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The multilateral system under stress: Europe’s path forward

04 Sep 2019 - 10:38
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The multilateral system under stress: Charting Europe’s path forward

Case studies of the WTO, arms control and human rights 

The retreat of the United States (US) from the international order that it helped to build marks a significant turning point in international affairs. The Netherlands, as a European Union (EU) member state, now has to reposition itself in a world defined by great power rivalry and without a guaranteed strong transatlantic partnership.

Facing an increasingly powerful, confident and capable China, and a Russia that – especially in the military realm – is trying to regain and strengthen its great power status, the US has withdrawn from institutions and agreements that have epitomised world trade, arms control and human rights standards for decades. Shifts in the direction, scale and composition of trade flows, the increasing complexity and changing capabilities of 21st century weapon arsenals, and an apparent backsliding of the international human rights agenda call for new approaches to repair or build institutional arrangements that are capable of governing these issues on a multilateral level.

Going forward, the Netherlands and the EU need to deliver on new thinking and action on four parallel tracks: continued engagement with the United States; deepened and renewed engagement with other partners and stakeholders; a broadening of multilateralism to new areas; and, in certain cases, new approaches.

About the authors

Brigitte Dekker is a Research Fellow at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’ in The Hague. Her research focuses on various dimensions of EU–Asia relations, with a specific interest in South-East Asia and China.

Sico van der Meer Sico van der Meer is a Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute. His research focusses on non-conventional weapons such as Weapons of Mass Destruction and cyber weapons from a strategic policy perspective. 

Maaike Okano-Heijmans is a Senior Research Fellow at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’ in The Hague. She is a Scientific Coordinator of the Asia–Pacific Research and Advice Network (#APRAN) for the European Commission and the European External Action Service.