Multilateralism is thus both a normative concept (it is an ideal to promote) and a practice (it refers to a set of existing practices and institutions). At both levels it is subject to change and one can develop ideas on how an updated global multilateral governance system might look. One such vision could be called ‘Multilateralism 2.0’. This is a metaphor as it refers to a jargon used in the ICT world. As with all metaphors, it has its limitations. But metaphors in science can also serve the purpose of viewing things from new perspectives (Harré, 1976). There is a long tradition within international relations of using metaphors such as ‘balance of power’ or ‘concert of nations’ (for an overview, see Little, 2007). And as mentioned by Fry and O’Hagan (2000, p. 10), ‘metaphors that are deployed to understand world politics should also be seen as contributing to the constitution of world politics’. The core of the metaphor advanced here is an implicit reference to what is now called ‘Web 2.0’, a concept currently used to describe the second phase in the development of the World Wide Web. It describes the change from a ‘web’ consisting of individual websites to a full platform of interactive web applications to the end users on the World Wide Web. The Multilateralism 2.0 metaphor tries to grasp how the ideals and practices of multilateralism are currently undergoing a similar transformation. It is partially a descriptive metaphor as it tries to capture what is going on. But it is also a normative metaphor that points to what is possible and desirable.
From Multilateralism Mode 1.0 to Multilateralism Mode 2.0
Using ‘Web 2.0’ as a metaphor in thinking about governance is, however, not totally new. Even more, ‘Web 2.0’ practices are today influencing practices of governance as they are increasingly finding their way into public governance. ‘Government 2.0’ is a concept that attempts to capture the integration of the social networking and interactive advantages of Web 2.0 approaches into the practice of governments. As noted by Potter (2008, p. 121), ‘Web 2.0 has the potential to change fundamentally how foreign ministries manage knowledge and communicate’. Eggers (2005) wrote that there is a need for governments to move away from industrial approaches and into the information age. In other words, move away from the bureaucratic ideal to the networked organisations. But this implies more than just adopting Web 2.0 tools. It is also about recognising that conventional governments are unable to address society’s challenges alone. For Eggers (2005), the shift to Government 2.0 implies that the days of government – be it national or local – acting as singular actors are over. The new paradigm is one of collaboration between governments at different levels (including subnational governments) and between governments with all other relevant actors in society. The shift from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 also offers new opportunities for online public diplomacy in terms of advocacy and policy developments between governments and citizens across the globe to address cross-national policy challenges (Potter, 2008, p. 125). This in turn has consequences for how multilateralism is organised.
Ikenberry (2009) was the first to propose for international relations a somehow similar metaphor in an article on ‘liberal internationalism’ and America. He identifies three major versions or models of liberal international order: versions 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. The first is associated with Woodrow Wilson’s ideas of an international order organised around a global collective security body in which sovereign states act together to uphold a system of territorial peace. The second is the more Rooseveltian idea of the US taking the lead in the post-1945 reconstruction and constructing the American-led liberal hegemonic order. The third is seen by Ikenberry as a post-hegemonic liberal internationalism that ‘has only partially appeared and whose full shape and logic is still uncertain’ (Ikenberry, 2009, p. 73). But he sees the 3.0 liberal order as one where ‘authority would move toward universal institutions’ (Ikenberry, 2009, p. 81) and as one where there is a further erosion of norms of Westphalian sovereignty as well as the continuing rise of the notion of ‘responsibility to protect’. In my view, Ikenberry overemphasises the differences between the varieties of liberal internationalism he describes. I would rather speak of versions 1.0, 1.1 and 1.2, as they all have the centrality of states in common. And he also underestimates the current changes and change drivers that are affecting multilateralism as an institutional practice.
A related concept to Multilateralism 2.0 is ‘new multilateralism’. This concept has been proposed by Björn Hettne in the context of a United Nations University Project (cf. Cox, 1997) in order to emphasise the importance of a participative civil society in building up multilateralism from below. Others, such as Solingen (1995), have used the concept to emphasise the entanglement of domestic and systemic levels. But these authors do not stress the multivariate network of actors that I see as essential for Mode 2.0 multilateralism.
