Mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism re­mains cru­cial to global peace, sta­bil­ity

The Korea Times - - OPINION - The above ed­i­to­rial ap­peared in the Los An­ge­les Times. It was dis­trib­uted by Tri­bune Con­tent Agency, LLC.

Within a span of a quar­ter-cen­tury, an­cient ri­val­ries and sim­mer­ing ten­sions pro­pelled the ma­jor na­tions of Europe into two dev­as­tat­ing wars that even­tu­ally em­broiled so many states that they be­came known as the first “world wars.”

At the end of the first of those con­flicts — 100 years ago last month — the United States and other na­tions sought to cre­ate an in­ter­na­tional body through which they could me­di­ate dis­putes and avoid fu­ture wars.

The League of Na­tions didn’t work out, as na­tion­al­ism once again trumped in­ter­na­tion­al­ism and the globe de­scended into World War II. Out of those ashes in 1945, the na­tions of the world tried again to cre­ate a series of in­ter­na­tional mech­a­nisms to in­crease co­op­er­a­tion, en­hance di­a­logue, seek so­lu­tions to global prob­lems and re­duce the chances of yet an­other all-con­sum­ing war. That ef­fort has been, in the main, suc­cess­ful.

Which is why it is so trou­bling that Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, in a speech in Brus­sels on Tues­day, ques­tioned the value of in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions, sin­gling out for criti- cism the United Na­tions, the Euro­pean Union, the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Amer­i­can States and the African Union, among oth­ers.

“In­ter­na­tional bod­ies must help fa­cil­i­tate co­op­er­a­tion that bol­sters the se­cu­rity and val­ues of the free world, or they must be re­formed or elim­i­nated,” Pom­peo said.

Elim­i­nated? Re­ally? Of course there are flaws in these in­sti­tu­tions — big ones that oc­ca­sion­ally lead to dev­as­tat­ing out­comes. But surely the goal should be to strengthen these or­ga­ni­za­tions and fix their prob­lems, rather than to weaken or aban­don them in fa­vor of some ill-de­fined, nar­row and parochial modern-day na­tion­al­ism.

Peace­keep­ing mis­sions do in­deed last far too long, as Pom­peo charged, but that doesn’t mean they have been in­con­se­quen­tial in mit­i­gat­ing vi­o­lence. Pom­peo spoke dis­mis­sively of the work done by “bu­reau­crats” in the EU, as­sert­ing that Brexit is a warn­ing that mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism has failed the peo­ple of Bri­tain and other mem­ber states.

But no — Brexit arose as part of an omi­nous global move to­ward na­tion­al­ism; it is likely to be as detri­men­tal for the peo­ple of the United King­dom as it is for oth­ers in the EU.

Pom­peo said, some­what para­dox­i­cally, that Pres­i­dent Trump, who has also crit­i­cized global in­sti­tu­tions and mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism, “is re­turn­ing the United States to its tra­di­tional, cen­tral lead­er­ship role in the world” by em­brac­ing an Amer­ica first brand of na­tion­al­ism. “He knows that noth­ing can re­place the na­tion-state as the guar­an­tor of demo­cratic free­doms and na­tional in­ter­ests.”

Yet the na­tions of the world will not progress or de­velop or de­moc­ra­tize or re­solve their dis­putes by back­ing away from re­gional ef­forts to seek ne­go­ti­ated so­lu­tions to their prob­lems. From hu­man rights to cli­mate change to eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, in­ter­na­tion­al­ism is a bet­ter, though ad­mit­tedly im­per­fect, so­lu­tion.

Yes, the Gen­eral Assem­bly some­times wastes time; the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil’s struc­ture, in which any of the five per­ma­nent mem­bers can veto an ac­tion, of­ten ren­ders it in­ca­pable of deal­ing with thorny is­sues. The World Bank and the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund have made wrong de­ci­sions over the years.

Yet any­one who has spent time with the ded­i­cated staff of the U.N.’s World Food Pro­gram dur­ing a Su­danese famine, or with the troops who for years kept the peace on the Is­raeli-Le­banese bor­der or with UNICEF in coun­tries such as Iraq where chil­dren have been at grave risk knows that the in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions built af­ter World War II can, at their best, be ex­tra­or­di­nary pro­tec­tors of peace and ad­vo­cates of pros­per­ity and democ­racy.

Na­tion­al­ism and mis­trust pro­pelled Europe and the rest of the world into war twice in the last cen­tury, and war has per­sisted on smaller scales since, no­tably with the Balkan con­flicts that fol­lowed the breakup of Yu­goslavia, and that only ended with in­ter­na­tional in­ter­ven­tion. That’s a past we dare not re­peat.

Mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism is rooted in the be­lief that the more con­nected are the na­tions of the world, the less likely they’ll be to turn their weapons on each other. That makes as much sense to­day as it did 70 years ago, when much of Europe lay in ru­ins.

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