Regionalism & Multilateralism

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Regionalism & Multilateralism UPSC


Regionalism can be tracked back to the second half of the nineteenth century, when England and France signed the Cobden-Chevalier Treaty. This treaty is often seen as an attempt to make the political process work in the best interest of a region’s people. Research shows that there have been different stages of regionalism.

But at first, the regional agreements were thought of more as political or strategic partnerships than as ways to open up trade. Economic regionalism is a way for countries in the same area to work together to make it easier for goods and services to move freely and to coordinate their economic policies abroad. It is a way for countries to try to make the most of the opportunities and problems that have come with the dramatic increase in international economic ties since the end of World War II. Free-trade zones, customs unions, shared markets, and economic unions are all examples of economic regionalism.

Reasons for Growth of Regionalism

• Geographical Unity: Countries that are close to each other are in the same area and share resources like rivers, seas, mountains, etc. Because of this, people have to work together and coordinate to avoid extra stress, which has led to the growth of regionalism.

• Cultural Ties: Countries that are close to each other often have a long history of cultural ties, with people and habits moving back and forth between them. When these cultural ties were recognised in the modern era, they often led to partnerships between different parts of the world.

• Economic Needs: A country’s success depends on how prosperous its neighbours are. It’s hard to be an oasis of prosperity in a desert of poverty and slowness. Realising that these things are linked has given rise to regionalism.

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• Security: The main reason Britain and France formed their first regional partnership in the second half of the 1800s was to keep the area safe. Since then, many regional treaties have been made because the security of the area depends on the security of its neighbours against a common enemy. This has helped regionalism grow.

• Multilateralism Didn’t Work: The Multilateralism that grew after the Second World War did not solve the problems of its members. Also, the United Nations, which is one of the most important multilateral organisations, hasn’t done enough to fix the problem of unfairness among its members or solve the problems of developing and least developed countries. It’s clear because it hasn’t met the requests to change the UNSC membership to reflect the current geopolitical situation around the world.

• Similar ideas: After the French Revolution, there were a lot more regional (monarchical) partnerships in Europe to stop the spread of republican government. Regionalism has done well because countries and their programmes share similar ideas. Both the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the Warsaw Pact had regional parts.



Multilateralism is the process of setting up relationships between groups of three or more states based on the idea that they all have the same interests, are willing to help each other out, and have a method for resolving disagreements that is meant to enforce a certain way of acting.

Multilateralism is when countries work together in a regular way based on general rules of behaviour. This means that the rules don’t take into account the specific interests of the parties or the strategic needs of the time.

It also means that states talk to each other and work together to reach their goals without using force, money, or threats. In this kind of system, states don’t move on their own or put pressure on each other.

Multilateralism has been around for a long time, but it is most often linked to the time after World War II, when there were a lot of multilateral deals led by the United States.

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Reasons for Growth of Multilateralism

• Political: After the bloody second world war, world leaders realised they needed to set up a multilateral forum where all countries could work together to fix their problems, find peaceful solutions to their problems, and also work out how to grow in the future. So began the first organisation that worked with people from different countries. This was the United Nations.

• Globalised Economy: In a globalised and interdependent economy, materials from one country are processed and sold in other countries. Multilateral meetings are needed to work out differences and plan a strategy that everyone can agree on. WTO stands for the World Trade Organisation.

• Security: Terrorism is a threat to the whole human race, and it has already caused a lot of damage, both physically and financially. So, multilateral platforms where people can work together to come up with a plan to fight terrorism are becoming more popular. India wants the UN to be in charge of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT).

• Better cooperation and coordination: The United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) all need to work together and communicate with each other for sustainable, fair, and universal growth.

• Sustainable Development: Despite many attempts to reduce poverty and make sure that development is sustainable, the world’s development has not reached the level that people want it to. So, multilateral forums are used to make sure that growth is sustainable.

• Drawbacks of Bilateralism: Geopolitical issues have made it hard to negotiate bilateral deals, which has helped the cause of multilateral forums.

Regionalism vs Multilateralism

• Multilateralism has made progress in some areas, like environmental problems, but it hasn’t changed much in the last ten years when it comes to world trade. This is clear from the fact that the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) is not moving forward and there are signs that people are losing faith in the global trade system. Also, regionalism has grown as a separate force in the international economic system, while multilateralism has become less important. Since early 2000, the WTO has been getting notices of more and more bilateral and regional trade deals.

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This keeps bringing up the question of whether the recent wave of “new regionalism” has hurt global trade.

But most experts agree that regional and global liberalisation have happened at the same time and have helped each other along the way.

Way Forward

• The human civilization is getting more and more connected and depending on each other as time goes on. What happens in one part of the world affects people in other parts of the world. Threats like global warming, climate change, terrorism, and nuclear war are looming large over the human race.

• Also, the current situation of unequal access to basic services and widespread poverty cannot be fixed separately. So, the best way for people to deal with the threats and difficulties listed above is through multilateral forums.

• Multilateralism seems to be the right way to make a better future for all people right now.