Who, if not us? (15 February 2019)


Article by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Jean-Yves Le Drian (France) at the start of the Munich Security Conference. Published in the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

The multilateral order is experiencing its perhaps gravest crisis since its emergence after the Second World War. Unfortunately, it can no longer be taken for granted that an international rules-based system is seen by all as the best guarantor of our security and prosperity. Trust and commitment within the framework of international cooperation, the quest for joint solutions, strong and effective institutions – all of these values and principles are at risk of losing their impact. Such an outcome would catapult us back to yesterday’s world. The critical state of multilateralism, i.e. a foreign policy based on the cooperation among many states, will also play a prominent role in the debate at the 55th Munich Security Conference.

The international order is under huge pressure. Some players are increasingly engaging in power politics, thus undermining the idea of a rules-based order with a view to enforcing the law of the strong. At the same time, criticism of seemingly inefficient international cooperation is growing in many societies, also in some Western countries. Ever more people are rejecting it as too expensive, acting as though global problems such as climate change, migration and cyber security could be successfully tackled at national level. The rivalry among major powers and growing nationalism have resulted in an increasingly fragmented world order – in political, economic and social terms.

To counter this trend, like minded states must make common cause and double their efforts to promote multilateralism. France and Germany intend to lead the way. Together with our European partners, we are placing our faith in multilateral cooperation and a rules-based world order. We firmly believe that a new commitment to multilateralism, an alliance for multilateralism, is more necessary than ever if we are to stabilise the rules-based world order, to uphold its principles and to adapt it to new challenges where necessary. We therefore want to establish a global network of like minded states which are convinced that pursuing legitimate, national interests and protecting the collective property of humankind are fully compatible, not mutually exclusive.

We have to protect international norms, agreements and institutions when they come under pressure, or when their existence or funding is jeopardised. This includes international law as well as human rights and international humanitarian law, which are violated on a daily basis throughout the world, thus triggering conflicts. We are therefore calling for open and fair world trade. Furthermore, we will do all we can to safeguard major diplomatic successes such as the nuclear deal with Iran, the agreements on combating climate change or the arms control regimes.

We will also have to be even more committed and assertive where there is a need for regulation at political level and where new challenges require joint action. That applies in particular to regional crises and new mechanisms for international security cooperation. In the digital age, we will endeavour to find an adequate regulatory system which reconciles privacy and security concerns with the protection of individual freedoms. We want to formulate effective multilateral responses to cyber attacks and the malicious manipulation of information.

The current multilateral system is undoubtedly imperfect. It is not always able to find the right answers to the countless challenges we face. Those like us who support multilateralism must therefore seek to make it more efficient, representative and agile in future. The global political and economic order must be more inclusive and effective in order to deliver tangible successes for people around the world.

The challenges are huge and there is no one solution. Rather, we have to form intelligent networks of committed states in order to achieve maximum effectiveness through variable geometry and fluid membership. Depending on the issue, like-minded states should form coalitions to attain concrete political results. Participation in this network for multilateralism is not exclusive. However, it requires dedicated and sustained contributions to the alliance’s goals.

France and Germany are prepared to act in unison with other partners as the engine and hub for the network. To this end, Paris and Berlin will take advantage of Germany’s membership of the UN Security Council in 2019 and 2020 to work together on strengthening multilateralism. In particular, we will cooperate closely when we successively hold the Presidency of the UN Security Council in New York in March and April of this year.

Our European partners and the European institutions will play a key role in all of this. The European Union is a cornerstone of the multilateral system. Compromise and consensus are deeply embedded in its DNA. We Europeans are therefore a reliable partner for those who want to uphold the rules-based order and who are prepared to shoulder more responsibility to this end. We see considerable willingness to do this around the world. It is high time we coordinated more closely to form a strong and dedicated network in order to safeguard multilateral diplomacy from false nation-state promises and unbridled power politics. Who, if not us? When, if not now?