Blog: The Dynamics Behind the International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace

April 24, 2024, is the fifth time in history that the world celebrates the International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace. The word “multilateralism” might initially seem like jargon from political and international relations fields. Yet the term and day embodies a top-tier level of teamwork that creates ripple effects all around the world.

How did The International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace come to be?

The International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace is celebrated to reaffirm the United Nations (UN) Charter's principles of resolving disputes between nations in a peaceful way. This day recognizes the role of multilateral decision-making and diplomacy in peaceful conflict resolutions worldwide.

The UN came to life in 1945 after the devastation of World War II. Since the beginning, their mission has been focused on the upkeep of global peace and security. Thus, one of the principles of The Charter of the United Nations is the commitment to address conflicts peacefully and the goal to protect future generations from the terrors of war. Most world leaders reaffirmed their commitment to multilateralism and international peace and security during the General Debate in September 2018. Then it was further reinforced in the High-level Dialogue on Renewing the Commitment to Multilateralism on October 31, 2018.

The General Assembly highlighted this commitment the following December as they adopted the resolution "International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace" (A/RES/73/127). The resolution encourages all Member States and UN organizations to celebrate the day. This encompasses promoting the benefits of multilateralism and peace diplomacy through education and public awareness activities.

Before diving into the different ways multilateralism shapes our world—to the point that it needs its own holiday—it’s important to first understand what the word “multilateralism” means.

What is multilateralism and where did it come from?

Traditionally, multilateralism refers to the coordinated action between three or more parties who recognize that the mutual benefits of collaboration to address various issues outperforms individual efforts. It allows countries to tackle complex global challenges collectively. Beyond a strategic approach, it’s also a mindset for international relations.
At its core, multilateralism is about collaboration. In a multilateral system, global actors can work together and share insights. They can also manage conflict through discourse. The concept is a constant effort through negotiations and bargaining. Working with others toward a goal provides a sense of security in the long term as nations navigate gains and losses. Every member also has a seat at the table. As stated in “MultiWhat,” a project produced by the Perception Change Project of the United Nations Office in Geneva, “under multilateral negotiations, no party gets everything, but all parties get something.”

The term was originally used in geometry, as it comes from the Latin words “multus” (many) and “latus” (side). As a result, it means something that has multiple sides. The word eventually made its way into the politics and international relations fields.

Even though the International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace is only about five years old, multilateralism has been around for centuries.

Some scholars view multilateralism as a cornerstone for building organized societies, with roots stretching back to ancient times, according to “MultiWhat.” Historical evidence from various civilizations shows agreements that managed political, commercial, and financial interactions between different groups.

Yet the origins of a modern international state system can be traced back to the Hundred Year War and the Thirty-Year War in 1648. The Westphalia treaties were peace agreements signed in Germany and represent one of the first milestones of multilateralism.

Before the most well-known examples of multilateralism, such as the creation of The League of Nations and later of the United Nations, a plethora of multilateral efforts took place in the 19th century and the early 20th century. Consider the adoption of the Greenwich Meridian, which standardized time zones internationally. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) was also founded in this period and is still active today.

How can we see multilateralism in action today?

These collective negotiations and decisions trickle down to our everyday lives. The classic, red stop sign is recognized world-wide because of the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals signed in 1968. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) makes sure all our mail and emails get to the right places no matter how far.

Experts have considered multilateralism to be under threat. The following is a part of a message written by Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres on this day of 2022:

“The principles at the heart of multilateral cooperation are under the greatest strain since the founding of the United Nations. From the climate crisis to the multiplication of conflicts – including the ongoing war in Ukraine; the governance of weapons of mass destruction; health emergencies; and the global refugee protection regime – the multilateral system and the value of diplomacy are under threat from all directions. We need to transform this moment of crisis into a moment for multilateralism.”

Much more than informing citizens on the importance of multilateralism, organizations have noticed the need for citizens to participate. The United Nations Foundation released a paper detailing the pathways to build a more inclusive multilateral system, which consists of informing citizens about the UN’s contributions to the world. But it also recommends working more with citizens as partners and hearing their voices to address shared global challenges.

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