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American Diplomacy
Commentary and Analysis

June 1999

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Multilateralism
and the UN

A Modest Proposal
for University Training
The proponent, a retired United Nations official with fifteen years service abroad in South Asia, Africa, and the Pacific, has long had a professional interest in international affairs. He retired in 1993 from his last assignment in Nepal. Mr. Berke contributed The United States and the United Nations in World Affairs: Room Enough for Two?” to the Summer 1997 issue of American Diplomacy.
~ Ed
by Jerrold I. Berke
I START FROM A BELIEF THAT, while nations will continue for the indefinite future to be organized and to operate on the basis of national sovereignty, they can no longer safeguard their interests or achieve their objectives through traditional unilateral or limited-alliance modalities. The complexity and interdependence of modern international interactions and the transparency created for national policies by modern communications technology require them to cooperate more than at any time in the past. In fact, as illustrated yet again by the recent developments with respect to Iraq and the global financial crisis, even the United States, as powerful as it is, cannot expect unilaterally to achieve its major international objectives. Indeed, an argument can be made that, precisely because it is so powerful, and consequently has such a high profile, the United States least of all can afford to act unilaterally.
This growing multilateral paradigm puts a whole new slant on the conduct of international relations, for which today's students—tomorrow's actors and leaders—must be prepared. To accomplish this, political science, international relations, and related curricula should be revised or supplemented to focus more strongly on the growing importance of multilateralism in relations among nations; the roles of multilateral organizations, from the global UN and World Bank to regional organizations and development banks; how the United States relates to them; and the peculiar skills and knowledge required to succeed in this distinctive environment.

The approach should be programmatic and interdisciplinary, involving courses in international relations, international economics and business, inter-cultural relations, political science, language training, etc., encompassing the gamut of interactions on the international stage, with emphasis on multilateral, as contrasted to traditional bilateral, modalities.

Development of such a comprehensive program would take time. But it isn't necessary to introduce it all at once; it can be developed incrementally. I see starting with a focus on the United Nations because it is the broadest and most comprehensive international organization in the world, the global center of international consultations and negotiations that uniquely deals on a global scale with peace maintenance, economic development, human rights protection, etc. Initially, survey courses should be developed on the UN and its affiliates, including the Bretton Woods Institutions.

To complement this training and provide context, courses on the concept of multilateralism, the global political and economic systems, the developing world, and multi-cultural relations should also be developed. To provide hands-on learning and experience, internships should be sought at these organizations. In due course, other activities leading to a degreespecialization at the bachelor's and master's levels should be organized.  


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