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Justin Vaïsse: "Geopolitics is slowly killing global governance".

At a time when the demise of multilateralism is being heralded, it is reappearing in new forms, involving new players, such as the Conferences of the Parties (COPs) and the Paris Peace Forum. In November, this forum brought together nearly 5,000 players in global governance. Justin Vaïsse, its founder and Managing Director, gives us his views on these new frameworks for international cooperation.
®IHEDN | Justin Vaïsse : « La géopolitique tue à petit feu la gouvernance globale »

In your view, the Paris Peace Forum embodies a new form of multilateralism.
Could you explain why?

In the second half of the XXe In the 19th century, the major global issues - security, of course, but also specifically nuclear disarmament and development - were dealt with within the UN by states. From the 1970s onwards, however, civil society began to take up these issues, such as human rights and the environment, and to take action, mainly by putting pressure on governments. More recently, however, a series of changes have taken place. Firstly, these global issues are becoming more prevalent and affecting people's lives more directly. Think of the climate or Covid, for example. This is the case with digital technology, which is essentially in the hands of the private sector (unlike the nuclear sector, which used to be the prerogative of governments), and also genetics, where the revolution is only just beginning. As a result, it is not enough for states alone to manage these challenges through regulation. Worse still, the multilateral system is increasingly out of kilter. The UN remains indispensable and must be preserved at all costs, and is still producing good results in certain areas. But it is falling victim to the rising tensions between the major powers, which are reducing the scope for international cooperation and coordination.. Geopolitics is slowly killing global governance, you might say - and as we approach the iceberg, the passengers are increasingly preoccupied with their petty disagreements and fights on the deck of the Titanic. So we need to find other ways of managing these global challenges together, by bringing together broader coalitions that include other forces - NGOs, philanthropic foundations, businesses, in short a kind of vertical multilateralism - to jointly manage these major challenges, create standards, mobilise resources and so on. This is what we did again at the 5e edition of the Forum on subjects such as cybersecurity, critical materials, the danger of debris in the space environment and exceeding climate targets. And yes, the results are very positive, even if the Forum is still young!

Can multilateralism be maintained in a multipolar world?

This is more difficult than when the United States dominated the international scene and played a more 'multilateral' game itself, in other words when we had a kind of unipolarity, even if it wasn't perfect. The initial dilemma is well known: in the international system, there is no supranational authority, no world government, there is only voluntary coordination between almost 200 entities, and rules of law that they can choose not to respect without having much to fear - look at North Korea, or Russia, which openly violates the United Nations Charter and only has to face sanctions and disapproval, which is not unanimous. As the American watchdog shows itself less inclined to sanction violations of the rules, and as competition between the great powers (multipolarity, in other words) intensifies, multilateralism suffers because certain countries calculate that they can advance their interests by playing more personally, by breaking the rules and the bonds of solidarity. Add to this populism and nationalism, such as that of Trump or Bolsonaro, and the outlook is not rosy. But if formal multilateralism is suffering, new forms of cooperation are emerging, helped by a growing awareness of global challenges, and the Forum is trying to embody and encourage these trends, so that we can react before we hit the iceberg!

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A historian specialising in the United States, Justin Vaïsse headed the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Centre for Analysis, Forecasting and Strategy (CAPS) from 2013 to 2019.

He is the founder and CEO of the Paris Peace Forum.