Joschka Fischer, German Foreign Minister until 2005, underlined the necessity of the United States of America remaining part of the multilateral world. Speaking at the 2018 Rhodes Forum, Fischer expressed the opinion that the American body politic beyond the president and the immediate White House team still shared a sense of international responsibility and still shared Western values. “The Trumps will come and go”, Fischer said, reminding the audience that “we had the same experience in other cases”.
The ex-Foreign Minister left no doubt, however, that the Donald Trump presidency is putting a heavy strain on the established world order. Confronted with the first isolationist US president since the pre-World War Two era, the world is experiencing the vacuum that a retreating United States is leaving behind. Fischer hinted that he doesn’t see China or Russia as ready to fill the gap. Thus, he flatly denied the claim by Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, that Russian military intervention in Syria in support of the legitimate government was a contribution to multilateralism.
In Fischer’s opinion, multilateral policies require common values, so multilateralism should not be mixed with “just any foreign policy”. He sees the key problem in the overdue adaptation of existing multilateral structures to the changes the world has undergone. At the time of his birth 70 years ago, the UN had some 50 members – today, around 200 countries make up the General Assembly. And yet, the basic procedures remain the same. Alongside Ibrahima Kassory Fofana, the Prime Minster of Guinea, Fischer discussed the complicated process of restructuring the UN’s Security Council. Securing representation for the African continent had already been a hot issue during his tenure. In a way, what Fischer suggested was a joint strategy by European and African countries. When determining who should sit, on their behalf, on the Security Council, both continents shared the same problem – not being able to agree on one single country. The only way out, to Fischer’s mind, would have to be based on a new and progressive understanding of continental unity and opinion-making.
Jean-Christophe Bas, the DOC´s new CEO reviewed the Forum´s opening by saying: “The message from all participants in this session was clear: any attempt to shut down multilateralism – from any source – will clearly benefit nobody; a limit on multilateralism will harm a world economy recovering from financial crisis and will harm us as human beings. There is an urgent need to reinvent a multilateral system that works for all, and this requires all parties to sit around the table together in a spirit of collaboration.”
The Rhodes Forum, organised by the Berlin-based Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute (DOC), is a traditional autumn get-together for politicians and experts from the globalised world. The motto of this year’s 16th Forum is ‘Making multilateralism work’. The conference, with leaders from every continent of the world, is seeking ways to ensure the survival of multilateral policymaking in an increasingly self-centred, or at best bilateral, environment.