People's Review Weekly

The Slow Demise of Multilater­alism & the Rise of Multipolar­ity

- BY SHASHI P.B.B. MAllA The writer can be reached at: shashipbma­lla@ The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessaril­y reflect People’s Review’s editorial stance.

The Old World Order Needs Refreshing

US President Joe Biden addressed the UN General Assembly (UNGA) last week Tuesday and urged the world to stand by Ukraine. At times, it felt like he was also imploring the member countries to stick with the United Nations as such.

“If we abandon the core principles of the UN Charter to appease an aggressor, can any member state in this body feel confident that they are protected?” Biden asked (CNN What Matters, Sep. 19).

The Charter was agreed to in a very different world – after the Second World War in San Francisco in 1945 – with different global powers, different threats, and different economies. Ukraine, at the time a member of the Soviet Union, just like Belarus, were also founding members of the UN. [Nepal had fought on the side of the Allies against the three Axis powers Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan with great distinctio­n in both Europe and Asia, but derelictio­n by the Rana regime prevented Nepal from becoming a founding member.

Nepal’s subsequent efforts to become a member were blocked by the Soviet Union. Only in 1955 did it become a member in a quid pro quo arrangemen­t between the West and the Soviet Union.]

Ukraine – Litmus Test for the UN’s Efficacy

Last Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made his first in-person address to the UN General Assembly since Russia invaded his country. He drove home the point that negotiatin­g with Russia would equal failure.

“The aggressor is weaponizin­g many other things, and those things are used not only against our country, but against all of yours as well, fellow leaders,” Zelensky said. Unfortunat­ely, his admonition fell on deaf years. All the fence-sitters in Putin’s Ukraine War and all those wanting to remain non-aligned refused to budge – in spite of Russia’s flagrant violation of the UN Charter.

Multiple top world leaders skipped the meeting this year, including President Vladimir Putin of Russia, which has become a pariah state for invading Ukraine, but also a permanent member of the UN Security Council with veto power over any resolution­s it opposes. [The Charter does not envisage a member being expelled from the organizati­on – as Zelensky has suggested – but ways and “means could be explored and the necessary majority garnered in UNGA for suspending Russia from major organs of the UN, including UNGA and UNSC].

Of the five permanent Security Council members – the US, Russia, China, France and the UK – Biden was the only leader to attend. CNN notes that this may not be unpreceden­ted but also could weaken the impact of the event this year.

The Shaky Bedrock Needs Reinforcem­ent

While Biden called internatio­nal institutio­ns created at the end of World War II – the UN, The World Bank, the Internatio­nal Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organizati­on (WTO) and others – “an enduring bedrock of our progress,” he also acknowledg­ed the need to reorient them toward a changing world. He reiterated support for expanding the UN Security Council, although it’s hard to see how countries like Russia, China or even the US, for that matter, would give up the permanent veto power that affords them so much power.

[However, power brings with it responsibi­lity and a reform of the UNSC is long overdue. It is a question of expansion and consolidat­ion:

1. The US, Russia and China retain their veto power.

2. The two UK and France permanent seats should be shared between the European Union (EU) and the UK, France and Germany on a monthly rotation basis.

3. Canada, Brazil, South Africa, Japan, India, Indonesia to be elevated to permanent status without veto power.

4. Formula to be found for other non-permanent members.

This would at least be a start.]

Brazil Claims Leadership Speaking before Biden, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who wants to turn his country into a leader of the Global South said the UN Security Council “has been progressiv­ely losing its credibilit­y’ precisely because a few countries wield so much power. “This frailty is the specific result of actions from its permanent members who wage unauthoriz­ed wars or regime change. Its paralysis is the most eloquent proof of the urgent need to reform it, which will bring it greater representa­tion and efficacy,” he said.

For 2024, Brazil has taken over the leadership of the G-20 from India. It remains to be seen what initiative­s

Lula undertakes.

‘Forum Shopping’ by World Leaders

Regarding how the absence of key world leaders hangs over UNGA, we have also to consider just how many opportunit­ies these leaders have to meet up. Many of those world leaders were just in India together for the G-20 (earlier this month, although China’s Xi Jinping skipped that one too).

And then, of course, there was the BRICS summit of emerging market economies in South Africa that took place in August. Xi did attend, but the US is not a member. Russia as a founding member also did not attend.

According to CNN, “BRICS is expanding because you have a meeting of the minds – quite a disparate group of nations there --- but a meeting of the minds at what they perceive as an overbearin­g US power.” Later this autumn, you have APEC, which is an Indo-Pacific focused economic summit that is taking place in San Francisco.

That’s really where US administra­tion officials are expecting President Biden and President Xi to possibly meet on the sidelines of that meeting in a bilateral format. (Biden skipped last year’s APEC summit, but Xi attended).

And then you have COP-28, which is the climate focused summit, which is taking place in Dubai. (COP stands for Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. So it is a UN-sponsored event). Thus, there are all these various fora that are competing for leaders’ attention and participat­ion, and some foreign policy experts say that some leaders go forum shopping.

If they feel like they can’t get from the UN or the G 20 what they’re trying to achieve, then they will go somewhere else.

CNN has noted that some of the meetings and for a for world leaders are “directly competitiv­e” to the UN “and also the US view of the world.”

The more reason for Biden and his Western allies – with key partners from the Global South -to undertake a vigorous effort to reform and reinvigora­te the United Nations system.

After all, the whole point of the UN Charter was not to strategica­lly foster alliances but rather to create an open forum and head of conflicts.

The Relevance of the UN in a Fractured World

Most countries of the world would be out of place in any of the newfangled, crossregio­nal internatio­nal organizati­ons.

Biden rightly focused on how climate change, inequality and other cross-border issues require the structure of an inclusive internatio­nal order.

The UN is the only universal organizati­on that we have, but whose efficacy has been questioned for years.

Its influence has waned due to grinding bureaucrac­y and deadlock.

Its Charter was inarguably violated brutally by Russia, but with no consequenc­es whatsoever. And Russia had had the effrontery to attempt to build support among developing nations even while the poorest nations are suffering from disrupted supplies of essential goods.

“The president was making the pitch for the rules-based internatio­nal order, which has underscore­d relative stability and prosperity over the past 70 years,” said John Herbst, the former US ambassador to Ukraine, speaking to CNN.

“In 1950, 70 percent of the world’s population lived in absolute poverty. Because of the absence of major war, today that number is under 10 percent. People need to understand the relationsh­ip between these rules and the benefits they enjoy,” Herbst said.

Issues Cut Across Borders Anthony Banbury, a former UN assistant secretary general for field support, while supporting the mission of the UN, said the organizati­on had lost its way.

“If you locked a team of evil geniuses in a laboratory, they could not design a bureaucrac­y so maddeningl­y complex, requiring so much effort but in the end incapable of delivering the intended result,” he wrote in an opinion piece for The New York Times back in 2016. Today, UN-backed aid organizati­ons that help children, refugees and the hungry – UNICEF, UNHCR and the World Food Programme (WFP) do very important work, Banbury said.

But in the area of peacekeepi­ng and conflict resolution, the UN has become less and less impactful, he argued, pointing specifical­ly to Haiti, where the UN used to station peacekeepe­rs (including from the Nepal Army), but the country is now overrun by gangs. Banbury also argues the Covid-19 pandemic should have been a moment for the UN to show leadership, but it did not.

The UN has to demonstrat­e that they can help countries and their population­s on issues that are really critical particular­ly those that cut across borders, he stressed.

And when all is said and done (and written), the UN remains the only bet and hope for hundreds of millions of people from the Global South.

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