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Merkel: Retreat from multilateralism is world’s ‘biggest threat’



German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday made a passionate plea for multilateral cooperation, warning the erosion of international institutions was probably the “biggest threat to the world.”

Speaking at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Merkel, who is set to leave office after September’s German election, expressed concern about what she described as a growing tendency to question multilateral groups like the United Nations. It’s a stance that earned her the occasional title “leader of the free world” while Donald Trump was U.S. president and withdrew his country from groups like the World Health Organization and treaties like the Paris climate agreement.

Asked by a lawmaker in the Council of Europe what she sees as the greatest threat to today’s world, Merkel responded with some historical perspective. She mentioned the dwindling number of eyewitnesses to the global tragedies of World War II and the Holocaust, and she lamented what the world might be losing because of that.

“In this situation, institutions that were created as a lesson from these terrible occurrences are questioned more than it was in the decades before,” she said. “And the imperfection of those institutions — whether that’s the United Nations, whether that’s other multilateral institutions — is very much brought to the fore. And as a result, those institutions are weakened without having newer, better institutions.”

Merkel warned that “if everywhere the institutions are questioned,” and resolutions such as from the U.N. Security Council are not enforced, “then I think we are in danger, so to speak, of first resigning ourselves to the fact that we have no obligation to find diplomatic solutions.”

In such a setting, “harsh words” can “quickly turn into provocative actions — if we look at what’s going on in the South China Sea, what’s going on in Taiwan,” the chancellor cautioned, referencing China’s aggressive behavior over territorial disputes in the region. “And from something like that, military conflicts can arise again.”

Speaking via video from Berlin, Merkel appealed to all countries to “very, very carefully protect and nurture the institutions we founded back then … because otherwise, we’ll be living in a world in which conflicts can arise unexpectedly and unintentionally, without us having the appropriate resolution mechanisms.”

Merkel, who also used her appearance to advocate for dialogue with Russia amid tensions over Moscow’s troop build-up at the Ukrainian border, concluded: “As long as you are talking, you don’t shoot at each other.”



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