Multilateralism is a form of institutionalised cooperation between several states (although it can be extended to non-state actors) aimed at finding common solutions when the interests involved are both conflicting and complementary. Historically speaking, this process, initiated in the first half of the 19th century, brutally interrupted by two major wars, has had two centuries of prominence. Multilateral fora have become omnipresent, encompassing all sectors open to international cooperation. Nevertheless, at the turn of the 21st century, this seemingly robust dynamic has run into challenges.
First, it faces a political crisis linked to disinvestment by certain influential states. The multilateral way of life is alarmingly diluted by exit strategies cultivated by certain states, that multiply withdrawals from, and blockages within institutions. Second, it faces a crisis of functionality due to the tensions surrounding their legitimacy, representativeness and effectiveness. Thirdly, it faces a normative crisis fuelled by friction between the countries of the South and the West in terms of values, particularly with regard to human rights. Such a configuration makes it more necessary than ever to think about multilateral action. This action goes far beyond intergovernmental bodies in the strict sense of the term. Indeed, studies devoted to this subject represent a much larger scope that extends to all forms of institutionalised international cooperation and covers ad hoc groups such as the G8, G20 and world conferences. This, however, does not reduce multilateralism to a mere technique. Multilateralism is, above all, a political negotiating space that extends to a growing number of actors, whether they are public, non-state or private.
A few years ago, the l’Association Française de Science Politique (AFSP) supported a collective research initiative that brought together more than thirty researchers of different statuses, disciplines and nationalities. The five years of work, from 2011 to 2016, revealed a strong potential in the field of multi-literalism research and encouraged the establishment of a multidisciplinary dialogue.
The group continued to exist in the form of GRAM-CERI. Its activities comprise of holding participative seminars where field experiences are shared as well as the regular organisation of thematic study days. The group’s mailing list now has more than 200 members.
On 1 January 2020, GRAM became the Groupement de recherche sur l’action multilatérale, a structure labelled and funded by the CNRS. It is hosted by CERI and composed of ten partners (CASE at INALCO, Centre Emile Durkheim at Sciences Po Bordeaux, Centre Michel de L’Hospital at Clermont Auvergne University, CERAPS at Lille 2 University, CRDT at Reims Champagne Ardenne University, CRESPPA at Paris 8, IREDIES at Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, LaSSP at Sciences Po Toulouse, PACTE at Grenoble, Printemps at Paris Saclay University). Its four main objectives are as follows:
Increasing the influence of existing research facilities
The GRAM seminar at CERI will take place every three weeks. A space for dialogue on research that is in progress or in its dissemination phase, the seminar is a crucial part of GRAMs activities. The pedagogical dimension to the seminar can be seen through its regular participants who are Masters’ and Doctoral students. In terms of career path, it is relevant to doctoral students who in their first year, in international relations, work on multilateral issues. The attendees of this seminar include a number of professionals such as diplomats, experts from intergovernmental organisations and heads of non-governmental organisations. Moreover, the annual organisation of a study day, which may take place in the different laboratories of GDR members, is aimed at continuing the preparation of collective publications. Such publications are hallmarks of the initiatives carried out to date, on which the GDR intends to develop.
The goal is to support, facilitate and promote the presence of GDR members at various symposia. This deployment will take place within the AFSP’s institutional framework “Globalisation, Circulation, transnationalisation”. The other target is establish an annual panel devoted to multilateral action at the yearly congresses of the International Studies Association, the International Political Science Association and the European International Studies Association.
Creating an Observatory on multilateralism
The visibility of researchers working on the GDR theme is imperative in order to generate a greater flow of information both within and outside the academic community. This platform will aim to be the entry point for all those (academics or practitioners, students or teachers, researchers) interested in the contemporary challenges of multilateralism. The Observatory aims to become a digital resource centre for researchers and practitioners. From this point of view, it is structurally essential to set up a platform that does more than simply identify researchers.
Strengthening links with practitioners from inter-governmental organisations
From supporting young researchers in the organisation of workshops and study days, to setting up regular meetings on the state of the art, to helping the emergence of ANR calls for tenders or European projects, the GDR encourages the promotion of all themes relating to multilateral action.
Such a creation is evidently accomplished over many years by teams that are scattered but highly mobilised, working together to promote the sociology of international organisations. Its vision should be supported over the long-term because there is unambiguously no other choice in the current world system. The free rider strategy is not an option when faced with the magnitude of global stakes.