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Bilateralism comprises the political and cultural relations between two sovereign states.


Most international diplomacy is done bilaterally. Examples of this include treaties between two countries, exchanges of ambassadors, and state visits. The alternatives to bilateral relations are multilateral relations, which involve many states, and unilateralism, when one state acts on its own.

There has long been a debate on the merits of bilateralism versus multilateralism. The first rejection of bilateralism came after the First World War when many politicians concluded that the complex pre-war system of bilateral treaties had made war inevitable. This led to the creation of the multilateral League of Nations.

A similar reaction against bilateral trade agreements occurred after the Great Depression, when it was argued that such agreements helped to produce a cycle of rising tariffs that deepened the economic downturn. Thus, after the Second World War, the West turned to multilateral agreements such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

Despite the high profile of modern multilateral systems such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, most diplomacy is still done at the bilateral level. Bilateralism has a flexibility and ease that is lacking in most compromise-dependent multilateral systems. In addition, disparities in power, resources, money, armament, or technology are more easily exploitable by the stronger side in bilateral diplomacy, which powerful states might consider a positive aspect of it, compared to the more consensus-driven multilateral form of diplomacy, where the one state-one vote rule applies.

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cs:Bilaterální dohoda de:Bilateralität id:Hubungan bilateral ms:Hubungan dua hala no:Bilateral sv:Bilateralt avtal tl:Bilateralismo

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