharing the burden when large numbers of asylum seekers arrive.
States must use the multilateral system to find solutions to the problems that cause irregular migration. This means addressing the root causes. The UN system alone has more than 20 specialised organisations, funds, programmes and units working on different aspects of migration. Better coordination is therefore essential.
Cross-border threats to health
The world is becoming more interconnected. We travel more, trade more and carry more infectious diseases with us in our luggage. International outbreaks of bird flu, SARS and foot and mouth disease have shown how vulnerable society is when faced with cross-border threats to health. However, countries at all stages of development are increasingly faced with the same health threats. Non-infectious diseases, for example, make up an increasing proportion of the disease burden in low and middle income countries. The reasons for this lie partly or completely outside the individual country’s control.
To prevent and cope with challenges such as infectious disease outbreaks, antimicrobial resistance, aggressive marketing of unhealthy products like tobacco and alcohol, air pollution and poor access to medicines, it is necessary to strengthen international cooperation. This requires wide-reaching multilateral organisations that ensure good coordination between countries and between sectors.
Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, China, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the UK, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, Germany, the US and the EU.
The World Bank (2019). Poverty
Freedom House (2019). Democracy in Retreat. Freedom in the World 2019
OECD (2018). Employment outlook 2018.
IMF (2017). World Economic Outlook.
OECD (2017). Making trade work for all.
Report No 13 to the Storting (2018–2019). Muligheter for alle – Fordeling og sosial bærekraft (in Norwegian only).
UN Environment (2019). Global Environment Outlook 6.