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International cooperation in the 21st century: Multilateralism for humanity

Weißbuch Multilateralismus

Weißbuch Multilateralismus, © Bundesregierung

01.06.2021 - Article

The COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, artificial intelligence: global challenges can only be mastered through international cooperation. The German Government’s White Paper on Multilateralism shows how Germany is working to strengthen multilateral institutions and rules.

Cooperation based on solidarity and common rules

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to considerable human suffering as well as unprecedented restrictions in daily life within our societies. However, it also raises the question as to what kind of international order is best suited to finding the right answers to future global challenges.

The German Government’s position is clear. A stable, fair and effective international order can only be based on the readiness to engage in cooperation in a spirit of solidarity and a commitment to common rules and institutions. The Federal Republic of Germany has therefore supported this multilateral order with the United Nations at its heart since its foundation.

Germany second‑largest contributor to the UN system

Germany takes its responsibility seriously: it is the second‑largest contributor to the UN system and supports humanitarian assistance measures in particular, such as the Central Emergency Response Fund or the World Food Programme of the United Nations.

Germany is also the second‑largest contributor to the multilateral cooperation platform Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT Accelerator), which is engaged around the globe in fostering the rapid development, production and fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, medicines, and diagnostics.

Politically and in terms of personnel, too, Germany is working to promote multilateralism. For instance, almost 5000 German soldiers have taken part in multilateral deployments and missions for peace and stability around the world and Germany is putting forward ideas on international norms and rules in cyberspace, the regulation of lethal autonomous weapons systems or how to halt sexual violence in war.

The German Government has set out and explained the entire breadth of Germany’s multilateral engagement for the first time in a White Paper on Multilateralism.

Multilateralism for humanity: Adapting the multilateral order for the 21st century

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stated that with the adoption of the White Paper by the Federal Cabinet today (19 May), the German Government wants to make it clear in particular how the multilateral order can be adapted to deal with the challenges and conditions of the 21st century and what contribution Germany can make. The focus is on the principle of multilateralism for humanity, aimed at bringing about a concrartiete improvement in the lives of people in Germany, Europe and around the world. At the same time, it is open to new stakeholders, such as the countries of the global South, international organisations and civil society.

In introducing the White Paper, the German Government wants to open a discussion on how multilateralism can be further developed and implemented for the 21st century.

Core Messages of the White Paper on Multilateralism:

  • In the White Paper on Multilateralism, the German Government is, for the first time, presenting the entire spectrum and strategic priorities of Germany’s multilateral engagement, as well as ways to strengthen and renew multilateralism.
  • Its leitmotif is a “proactive multilateralism”. This refers both to our own commitment, and also to enabling the multilateral system to tackle global challenges more effectively.
  • Germany has helped to stabilise the multilateral system in recent years, particularly where support has fallen by the wayside, for example in holding firm to the JCPoA, with its pioneering role in climate protection, its engagement in the UN Human Rights Council, its commitment to UNRWA, and with considerable financial contributions to the UN system as a whole (Germany was the second-largest contributor in 2019). In our efforts to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, we have, from the outset, focused on multilateral solutions with our support for the WHO and the newly created ACT-A structure and its vaccine arm COVAX.
  • Expectations that Germany will remain a driving force for strengthening and renewing the multilateral order in the future are great. We want to live up to this responsibility. The return of the US as a supporter of multilateralism helps our cause here. The challenges continue to be massive, however.
  • Three aspects are key to strengthening and renewing multilateralism:
    • Multilateralism can only be effective with a broad base of committed countries. We must strengthen existing partnerships to this end and seek new ones (Latin America, the Indo-Pacific, Africa). One concrete example is the Alliance for Multilateralism with its over 70 partners.
    • Multilateralism must tread new paths in involving civil society, NGOs and academia, as well as the business community. The pandemic is showing how important this is (e.g. the development, production and distribution of vaccines).
    • We must also mobilise support for multilateralism within society and make it clear that it “delivers”, i.e. that people benefit from multilateral policies. Rules-based multilateral solutions are better, fairer and more lasting than unilateral action.
    • All of this is taking place in accordance with certain rules, to which all those involved have signed up. Chiefly, these rules include the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and also the rules of procedure for the UN General Assembly. These rules and norms are crucial. They provide orientation and create trust. They facilitate dialogue. And they also show very clearly where boundaries may not be crossed.
  • The White Paper on Multilateralism sketches out lines of action and concrete initiatives with which we are preserving, reforming and expanding multilateralism and standing up for effective multilateralism with new partnerships:
    • in healthcare, for example, with the multilateral COVAX Facility, whose objective is to procure vaccines for at least 20 percent of the population in the 92 poorest countries in the world by the end of 2021;
    • in climate protection by further developing multilateral funding instruments to support, in particular, developing countries and emerging market economies, where Germany is already one of the most important donor countries;
    • in the area of peace and security, for instance by strengthening links between state and private stakeholders to achieve greater security in cyberspace, as well as with our arms control engagement (including Iran, the Open Skies Treaty, LAWS) and UN Resolution 2467 on ending conflict-related sexual violence as part of our efforts to further the Women, Peace and Security agenda;
    • to strengthen international law, including with the Alliance against Impunity, with which we want to get as many countries as possible to sign up to a convention on the prevention and punishment of crimes against humanity.
  • The high level of interest and support among European and international partners, think tanks and civil society suggests that we are on the right track. By presenting this White Paper on Multilateralism, we want to inject fresh impetus into the debate about the importance and future of multilateralism, including with events, discussions and virtual formats both in Germany and at missions abroad.
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