is any doctrine or agenda that
supports one-sided action. Such action may be in disregard for
other parties, or as an expression of a commitment toward a
direction which other parties may find agreeable.
is a neologism
(used in all countries)coined to be an antonym
—the doctrine which asserts
the benefits of participation from as many parties as
The two terms together can refer to differences in foreign policy
approached to international
problems. When agreement by multiple parties is absolutely required
—for example in the context of international trade
agreements (involving two participants at a time) are usually
preferred by proponents of unilateralism.
Unilateralism may be preferred in those instances when it's assumed
to be the most efficient, i.e., in issues that can be solved
without cooperation. However, a government may also have a
principal preference for unilateralism or multilateralism, and, for
instance, strive to avoid policies that cannot be realized
unilaterally or alternatively to champion multilateral solutions to
problems that could well have been solved unilaterally.
Typically, governments may argue that their ultimate or middle-term
goals are served by a strengthening of multilateral schemes and
institutions, as was many times the case during the period of the
Concert of Europe
In the UK, the term "unilateralism" is often used in the specific
sense of support for unilateral nuclear disarmament
Unilateralism in the United States
Unilateralism has had a long history in the
In his famous and influential Farewell Address
warned that the
United States should "steer clear but not clear of permanent
alliances with any portion of the foreign world". Many years later,
this approach was labeled (by its opponents) as "isolationism
", but some
historians of U.S. diplomacy have long argued that "isolationism"
is a misnomer
, and that U.S. foreign
policy, beginning with Washington, has traditionally been driven by
unilateralism. Recent works that have made this argument include
Walter A. McDougall
's Promised Land, Crusader
(1997) and John Lewis
's Surprise, Security, and the American
Debates about unilateralism recently came to the forefront with the
. While over 30 countries have supported the
U.S. policy, some previous American allies, such as France, Germany and Turkey, are not
participating. Many opponents of the war have argued that
the United States is "going in alone" in Iraq without the support
of multilateral institutions--in this case NATO and the
Advocates of U.S. unilateralism argue that other countries should
not have "veto
power" over matters of U.S.
national security. Presidential Candidate John Kerry
received heavy political heat after
saying, during a presidential debate
American national security actions must pass a "global test". This
was interpreted by Kerry opponents as a proposal to submit U.S.
foreign policy to approval by other countries. Proponents of U.S.
unilateralism generally believe that a multilateral institution,
such as the United Nations, is morally suspect because, they argue,
it treats non-democratic, and even despotic, regimes as being as
legitimate as democratic countries. Proponents also point out that the
unilateralist policy of having the United States control post
World War II, Japan was more of
a success than having multilateral policies such as those used in
post war Germany.
only 5 years before adopting its constitution while Germany was
divided into West
Germany and East
Germany for 45 years and being controlled by the United States, France, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union before being reunited.
Critics of American unilateralism point to the ethical implications
of engaging in armed conflicts that may inevitably draw in
combatants from other nations, as well as the undermining of the
international ability to protect small nations from aggressors.
Unilateralism, it is argued, can be considered nothing more than a
positively-sold version of the very actions that would earn other
states the title of aggressor or rogue
. Opponents of unilateralism say it rejects the essential
interwoven nature of modern global
and perhaps underestimates the extent to which a
conflict in one country can affect civilians in others.
Proponents of multilateralism
that it would provide a country with greater resources, both
militarily and economically, and would help in defraying the cost
of military action. However, with divided responsibility inevitably
comes divided authority, and thus (in theory at least) slower
military reaction times and the demand that troops follow
commanders from other nations. Multilateralists argue that
co-operations strengthens the bonds between nations and peoples,
paints the U.S. in a more responsible and respected light, and
reduces the risk of wildfire conflicts by increasing the size and
unity of the enemy such a rogue nation would face.