International Organization


Interests, power, and multilateralism

Lisa L. Martina1

a1 Associate Professor of Government at Harvard University.


Multilateralism characterizes, to varying degrees, patterns of interaction among states and the formal organizations they construct. The utility of multilateral norms or organizations varies with the type of cooperation problem states confront. Thus, the functional logic of international cooperation leads to hypotheses about the conditions under which the institution of multilateralism may be a feasible and efficient solution, as in coordination problems, and those under which it will not, as in collaboration problems. Within these constraints, powerful states choose institutions that will serve their interests, with multilateral arrangements becoming more attractive as the future is valued more highly. Multilateral institutions should be stable in circumstances of changing distributions of power, relative to more hierarchical institutions. The vulnerability of patterns of international cooperation to various exogenous changes depends on the type of strategic interaction underlying state behavior.