Editorial Analysis: UN and the new multilateralism

United Nations Roles Analysis

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United Nations Roles Analysis
Article: United Nations Roles Analysis

75th anniversary of the UN: United Nations Roles Analysis

  • This week marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations.
  • However, there are no celebrations due to the Covid pandemic. 
  • As a result, the world leaders are addressing the UN through pre-recorded video statements.

UN is being seen as having failed in responding to the coronavirus crisis: United Nations Roles Analysis

  • The coronavirus has exposed the structural weakness of the UN system that was set up amidst the ruins of the Second World War.
  • The UN has not been unable to respond effectively to the once-in-a-century global crisis triggered by the coronavirus.
  • At the UN Security Council, China blocked a serious discussion on the origin and sources of the crisis.
  • While the WHO (World Health Organization) did move a bit in the direction of tracing the origin of the virus, the US was not satisfied with the outcome and walked out of the forum.

Seen as an agency of great powers:

  • Despite it posing an organization for all the countries, in reality, the UN was meant, by design, to be an agency of great powers who had a permanent seat in the Security Council.
  • In other words, cooperation among the great powers was the precondition for its success in the security arena.

It has been in trouble whenever great powers were in conflict with one another:

  • Except for a brief decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when US was the sole pre-eminent power, it has not been able to enforce collective security in the world.
  • During the Cold War, Washington and Moscow were in serious conflict, and the UNSC was deadlocked. 
  • Then, in the first decade of the millennium, when Russia and China began to offer resistance to US dominance.

By 2020s, differences between major powers are many:

  • By the dawn of the third decade (2020s), the conflict between the US on the one hand and China and Russia on the other has become full-blown.
  • To make matters more complicated, the West itself is divided. There is a growing divergence between Washington and its European partners on many global issues.

Highlighted by the dealings with Iran:

  • Some of the differences between the US and the other powers are very visible on the Iran question.
  • Although he has walked out of the nuclear deal with Iran, Trump wants to continue the UN sanctions on Iran.
  • Other powers, including the US’s allies in Europe, are not willing to follow the American lead on this.

US itself is changing, with vastly different worldviews within the country:

  • On the one side, there is the discord between the US and its European partners and the debates in the UN as a contest between the US and the rest.
  • On the other hand, the US itself has never been more divided within itself on global issues as it is today.
  • On Multilateralism:
    • Rejection of post-War multilateralism and post-Cold War globalism is at the heart of Trump’s “America First” foreign policy.
    • Meanwhile, Trump’s Democratic rival in this year’s presidential election, Joe Biden, wants to put multilateralism at the very heart of his administration’s foreign policy.
    • While Trump argues that multilateral institutions have not served America’s interests, Biden insists that multilateralism is the most sensible means to pursue US interests.
  • On international agreements: Biden has promised to re-join the nuclear agreement with Iran, albeit with new conditions, put the US back in the global coalition to limit climate change, and return to the WHO.

India’s upcoming tenure at UNSC offers many possibilities:

  • India will start its two-year tenure at the UNSC starting January, 2020.
  • This opens up various possibilities:
    • This could be an opportunity to restructure India’s traditional approach to the UN.
    • There are also huge possibilities for enhancing India’s multilateral standing.

What India must understand to succeed?

  • Understand that UNSC reform is unlikely to happen soon:
    1. Since the 50th anniversary of the UN in 1995, India has been hoping for an expansion of the permanent membership of UNSC, with or without veto (the 5 permanent members today have the veto).
    2. However, UNSC reform is unlikely to happen soon.
  • India should look outside UNSC to shape global discourse: 
    1. The UN is a lot more than just the Security Council (UNSC), though it is the preeminent body.
    2. During the US-USSR cold war, while the UNSC was dysfunctional, India developed a multilateral agenda of its own — from decolonization and disarmament to a new international economic order. India even mobilized considerable political support for it.
    3. Not all of India’s efforts were successful during the Cold war, but the past underlines the possibilities for shaping the global discourse in the present.
  • Leveraging multilateralism to serve India’s interests:
    1. India should not ignore the basic relationship between national interest and multilateralism.
    2. The primary objective of India’s present multilateralism must be to ensure its territorial integrity, especially at a time when China and Pakistan have mounted a massive effort to internationalize the Kashmir question.
    3. India must actively leverage multilateralism to serve its own interests.
      • For example, in the last few years, Delhi has worked mechanisms like FATF to mount pressure on Pakistan to stop supporting cross-border terrorism in India.
    4. International positions on various issues are dynamic, and India must gets the powers to its side.
      • On both the issues of terrorism and Kashmir, China, once viewed as India’s natural partner in the multilateral arena, has turned antagonistic.
      • The US and the West, traditionally against India on these issues, are now helping India fight off the security challenges in the multilateral arena.
  • Provide leadership in setting new international rules:
    1. Beyond the issues of peace, there is the big challenge of protecting India’s prosperity amidst the unfolding economic, technological and environmental disruptions.
    2. The rules governing all these areas are now up for a significant overhaul.
    3. India must pro-actively be involved in setting new rules in these areas. This is important because, once the rules are set, it is hard to change them.
  • Must focus on building like-minded coalitions:
    1. In writing the new rules and reshaping the global order, India needs to strengthen its recent turn to a more dynamic coalition building.
    2. While reclaiming its role in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), Delhi has also joined the European alliance for multilateralism.
    3. India also knows that much of the new rule-making is likely to take place outside the UN.
    4. That is where India’s new engagement with the US on building like-minded coalitions acquires much significance.
  • India must put more financial resources into international arena:
    1. Delhi can’t hope to expand its international influence on the cheap.
    2. India’s share in the UN budget stands at 0.7 per cent. The shares of China, Japan and the US are at 8, 10 and 22 per cent respectively.
    3. Raising Delhi’s contribution to at least 1 per cent might convince its partners that India is serious about pursuing a more vigorous multilateralism.

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