#LyonMUNxJeanMoulinPost – How multilateralism has transformed international affairs for the last 100 years

From March, 9th to the 15th catch up with the LyonMUN and Jean Moulin Post for a new article every day on LyonMUN 2020 topic: “Shaping the future of multilateralism – Staying united in a divided world.”


Whether it is the succession of conflicts that cannot be kept down, the numerous crises which are left without answers or the reemergence of nationalism, there is one finding about which everyone agrees: our international affairs system has to move forward in accordance with time. In the meantime, this standstill is also the recognition of the central role that multilateralism has in shaping diplomacy. Indeed, for the last 100 years, multilateralism has implemented an unprecedented framework for negotiations which has become the norm.

“Multilateralism is the practice of coordinating national policies in groups of three or more states, through ad hoc arrangements or by means of institutions.” (Keohane,1990)


The first steps of multilateralism: The League of Nations and the early international organizations

Even if some of the very first roots of multilateralism can be seen in the 19th century where the European Concert and The Hague Conference established the first international negotiations in a regular system, modern multilateralism truly began in 1919 with the creation of the League of Nations, a decision of the Paris Peace Conference in the aftermath of the First World War.

“The League did not fail because of its principles or conceptions. It failed because those principles were deserted by those states which brought it into being” (Winston Churchill, 1946): Well-known for its failure and its inability to avoid World War Two, the League of Nations did implement the first roots of our current multilateral system though. Indeed, it was the basis of the institutionalization of international negotiations (with a Secretariat and a General-Assembly.) The League also played a significant role in promoting the extension of the area of cooperation (For instance, the International Labor Organization was created at this time) as much as implementing one of the hubs of the multilateral system, Geneva with various governmental and non-governmental organizations.


Source: UN Photo


Multilateral frameworks shaping international decisions

As a matter of fact, the main parts of the multilateral system were created after 1945 with the purpose of putting together common efforts to ensure peace. The United Nations, established as the most ambitious multilateral framework, conveys cooperation as its core value: “taking collective effective measures”, “develop friendly relations among nations”, “harmonizing the actions of nations” (UN Charter, article 1). Today, 193 countries are permanent members of the UN (while 51 countries in 1945) and they have developed numerous negotiations ensuring discussions on a broad range of topics.

This multilateral framework has also influenced the creation of a whole multilateral ecosystem of international organizations (UN-affiliated or not) as well as NGO’s, and which has led to the development of the governmental and regional organizations for foreign affairs. This has also influenced in return the UN itself which has put into place the concept of “global governance” by integrating non-state actors to the negotiations. The scope of international actions has widely broadened (in correlation to the process of globalization) managing topics such as security, human rights, health, environment, trade or even technical standards. Thus, the management of global phenomenon (not necessarily politics) is one of the major steps forward behind cooperation, by developing and maintaining common norms and working in networks[1]


Multilateralism as a change of paradigm in international affairs

The implementation of multilateralism has brought a whole different approach in making foreign policies. In 100 years, settlement for international dispute have been initiated. We have switched from secret diplomacy to more transparent (with a system of vote) and more predictable system of negotiations (ensuring stability for the world order) and a system where almost all the countries have the possibility to be part to the decision-making.  

However, the multilateralism that we have experienced is one framework to multilateral cooperation, but not the only possible system. In 2020, multilateralism has major successes but also great failures which need to be addressed. Among them, the trust deficit will be one the toughest challenges as the UN will have to face global and complex situations, in a structure designed and provide answers to issues that date back to more than 70 years and our society has deeply changed since.


Maïlys Ghazaouir

Press Team



You want to discuss about multilateralism? It’s the topic of the LyonMUN 2020 (May, 21st-24th)! Registrations are now opened, don’t wait further to take advantage of our “early birds” discounted fees mymun.com/muns/lyonmun-2020



  • [1] Linn, J. (2018). Recent threats to multilateralism. Global Journal of Emerging Market Economics (9).
  • Keohane, R. O. (1990). Multilateralism: An agenda for research. International Journal (4).
  • “Enhancing multilateralism in the 21st century”, UN Geneva 2019 Graduate Study Program report moderated by Pierre-Etienne Bourneuf


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