The Cooperation Crisis

PARIS – The rise of emerging economies worldwide has generated much optimism, in terms not only of economic development, but also of global cooperation. But the shift to a multipolar world order has not bolstered multilateralism. In fact, the opposite is true: the logic of national sovereignty has staged a comeback, with major economies consistently undermining cooperation on issues ranging from security to trade to climate change.

Consider the muddle in the United Nations Security Council over Syria’s civil war. Just two years ago, the Council approved a resolution authorizing a military intervention in Libya – the first resolution to implement the “responsibility to protect” (R2P) principle, which the general assembly adopted unanimously in 2005.

But the emerging powers soon came to believe that the West had used the protection of Libya’s civilian population as a pretext for regime change (though, realistically, it would have been impossible to protect the population without toppling Muammar el-Qaddafi’s government). Now, these countries are largely rejecting R2P, viewing it as a device employed by Western governments to legitimize their attempts to infringe upon national sovereignty.

Brazil has attempted to address the issue by crafting a resolution that would decouple the R2P mandate from the use of force – effectively eliminating the possibility that the doctrine could be applied. For their part, Russia and China have blocked three resolutions condemning the Syrian regime, and Russia has worked hard – with evident success – to derail any military intervention in Syria. In this sense, Russia and China now exercise de facto control over the formal international legality of the use of force.