I think the allusion I use in the title of this post is appropriate to describe multilateral diplomacy. The moral of the famous tale about the tortoise and the hair is slow but steady wins the race. I think that is exactly how to portray the benefits of multilateral diplomacy over unilateral diplomacy in the current age. Multilateral diplomacy may be cumbersome, but it facilitates partnerships, brings many voices into the decision making process, and forms a consensus so precious when needing to enforce international agreements. In an increasingly fragmented world order increasingly connected through technology and globalization; it is imperative to embrace multilateral diplomacy as the means of solving global issues and furthering U.S. interests.
In a time whether it is the rise of the BRICS or the relative decline of American power; the U.S. must use the its power as a global hedgemon to its advantage in the international system in procuring interests. Let me use an another allusion to illustrate me point. If a candidate is running for office, they must persuade voters and convince them that their plans are the best for their own interests. If not, the candidate will lose. The same concept applies to the international system. In order to advance our interests and have countries respond in support of these interests; we must use broad diplomacy to engage and persuade other states. If we convince them that the U.S.'s interests will be their interests, then those actors will support the U.S. agenda. Essentially, the U.S. must fully and proactive work within the system in order to steer it into the right direction. Instead of commanding the world as we used to, we must adapt to changing times and work with others to guide it.
Unilateral critics may point that that we don't need the system to get what we want. That is true in minor cases. However, they are wrong in that the U.S. operates on Earth, so we are in the system whether we like it or not. We exist on this planet, so our actions affect other states, and due in part to globalization, their actions have an impact on use. It is irresponsible to act alone and destructively on certain issues without having it legitimized by a majority of the world community. The U.N., the essence of multilateral diplomacy is viewed as a legitimate institution by many states. There are some who see it as obstructive and useless; but these critics fail to see this accepted institution creates accepted policy. The fact that many are involved in the process, even small countries, is viewed by a majority as something that came out of consensus and thus acceptable to the world. The U.S. must continue to use the U.N. as a means of rallying policy. If the U.S. steers states in the direction it wants, and especially if done through the U.N., then our interests can turn into the world's interests. A very powerful thing.
I would like to expand on some things I touched on before: compromise, consensus, and inclusion. Multilateral diplomacy is a makeup of these three ideals. One must be willing to compromise on issue, make a consensus with others, and make sure others are included in the decision making process. The policies that come out of these three ideals are stronger in the long run. Why is that? When actors compromise, they create an agreement acceptable to multiple parties. When actors build consensus, they make sure others are OK with this compromise and are willing to enforce and defend it. When actors include others in compromise and consensus, it makes those included feel like that have a stake in the outcome, and thus builds a strong base of support. The EU's European Council needs everything to be unanimously approved. They do things, among other reasons, so that the final decision is acceptable to all and that each state can provide a defense and reasoning for support a certain policy. Thus, multilateral diplomacy creates solid supporters. In order to advance policy; you need friends that support it.
A common criticism of multilateral diplomacy is that it is slow, and ineffective. These are both true at times. The 6 party talks have failed (for reasons that may not have to deal with multilateral diplomacy but just China's interests. I think if we built an international coalition pressuring China, they would have made North Korea act differently). The G-20 doesn't seem to have produced all that much, and the U.N. is routinely stalemated. I am not denying these points. However, if the U.S. uses its influence and skillfully navigates international forums/organizations, or just builds a coalition on its own, I am confidant these disadvantages would become irrelevant. For the U.S. to maintain is power in the global order, we must become the master of diplomacy.
Another allusion for you. Lets say the world is congress, and each state is a representative. Being unilateral is playing to ones specific interests, thus I think its safe to say this can be likened to being partisan. Being multilateral, negotiating, compromising and including many others, is similar to being bipartisan. If we want to get things done, and I thinks its a safe generalization that people like it when things get "done", then wouldn't it be a no-brain-er to be multilateral? If working with others creates a finished product everyone (or the majority) likes, then shouldn't the U.S. be even more involved so that the outcome is favorable to U.S. policies/interests? Yes, we should.
Though a slower process, in the end it has the potential to create results for U.S. foreign and economic policy. I would rather have something that benefits me long term, and may take a little longer than something that is short term but is faster. The U.S. must be a skilled diplomatic negotiator to maintain relevance, favorable world policies, and power. The way to change/make the system to your liking is to be a part of it; in order to shape it. We must mold the world; it take great skill to do that. The tortoise is famous for beating the hair, now lets apply this important moral for transforming our diplomacy for the 21st century.