Multilateralism as an Institution v. Organizational Form


Generic Multilateralism

-         Cooperation among 3 or more states

-         Most IOs are generically multilateral

o      US criticized for evading restrictions in formal multilateral orgs: Int’l Criminal Court, UNSC


Qualitative Multilateralism

“Institutional form that coordinates relations among 3 or more states on the basis of “generalized” principles of conduct   i.e., principles which specify appropriate conduct for a class of actions, without regard to the particularistic interests of the parties or the strategic exigencies at the time. (Ruggie, 1992)”


Opposite of multilateralism is ‘bilateralism’ – in which policy coordination reflects is not generalized and is based on specific interests and strategic exigencies.



Corollaries of Qualitative Multilateralism


-         GPCs entail indivisibility with respect to the range of behavior specified. (“An attack against one is an attack against all”; MFN)

-         multilateralism generates expectation of “diffuse reciprocity”(Keohane 1986): benefits will yield rough equivalence over time.


-         Fears of relative gains diminished

-         e.g., sovereignty, law-of-the-sea and environmental regimes are qualitative multilateral institution


Formal Multilateral Organizations

Organizations may be organized as generic multilateral institutions or as qualitative multilateral institutions

-         most of UN system, NATO, GATT/WTO as formal QMI

-         UNSC is a generic multilateral institution (GMI); permanent 5 members have veto-power

-         Most political debates over multilateralism focus on generic/formal def. rather than on qualitative def.