The World of International Organizations Explained

Merkel: ‘Misery’ without multilateralism

German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Davos (ARÊTE/World Economic Forum)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed back at the rise of populist authoritarians, saying the world must keep a “clear commitment” to multilateralism.

“Anything else will only end in misery,” Merkel said in a special address to the World Economic Forum’s annual summit at the Swiss mountain resort of Davos, where she warned against “the fragmentation of the multilateral world” — nations pursuing common goals, often through international organizations and treaties.

Davos reflected the turmoil of the U.S.-China trade war and trade tensions globally sparked by U.S. President Donald Trump’s tariffs against many of America’s most important trading partners. Merkel’s defense of common pursuits through global governance acknowledged the damage done by the 2008 global financial crisis, including mistrust in the financial system.

Noting there has been a “certain amount of disquiet in the international system,” Merkel’s thinly veiled criticism of Trump was accompanied by a more overt critique of Britain’s paralysis and confusion over its planned departure from the European Union in March.

“I will come out strongly in favor of a multilateral order, not ending with the E.U., but one that gives good answers to the challenges of tomorrow,” said Merkel. “Global architecture will only work if all of us are willing and ready for compromise.”

But she said some international organizations, such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, must be reformed to restore people’s confidence in the global financial system. Last month, all of the G-20 summit leaders except Trump voiced support for international organizations, global trading rules and fighting climate change, isolating U.S. anti-globalism.

Merkel was not alone among the world leaders who used the Davos forum to urge greater international cooperation and free trade.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe talked it up while touting the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the sprawling trading deal that former U.S. President Barack Obama concluded with 11 Pacific Rim nations including Australia, Japan and Vietnam. Trump withdrew the United States from it days after taking office in 2017. It is now the TPP-11.

“U.S.-China trade friction is one of those risks and Japan traditionally has said tit-for-tat trade-restrictive measures are of no benefit,” Abe said.

China’s vice president Wang Qishan also took on the Trump administration. “Shifting blame for one’s own problems onto others will not resolve the problems,” he said. “What we need to do is make the pie bigger while looking for ways to share it in a more equitable way.”

Going for “win-win” solutions

Trump planned to visit Davos to discuss trade issues with China, but cancelled the trip due to the U.S. government shutdown. British Prime Minister Theresa May and France’s President Emmanuel Macron also called off their plans to appear at the forum due to crises at home.

May lost a resounding parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal with the E.U. last week, fueling speculation Britain could inflict self-harm by exiting without a deal or put off its departure.

At Davos, Merkel said that she was working for a “well-ordered” Brexit and a good future partnership with the U.K., because “the easier the relationship, the easier for all of us.” As Europe’s largest economy, Germany depends on free trade to export goods around the world.

Western powers must look beyond self-interest, she said, and “act against the fragmentation of the international architecture, and be ready to reform the existing institutions.”

“I think we should understand our national interest in a way that we think about the interests of others and from that create win-win situations that are the precondition for multilateralism,” said Merkel.

Germany’s three main challenges, she said, are making the transition to clean energy away from nuclear and coal-fired power; speeding digitization; and dealing with demographic change as immigrants become skilled workers. At the same time, she said, Europe has to strengthen itself economically the way U.S. foreign policy is aided by the dollar’s strength.

“Then the question arises: how can we in the euro zone become as dominant? How can we arrange it so that we have economic weight on the scales,” she said. “You have to be economically strong to assert yourself.”

The world of international organizations explained.

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