The essence of introducing the ‘Web 2.0’ metaphor in international relations lies indeed in stressing the emergence of network thinking and practices in international relations and in the transformation of multilateralism from a closed to an open system. In Multilateralism 1.0 the principal agents in the inter-state space of international relations are states. National governments are the ‘star players’. Intergovernmental organisations are dependent agents whose degrees of freedom only go as far as the states allow them. The primacy of sovereignty is the ultimate principle of international relations. In Multilateralism 2.0, there are players other than sovereign states that play a role and some of these players challenge the notion of sovereignty and that makes the system much more open. The trend towards multipolarity is more than just a redistribution of power at the global level. It is also about a change in who the players are and how the playing field is organised. There are signs that Multilateralism 2.0 is partially already there. But of course there are also strong forces to continue with Multilateralism 1.0. As such it is not even certain that a fully fledged multilateral system version 2.0 will ever appear.
Multilateralism 2.0 in a renewed multipolar world order
A first characteristic of Multilateralism 2.0 is the diversification of multilateral organisations. In recent years there has been a dramatic rise of all kinds of international organisations and regimes. According to Schiavone (2001), the number of intergovernmental organisations has grown from 37 to well over 400 in the period between 1990 and 2000 (see also Higgott, 2006). While mostly operating on an intergovernmental basis, some of them have acquired considerable autonomy in the exercise of their competences or even have a ‘legal personality’ just as states (Ip, 2010). And increasingly these organisations look more to networks than to formal (bureaucratic) organisations. In line with a ‘transnationalisation of policies’ (Stone, 2004) one can state that Multilateralism 2.0 implies the rise of transnational policy networks (Djelic and Quach, 2003; Stone, 2008).
Secondly, there is a growing importance of nonstate actors at the regional rather than global level. States have by now created a large number of global and regional institutions that have themselves become players in the international order. Some of these new players, although not states, do resemble states. An institution such as the EU illustrates this trend (one can point for instance to its presence as observer in the UN, its coordination strategy at the International Monetary Fund, its membership at the G8, etc.). Other regional organisations are – although not to the same extent as the EU – following suit. As a result, one can say that we are currently witnessing a transition from a world of states to a world of states (including the BRICS as new global powers) and regions (Van Langenhove, 2007, 2008). This trend is further reinforced by the phenomenon of devolution whereby national powers are in some states transferred to subnational regions. Some of these subnational regional entities even have growing ambitions to be present on the international stage as well. It is a fascinating phenomenon: both supranational and subnational governance entities are created by states and can therefore be regarded as ‘dependent agencies’ of those states. However, once created, these entities begin to have a life of their own and are not always totally controllable by their founding fathers. The sub- and supra-entities have a tendency to behave ‘as if’ they were states. All of this challenges sovereignty as both the supranational and subnational regions to some extent indeed possess statehood properties. Again, the EU is illustrative as it is the only international organisation that gives citizenship to the citizens of its member states (Hoeksma, 2009). Together these factors have weakened the Westphalian relation between state and sovereignty. In Europe, Flanders has perhaps more autonomy in Belgium than Luxembourg in the EU. Yet, Luxembourg is considered to be a sovereign state, while Flanders is not. In classical multilateralism the principal agents in the inter-state space of international relations are states. National governments are the ‘star players’. Intergovernmental organisations are only dependent agents whose degrees of freedom only go as far as the states allow them. The primacy of sovereignty is the ultimate principle of international relations. In Multilateralism 2.0, there are players other than sovereign states and some of these players now challenge the notion of sovereignty. It is symptomatic of this trend that the Harvard Business Review chose as one of its ‘breakthrough ideas’ for 2010 the concept of ‘independent diplomacy’ (Ross, 2010). In that article the question was raised: why pretend that only nation states shape international affairs?
Thirdly, next to the increased relations between ‘vertical’ levels of governance, there is a growing interconnectivity between policy domains horizontally. Finance cannot be divorced from trade, security, climate, etc. A distinctive characteristic of Multilateralism 2.0 is thus that the boundaries between policy domains (and the organisations dealing with them) are becoming more and more permeable. Instead of clear separated areas of policy concern treated within separate institutions, there are now communities of different actors and layers which form together a global agora of multiple publics and plural institutions (Stone, 2008).
