Toward a new multilateralism

A paper on optimising the multilateral development system in an increasingly complex world.


The multilateral development system has evolved over time and continues to evolve. Initially, it was organised by a small group of like-minded countries with a common vision and principles, and was designed to share the financial burden of development cooperation and to implement programs of support in an effective way.

Over the last two decades there have been strong forces reshaping the system. These include large economic shifts – the size of the global economy has tripled over the last 20 years from around $25 trillion to over $75 trillion in nominal prices today – and the emergence of the growth economies. The increasing differentiation among developing countries and the recognition that substantial investment in global public goods is needed to reap the benefits of globalisation and reduce the costs. Today, the multilateral development system continues to develop in response to the need to accommodate emerging state powers and non-state actors (business, civil society, and others) as well as the need to broaden responsibility for collective responses.

This paper briefly identifies some of the key characteristics of the emergence of a “new multilateralism.” It offers a number of practical recommendations on how to get the best out of the multilateral development system in an increasingly complex environment. The paper is adapted from a report on the future of multilateralism commissioned by the Government of Sweden.