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Pierre Vimont: "Multilateralism must be reinvented".

Until the outbreak of war in Ukraine, Pierre Vimont was the French President's "special representative" in Russia. A witness to the collapse of the multilateralism created in 1945, he points to the inability of the major powers to take account of the agenda of those that have emerged: "the major global priorities (such as the climate, energy and food crises) require non-Western countries to be integrated into multilateralism".
®IHEDN | Pierre Vimont : « Le multilatéralisme doit être réinventé »

Does multilateralism have a future in this multipolar world?

Before answering this question, it is important to remember that a multilateral system is more necessary than ever. If the international community is unable to establish a certain number of principles and rules, then the promoters of the diplomacy of force, those who only use power in their international relations, will win. Then we will all be in deep trouble.

Multipolarity has undermined the multilateral system put in place after the Second World War: the UN, the Bretton Woods economic and financial system, and regional agreements such as those of Helsinki. This whole edifice is now being called into question.

Even the geopolitical categories defined when this multilateral system was created (East versus West, North versus South) have been overturned. What nations are we talking about when we speak of "the West" today? We are no longer just talking about the United States and European countries, but also their Pacific allies: Japan, South Korea and Australia. Which nations make up the "East" today? It's not just the former Soviet Union, now Russia, it's also China; we could also add Iran and other countries.

This multipolarity is bringing in new players who are asserting their desire to play a role on the international stage. These countries, such as Turkey and India, no longer accept being considered as mere "regional powers".

Do they have the resources?

They will have them. Those "left behind" by the international order no longer accept this situation. These so-called "Global South" countries no longer accept the Western narrative. They believe that the current system has served Western interests above all (the concept of "Global South", like the other concepts mentioned above, now covers a complex and diverse reality). These new players are calling for greater equity in the major international institutions. Multilateralism must be reinvented with this objective in mind.

Do you think the UN Security Council needs to be reformed?

Certain countries that play an important role on the international stage should become permanent members of the Security Council. Germany, Japan and India (others could be named), which today have major responsibilities, can rightly demand that their status as countries with major international responsibilities be taken into account. It should be noted that the countries most opposed to opening up the Security Council today are Russia and China. This is an observation that should be emphasised to the countries of the South, which often criticise the selfishness of Western countries.

Other institutional changes are possible, but it is also and above all on the substance of the policies conducted by the international system that these reforms must be carried out, particularly with regard to the management of common public goods. The major priorities in this area (such as the climate, energy and food crises) require greater involvement of non-Western countries in multilateral decision-making. The aim is to create de facto solidarity and collective responsibility.

In 2019, you were appointed "Representative of the President of the Republic for the security and confidence-building architecture with Russia". What did this mission involve?

It had a twofold objective. The first was essentially bilateral: the aim was to relaunch dialogue between France and Russia, which had slackened, particularly following the first Ukrainian crisis in 2014, with the annexation of Crimea and Russian intervention in the Donbass. The President of the Republic in 2019 felt that our relationship with Russia needed to be given new impetus. We have set up more than a dozen working groups on topics designed to revive this relationship.

The second objective of this mission had a more European dimension. In other words, to modernise and strengthen the framework of the Helsinki agreements, while also taking account of all the arms control achievements since 1975 (such as the treaties on intermediate nuclear forces, conventional forces in Europe and the so-called "open skies" agreement, all of which have since been called into question). We therefore began a discussion with our European partners on ways of relaunching a dialogue. It was a difficult discussion, let's face it, because Russia has always been a point of great division between the 27 EU Member States.

This discussion, like your mission, ended on 24 February when the conflict began...

Yes, since 24 February, the exchanges between the President of the French Republic and Vladimir Putin have taken on a different face because of the war in Ukraine. The urgency is to give unfailing support to the Ukrainian authorities and to find a way out of the war. But when the time comes, we will have to think again about a new security order for Europe.

What do you think of the criticism levelled at France for trying to maintain dialogue with Vladimir Putin?

In Ukraine, we are faced with an inter-state conflict the likes of which Europe has not seen for a very long time. The role of diplomacy in this context must be to help Ukraine emerge from this crisis - in support of what its leaders and army are doing on the ground. At present, unfortunately, we are still in a phase of open warfare, in which each of the two belligerents is trying to gain an advantage on the ground.

In this context, diplomacy remains useful for finding solutions to concrete problems, on a case-by-case basis - the negotiations that led to an agreement on the exit of cereals from Ukraine, or on the exchange of military prisoners are examples of this. The ongoing efforts to protect the Zaporijjia nuclear power plant are another.

Should France renounce all contact with Russia?

Clearly, France's position on this issue may differ from that of its Central and Eastern European partners. We do believe that we need to maintain contacts with Russia. When we finally emerge from this terrible war, we will have to start thinking again about stability and security in Europe, and we will not be able to avoid the question of Russia. We find it difficult to imagine a security order in Europe without addressing the question of Russia. What is at stake is the stability of our continent for the next 30 or 40 years.

To find out more:

Pierre Vimont par Claude Truong-Ngoc avril_2014

Pierre Vimont has worked for French diplomacy for some forty years: between 2002 and 2007, he was chief of staff to Jacques Chirac's three foreign ministers (de Villepin, Barnier and Douste-Blazy). He was then appointed French Ambassador to the United States between 2007 and 2010, and then Executive Secretary General of the European External Action Service from 2010 to 2015. He has subsequently been entrusted with a number of missions: in 2016, he was the special envoy for the French initiative for a peace conference in the Middle East, and in 2019, he was appointed by the President of the Republic as "special envoy for the security and confidence-building architecture with Russia". He now works for the Carnegie Europe Foundation and the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in Geneva. He also teaches at Columbia University in New York.

Pierre Vimont by Claude Truong-Ngoc april_2014