Finally, the involvement of citizens is in Multilateralism 1.0 largely limited to democratic representation at the state level. The supranational governance layer does not foresee direct involvement of civil society or of any other nongovernmental actors. In Multilateralism 2.0 there is increased room for nongovernmental actors at all levels. This is perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of Multilateralism 2.0 but also the most difficult one to organise. This is related to the state-centric and institutional focus of classical multilateral organisations. In such a closed system there is hardly any room for open debate, let alone for the involvement of citizens. But as Klabbers (2005) argued, there is evidence that an alternative is emerging, that of multilateral institutions functioning not so much as an organisation but rather as an agora, that is ‘a public realm in which institutional issues can be debated and perhaps, be decided’ (Klabbers, 2005, p. 382).
Organising multilateralism in a state-centric way has only been possible through the postulate of all states being treated as equal. This means that irrespective of the differences in territorial size, the size of their populations, their military power or economic strength, all states have the same legal personality. Or, in other words, the Westphalian principle of sovereign equality implies the principle of one state, one vote. This postulate does not of course correspond with reality. In Multilateralism 2.0 this can be balanced by a more flexible system that compares actors along certain dimensions (such as economic power) regardless of the type of actors they are. In other words, one can for instance compare large states with regions or small states with subnational regions. As such, one can picture Multilateralism 2.0 as an ad hoc order in which no single institution or organisation is the centre, no one framework ideal. This is what Haass called ‘à la carte multilateralism’. Or as Zakaria (2008, p. 242) noted, ‘the UN might work for one problem, NATO for another, the OAS for a third’. This allows not only a more flexible form of multilateralism, but it could perhaps also lead to a more just system with a more equal balance of powers.
The Multilateralism 1.0 world order is often pictured as a stratified space of layers of governance from local to global. Advocates of the principle of subsidiarity argue that all governance should be done at the lowest level possible. Others stress that cooperation between the different layers is needed to promote ‘multilevel’ governance. But recent reality is much more complex than a single bottom-up hierarchical line of governance. First of all, there is no single ‘top’ level in Multilateralism 2.0. The UN and Bretton Woods institutions together with new forums such as the G20 stand for a plurality of top levels.
Secondly, at the regional level there is no perfect match between a regional territory and a regional organisation. On the contrary, one can identify in most cases many different regional organisations that cover more or less the same territory. Thirdly, there is not a fixed set of poles but there are diverse and shifting poles at the level of continents, regions or states. Fourthly, as the multilateral theatre is no longer uniquely the playground for states, this opens the possibility for an increased civil society participation in global governance. And, finally, states are not necessarily the lowest level and in some cases subnational entities can have their own direct relations with the regional or global level without passing through the state level. The result is a complex web of relations between four types of actor with statehood properties (global institutions, regional organisations, states and subnational regional entities) together with nonstate actors such as nongovernmental organisations or transnational policy networks.
The transformation from Multilateralism 1.0 to Multilateralism 2.0 is currently happening and all actors (old and new) involved will have to further shape it and adapt to it. In the past, subsidiarity has been a powerful normative principle in trying to organise relations between the different levels of governance. The complexity of Multilateralism 2.0, however, calls for a new normative ideal to be used as guidance for good governance. Such a principle could be that of mutuality. According to this principle, ‘it should be the obligation of each level of government as it participates in joint decision-making to foster the legitimacy and capacity of the other’ (Landy and Teles, 2001, p. 414). Applied to Multilateralism 2.0, this would mean that rather than asking the question of whether this or that policy item is a regional, federal, European or global issue, the question to ask is ‘what conditions are necessary to enable a certain level of government to contribute to managing the issue and how can the other levels foster those conditions?’ In other words, governance at different levels should not be seen as competing activity. Instead, the different levels should act towards mutual strengthening.
But whatever the efficient principles used to organise multilateral relations, the main problem remains the legitimacy of global governance. Or as Lamy (2010) recently put it, ‘global governance is a challenge for democracy’. The trend towards Multilateralism 2.0 has the potential to increase the level of participation of civil society in global governance.