Multilateralism in US Politics: How it Works and Why Politicians Use This Approach!

Multilateralism is a term that has been thrown around in US politics for many years, but what does it mean? Multilateralism in US politics is the policy of coordinating with other multilateral institutions to achieve goals. In international relations this means working together through multilateral organizations and agreements such as the United Nations. 

This post will discuss:

  •  why politicians choose multilateralism, 
  •  benefits of multilateralism, 
  •  how it impacts international relations and the world economy, 
  • examples of successful multilaterally agreed treaties 
  • future outlook for US politics with regards to multilateralism.

What is multilateralism in US Politics? 

National flags which represent for the multilateralism
National flags which represent for the multilateralism

Multilateralism exists when there are two or more countries that work together to form an agreement. This approach can be used for international relations and the world economy, which means it impacts a lot of people. 

Multilateral agreements have been successful with examples like:

  • NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), and 
  • The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which was later renamed to the World Trade Organization.
  • and more.

 Multilateral agreements have been seen as a positive thing because they are fair for all countries involved, but there is also a multilateral approach that does not work.

Why do politicians use multilaterals for international relations? 

US politics has been historically known to employ a multilateral approach more often than other countries so it is important to examine why this may be the case and what implications that holds for future outlooks on multilateralism. 

  • Why Does Multilateralism Work In The US?

This could be due to the fact that there is only one UN member state from North America which means if we were not multilateral then our voice would carry little weight internationally. 

We also have many allies with whom we share similar values and goals who can help us achieve these objectives such as:

  • NATO memberships 
  • Japan’s partnership with TPP negotiations
  • What implications that holds for future outlooks on multilateralism?

Politicians will often use multilateralism as a way of negotiating with other countries. They may also use multilateral agreements when they need to work together for international goals, such as climate change or poverty reduction (examples include the Paris Agreement and UN Sustainable Development Goals). 

When multilateralism is used in US politics, it can have different meanings depending on how it’s being practiced – sometimes multilateral approaches are seen positively because they’re looking out for everyone involved. 

Other times multilateralism has caused problems like: North Korea withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003 after George W Bush had started negotiations without any input from China.

How multilaterals impact US international relations and the world economy:

The effect of multilateralism on America
The effect of multilateralism on America

Multilaterally agreed treaties or frameworks for global cooperation can reduce duplications resulting from bilateral agreements that would have to be negotiated separately by each party involved. 

For example: multilateral trade agreements result in less duplication of efforts with regards to tariffs on imported goods because they provide an agreement between multiple countries rather than just two countries as is typical of a bilateral treaty. 

The result: This is advantageous for the US because it lowers transaction costs and reduces barriers to exports and imports. Multilateralism also provides more opportunities for other nations’ perspectives or ideas due to their involvement and input into negotiations. For instance multilaterals encourage multilateralism, which in turn promotes multilateral cooperation.

Different viewpoints on multilateralism in the US politics 

Some reasons why people think multilateralism should exist in US Politics: 

– It can help reduce poverty and make international relations easier by allowing countries to work together instead of against one another (although this has been seen as controversial).

– Multilaterals create equitable agreements between all parties involved so everyone gets something out of them. 

– As opposed to multilateralism, unilateral agreements can be seen as biased because the US doesn’t have to negotiate with other countries and so has more power. 

– It’s hard for multilaterals to break down barriers between developing nations when it comes to things like trade and development. This is why multilateral agreements are often created after bilateral talks happen first.

Some reasons people think multilateralism should not exist in US Politics: 

– Multilaterals also have a large effect on the economy which means they could end up being bad news if we don’t get what we want or need in them

For example: North Korea withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty in 2003) 

– The US President needs approval of Congress before negotiating multilaterally whereas multilateral agreements often don’t need approval. This means multilaterals may not have as much oversight or accountability 

– Multilateralism can lead to less US power because the US needs other countries’ opinions in these deals so it’s possible for them to be more influential and get what they want without having any input from our country

– Bilateral agreements create a stronger relationship between two countries than multilaterals do, which is why presidents like Trump might go towards bilateral agreements when negotiating for international relations purposes

Examples of successful multilateral agreements in US Politics: 

  • Paris Agreements

This agreement was signed by 195 countries and took six years to negotiate at a cost of $200 million (as opposed to the US’s traditional approach that would have taken as much as two decades). 

The goal for this treaty is to keep global warming below an increase of two degrees Celsius (°C) relative to pre-industrial levels and aims for emissions reduction among signatories. 

  • Peacekeeping missions in Somalia 

Where stakeholders from more than 40 African nations joined together under UN leadership to work on Somali stabilization efforts; before they were only multilateral in name, but now they are multilaterally engaged.

  • One example of multilateralism in US politics

Countries who signed onto NAFTA can now negotiate trade agreements without needing any involvement by Canada or Mexico if they so choose (which may be more beneficial for them).

Future outlook for US politics with regards to multilateralism

We cannot predict where negotiations may take place without further research since Trump took office with no major changes over last year under international relations. Therefore, we can’t predict future multilateral negotiations will take place domestically or internationally without further research. 

Supporters of multilaterals believe this approach will lead countries with similar values to work together cooperatively. This is beneficial for US politics when it comes to achieving goals multilaterally. Agreed treaties often created in conjunction with other parties not required to follow through on said treaty. Sometimes burden placed on those still involved examples include trade agreements between US and NATO member states.


Understanding the idea of multilateralism in US politics is critical to understanding how it works and why politicians use this approach. If you want more information on what multilateralism is or if you have any questions after reading our blog post conclusion, please don’t hesitate to reach out! We’re always happy to answer your queries with an expert’s point of view.



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