New Realities of Multilateralism

Panorama Insights into Asian and European Affairs

The prevailing view globally is that the challenges of the 21st century, such as increasing security threats, climate change or global health emergencies require collaborative multilateral action and solutions. Multilateral initiatives have been established as a response to these challenges, as exemplified by the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) or the Covax Vaccine Initiative to name some of the most recent ones. However, there is rising criticism of multilateral cooperation as being neither effective nor sufficient in generating sustainable solutions. In some cases, multilateral engagements have failed to prevent humanitarian crises as the world is currently witnessing in Afghanistan. In an interconnected world, it has also become increasingly difficult for regional organisations to pursue their integration goals amidst interfering intra- and extra-regional developments. Even though some experts proclaim the “death” of the multilateral system and at times countries retreat to unilateral or bilateral formats, the situation is more complex. Some multilateral institutions have come to a standstill, new ones have emerged while others have re-gained influence. 

This issue of Panorama: Insights into Asian and European Affairs addresses multilateral cooperation of global interest, looking at the COVID-19 pandemic and country studies in Asia and Europe with implications for regional and international security as well as assessing challenging multilateral collaborations in both regions on a case-by-case basis.
The publication begins with an analysis of the largest global multilateral organisation – the United Nations – and how it is caught in the rivalry for hegemony between the United States of America and China. Undoubtedly a subject of concern for all member countries of the United Nations. The second article elaborates on the role of global politics in global health management, with reference to the World Health Organisation and explains why the global COVID-19 pandemic, in which collective action was essential, did not bring countries together. The next article portrays how global politics affect regional organisations. In this case, the EU’s immigration policy is examined and how it has changed in light of the Russian war against Ukraine. The article on AUKUS provides counterproof of the argument that multilateralism is dead by mapping the security risks in the region, the dynamics that led to the recent formation of AUKUS, its impact and the reactions by governments around the world. The next two articles are dedicated to ASEAN and its handling of two crises: Firstly, the regional organisation’s handling of the military coup in Myanmar and how its actions are constrained by its own principles and as well as China’s role in the conflict. Secondly, the ASEAN health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and how the region as a whole – or rather the member countries separately – dealt with it. The seventh article takes stock of the Western state-building efforts in Afghanistan and incisively asks whether the liberal international order has finally collapsed. The author of the subsequent looks at Taiwan and assesses the losses for the global community as a result of excluding it from multilateral fora. The second-last article explores the development of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and what its future holds for ASEAN and the wider region. Lastly, the issue ends with how it started – China's influence. This time by looking at the Mekong, which is the lifeline for roughly 260 million people and the multilateral cooperation efforts attempting to solve the Mekong region’s many challenges. 
With a wealth of Asian and European perspectives on multilateralism, this Panorama issue provides insights on each region’s own attempts and struggles to find joint solutions for common challenges. Additionally, it also becomes very clear that Asia and Europe are linked through multilateral cooperation and overlapping interests, which will likely grow stronger in the years ahead.


Photo: Falcon® Photography/ Flickr/ CC BY-SA 2.0


Alina Reiß

Alina Reiß

Program Manager, Regional Integration & Multilateralism +65 6603 6169

About this series

"Panorama - Insights into Asian and European Affairs" is a series of occasional contributions published by the Regional Programme Political Dialogue Asia/Singapore of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung. The individual contributions deal with different topics on Europe and Asia.