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Notes on the Revolution / Column #81

Notes on the Revolution / Column #81

March 13, 2020


Unilateralism and multilateralism in international affairs

By Charles McKelvey

In Western universities, the fragmentation of the social sciences into economics, political science, and sociology; and the alienation of the social sciences from history and philosophy; emerged as structures for the disciplines. At the same time, there emerged the method of bracketing value judgments and cultural values in the quest for truth. These organizational and epistemological assumptions were fundamentally different from the philosophical premises of Marx, whose comprehensive analysis of human history and political economy was written from the vantage point of the social movement forged by the working class. The universities cast aside the method and insights of Marx, during a time in which they began to be actively funded by the most prominent capitalists of the era.

In Cuba, the revolutionary transformation of higher education included the development research and teaching centers, which bring together researchers from different disciplines to investigate problems and issues of importance; as well as regular interchanges among professors and researches of the various centers, disciplines, and departments.

An example is the monthly forum, Latin American Viewpoint, sponsored by the Cuba program of the Latin American Faculty of the Social Sciences (FLACSO). Its March 2020 program, held on March 11 at the Casa de ALBA, was dedicated to the theme of “Unilateralism and Multilateralism: The international situation.” The panelists were researchers from the Center for U.S. and Hemispheric Studies (CEHSEU) of the University of Havana; the Higher Institute for International Relations in Havana (ISRI)., which is responsible for the education of Cuban diplomats; and the Center for the Study of International Policy (CIPI).

Dr. Jorge Hernández of CEHSEU focused on the imperialism and unilateralism of the United States. He maintained that the United States continues being the center of the capitalist world-economy and the most important imperialist power. And it continues being the principal unilateral actor in the world. Its unilateralism violates the sovereignty and self-determination of nations. Its unilateralism is in opposition to the principal of cooperation among nations; when the United States cooperates, it is a U.S.-directed cooperation.

Hernández observed that the political culture of the United States historically developed with an emphasis that the nation has a special and unique destiny to fulfill, a belief that is often called “American exceptionalism.” The United States emerged from World War II as the hegemonic power, economically, militarily, and ideologically dominant. This gave rise to an essentially military plan for world domination, in which the ideology of the Cold War promoted the interests of the military-industrial complex. The Organization of American States and human rights organizations have been developed as structures of support for the U.S. project of global domination.

The United States entered a period of crisis in the 1960s and 1970s, signaled by the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. The U.S. political establishment responded to the crisis with a neoconservative turn, beginning with Reagan, and continuing even through the presidencies of Clinton and Obama, in which its foreign policy became increasingly characterized by unilateralism.

But the Trump Administration, Hernández maintains, brings unilateralism to an unprecedented level. Trump responds to the fact that the United States is no longer the hegemonic power that it once was, because of the rise of the East. Trump wants to rescue the nation, to make America great again. But he cannot do so. The world is entering a post-Western stage, with the rise of China and Russia. Some have said that Trump is anti-establishment. But Trump is not anti-systemic; he represents determined interests of the U.S. political establishment, including energy and military interests.

Hernandez concluded with the observation that the world-system has had many contradictions, but it maintained stability. Today, however, it is characterized by disorder, as a result of Trump, who represents the clearest example of unilateralism, a seeking of, more than hegemony, a global domination.

Dr. Leyde Rodríguez, Vice-Rector of ISRI, spoke on militarism in the international system. Militarism, he maintained, has shaped global affairs since the launching of the Cold War, as nations have used force to attain their objectives. U.S. military bases are present everywhere in the world, enabling the United States and its European allies to act with impunity.

Military expenses continue to rise in the world, stimulating the aggressive unilateral actions of the United States with respect to the Middle East, Venezuela, China, and North Korea. At the present time, there are training maneuvers preparing for a possible conflict with Iran, with the training of U.S. and European soldiers in Germany.

U.S. militarism and unilateralism are countered by Russia, Rodríguez observed, and reflecting this conflict, the United States is testing strategic arms. The Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) is the only instrument of control at the present time, and we do not know if it can be extended. Russia has expressed the importance of maintaining it; and Russia has suggested the inclusion of France and the UK in a new SALT agreement.

The U.S. military-industrial complex, Rodríguez concluded, acts more and more with impunity. Multilateralism has emerged as result of states looking for ways to block the unilateralism of the hegemonic power. In this context, the proposals of Russia and China are important.

Dr. Santiago Pérez of CIPI maintained that militarism and unilateralism are not mutually exclusive. The unilateral actions of the United States are often supported by the other powers, because of the interests of the dominant class. The Iraq war, for example, was a U.S. unilateral action, but supported by a coalition. At the same time, in regional associations of states, such as CARICOM and the European Union, the right of the member states to conduct their own foreign policy is affirmed.

Nonetheless, the differentiation between unilateralism and multilateralism is important. Unilateralism implies the law of the jungle, whereas multilateralism means that states in practice do not act without taking intro account international and regional organizations, such as the United Nations and CELAC. Moreover, multilateralism is based in principles and international norms, and this is very important for those states, like Cuba, that have less power;

As World War II was drawing to a close, it was convenient for the United States, which had arrived to be the dominant power, to create the United Nations and the Bretton Woods Institutions. From its dominant position, it was able to act multilaterally in defense of its interests; but now it has lost dominance, and it has to act unilaterally to defend its interests.

Meanwhile, China has emerged as the superior nation of the world. It is outcompeting the capitalist economies in high technology and production, and its socialism is the reason, a fact that is not widely recognized. The Chinese socialist system, with its commitment to education and its clear understanding of the necessary role of the state in promoting economic development, is the reason that China is winning the competition with the capitalist economies.

China has responded with moderation to Trump’s economic nationalism. This is in part a consequence of the fact that China depends on the dollar and the U.S. market. But it also is because China has a multilateral perspective on international relations and foreign affairs, and it therefore wants to act in accordance with international norms, while advocating for their reform, as for example with its calls for the democratization of the International Monetary Fund.

Pérez observes that, if there is a power that has confronted the USA in all areas, it is Russia. Russia is too powerful a nation to accept violations of its sovereignty, and therefore its foreign policy is based on the protection of its sovereign rights.

In contrast, the European Union has a coincidence of interests with the United States in the face of new challenges emerging from the alternative projects of China and Venezuela. For this reason, the European Union cooperates with the United States in the military arena, so that there are many U.S. military bases in Europe. NATO is a military alliance between the United States and Europe in support of the interests of the European capitalist class, Pérez maintained.

The commentaries of these scholars from three Cuban teaching and research centers help us discern that, in response to the unilateralism and aggressive imperialism of the United States and its European allies, there is emerging an alternative paradigm, based in multilateralism and cooperation, with nations like China, Russia, Venezuela, and Cuba taking the lead. The latter alternative projects the road toward a sustainable future for humanity.

This is Charles McKelvey, reflecting on the unfolding global popular socialist revolution forged by our peoples in defense of humanity.


Edited by Lena Valverde Jordi
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