Global Governance Institute


Multilateralism's Life Cycle - Professor Harlan Cohen

05 June 2018, 6:15 pm–7:30 pm

Harlan Cohen

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Bedford Way (26) G03, 26 Bedford Way, WC1H 0AP, London

Does multilateralism have a life cycle? Perhaps paradoxically, this project suggests that current pressures on multilateralism and multilateral institutions, including threatened withdrawals by the United Kingdom from the European Union, the United States from the Paris climate change agreement, South Africa, Burundi, and Gambia from the International Criminal Court, and others, may be natural symptoms of those institutions' relative success. Successful multilateralism and multilateral institutions, this project argues, has four intertwined effects, which together, make continued multilateralism more difficult: (1) the wider dispersion of wealth or power among members, (2) the decreasing value for members of issue linkages, (3) changing assessment of multilateral institutions' value in the face of increased effectiveness, and (4) members' increased focus on relative or positional gains over absolute ones. Exploring how each of these manifests in the world today, this project suggests that current stresses on multilateralism may best be understood as the natural growing pains of an increasingly mature set of institutions. The open question going forward is what form the next stage of development will take. Will strategies of multilateralism continue or will they be replaced by smaller clubs and more local approaches?

Harlan Grant Cohen is the Gabriel M. Wilner/UGA Foundation Professor in International Law at University of Georgia School of Law and serves as a Faculty Co-Director of the law school's Dean Rusk International Law Center. His scholarship covers international legal theory, global governance, and U.S. Foreign Relations Law, with a particular focus on sources, authority, and institutional design. He is a member of the Board of Editors of the American Journal of International Law and the American Law Institute.

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