Is Multilateralism Still Viable?: The Future of Global Diplomacy

february, 2021

23feb1:15 pm2:15 pmVirtual EventIs Multilateralism Still Viable?: The Future of Global Diplomacy


(Tuesday) 1:15 pm - 2:15 pm

Event Video

Event Details

Many observers blame the Trump administration for retreating from multilateral institutions and negotiations as well as undermining much of the structure the U.S. played a major role in creating after World War II and which underpinned the global order for decades.  Yet, there is a counterargument that the decline of multilateralism has been in train since the end of the Cold War and that the Trump administration at most accelerated the process.

The multitude of global challenges the world faces — most notably the current COVID-19 pandemic and other potential worldwide health crises, global warming and the transition to renewable energy resources, and the threat of nuclear proliferation — seem to underscore the ongoing need for multilateral structures and approaches to deal with them.  In an age when countries are increasingly going it alone or preferring to deal bilaterally, however, there is a question whether the world can actually make the effort and find the political will necessary to act multilaterally.

This panel will deal with two aspects:  Political and economic.  The political encompasses cooperation in maintaining peace and security, conflict prevention and management, collaboration and cooperation on a global or regional scale on any number of issues, and ensuring respect for a common set of norms governing international relations.  The United Nations, as an organization in its entirety and via its myriad specialized agencies and bodies, epitomizes the institutional framework of multilateralism.  But it is not alone, as evidenced by the multitude of ad hoc and institutionalized organizations, like the G7/G8/G20, NATO, the European Union, the African Union, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Organization of American States, the Arab League, etc.  The central question is whether these groupings remain relevant, can be reformed or adapted, or should give way to a new dynamic that emphasizes the nation state as the core of all interactions.  In short, is the world returning to sort of multipolar order that existed prior to World War II?  If so, what are the implications in terms of the common challenges the world faces?

The economic aspect comprises the financial, commercial, and other “economic” interactions that we often colloquially describe as “globalization.”  The U.S. helped create a system of organizations to regulate that order and promote freer trade, facilitate financial flows, and respond to immediate and long-term needs like economic development.  But, as on the political side, are the organizations established up to the task?  Do the occasional gatherings of world leaders under the banner of the G7, G8, or G20 make a difference?  Is the World Trade Organization relevant in a time of unilateral initiation of trade wars?  Are the international financial institutions and the UN making any progress promoting development and addressing inequality?  How will the world adjust to the weaknesses in the global supply chain exposed by the current pandemic?  Are we slipping inevitably toward greater protectionism and restriction on financial transactions across borders?


Speakers for this event

  • Earl Anthony Wayne

    Earl Anthony Wayne

    Ambassador Earl Anthony Wayne is a Distinguished Diplomat in Residence teaching at American University’s School of International Service. He is also a Public Policy Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and Co-Chair of its Mexico Institute Advisory Board. He is a Senior Non-Resident Advisor at the Atlantic Council and at the Center for Security and International Studies. Wayne writes, speaks, and consults on a wide range of topics. Ambassador Wayne served as a US diplomat from 1975 to 2015, including as the U.S. Ambassador to Argentina (2006-2009), the Coordinating Director for Development and Economic Affairs and Deputy U.S. Ambassador in Kabul, Afghanistan (2009-2011), and the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico (2011- 15). He was the Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs (EB) under three Secretaries of State (2000-2006). The U.S. Senate confirmed him as a Career Ambassador, the highest rank in the US Foreign Service, in 2010. He received multiple honors during his government service, including the 2017 Director General’s Cup for the Foreign Service and the 2015 Cobb Award for Initiative and Success in Trade Development. Wayne has an MPA from Harvard University’s JFK School of Government, MAs from Princeton University and Stanford University, and a BA from the University of California, Berkeley. His webpage,, includes his articles, talks, and interviews.


  • Ishaan Tharoor

    Ishaan Tharoor

    Ishaan Tharoor is a columnist covering foreign affairs, geopolitics and history for the Washington Post, where he authors the Today's WorldView newsletter and column. He previously was a senior editor and correspondent at Time magazine, based first in Hong Kong and later in New York. He also teaches an undergraduate seminar at Georgetown University on digital affairs and the global age. Educated at Yale University, BA, honors in history and ethnicity, race and migration, Ishaan Tharoor speake English, French, Spanish, and Bengali.

  • William Jordan

    William Jordan

    Retired U.S. Foreign Service Officer, Independent Analyst William Jordan served for 30 years (1981-2011) as a political officer in the U.S. Foreign Service specializing in the Arab world and France.  His overseas assignments included Dhahran, Saudi Arabia; Tunis, Tunisia; Damascus, Syria; Amman, Jordan; Paris, France; and Algiers, Algeria, where he served in his final posting as Deputy Chief of Mission. Mr. Jordan’s responsibilities in the Arab world included reporting and analyzing foreign policy trends, especially as they related to the United States, as well as internal politics, human rights conditions, and the rise of radical Islam as a political force.  From 1997-2001, Mr. Jordan was the reporting officer in Paris for labor issues and internal politics.  He returned to Paris in 2007-2009 to work on the Near East and North Africa as well as Russia (including during and after the 2008 Georgia crisis).  From 2002-2007, Mr. Jordan focused his attention on North Africa, notably as Director of the Office of Maghreb Affairs. Since retiring from the Foreign Service, Mr. Jordan has lived in Paris, where, in addition to his work as an independent analyst and consultant, he occasionally comments on the Arab world, northwest Africa, France, and U.S. national security policy for France24, RFI, and the BBC.  He is a board member of and has participated in the annual Saint Petersburg, FL, Conference on World Affairs in addition to lecturing frequently to numerous audiences, including the French Ecole militaire and at the Paris campus of New York University. From May 2020-December 2021, Mr. Jordan served as president of the Association of Americans Resident Overseas (AARO).  

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