September 03, 2020, New Delhi
“India, along with Brazil, Germany and Japan, should be inducted into the United Nations Security Council as a permanent member,” argued Pradeep Mehta, Secretary General of CUTS International, a global public policy thin- and action-tank on trade, regulations and governance.
“The world may plunge into a further crisis unless we find multilateral solutions towards governing global public goods. While big powers should learn how to agree to disagree, it is the responsibility of middle and emerging powers like India to convince them about the virtues of multilateralism. That can happen if we expand the membership of the UN Security Council and reforms its functions.”
He was delivering opening remarks to a webinar titled “Imperative of Resurrecting Multilateralism” organised by CUTS International. More than 50 participants participated in a lively discussion which deliberated upon the importance of multilateralism in under-writing peace, security, stability and prosperity for all.
Initiating the discussion, Sabina Dewan, President and Executive Director of Just Jobs Network, said that the discussions on a topic like this could not have come at a more appropriate time.”
“While multilateralism is experiencing a gradual decline for some time, the question is why it is happening. The operational values of the United Nations needs to be understood by answering whether it is practising what it preaches.
Speaking on the occasion, Pascal Lamy, Chair of the Paris Peace Forum, argued that the reasons behind this fall in multilateralism are many-fold and they are reflected in a series of crisis in recent times and as a result multilateralism has reached its lowest point. “One major reason is division among the major sovereigns in respect to their interests and values, resulting in divergence of thoughts and actions.”
Secondly, the hardware of international cooperation has largely become obsolete. “On the one side, we have a system based on sovereignty and on the other there is an increasing divergence on what sovereignty means, which is hindering the system to make progress.”
Reflecting on the deliberations, Bruce Stokes Executive Director of “Transatlantic Task Force: Together or Alone?” of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, talked about the perceptions of multilateralism in the United Nations.
“The central problem is that global problems cannot be tacked without global solutions but at the same time we have to think globally but act locally. Over time, the faith in the system has been eroded as mobilisation of opinions at the local level is largely absent.”
“While we need centralisation as well as decentralisation of ideas and their workings on the ground, we are definitely heading for a bunch of polylateralism. However, we do not know what shapes that they will take. Most importantly, it is not clear whether strengthening the United Nations system is a foreign policy priority of the United States,” he argued.
According to Jorge Heine, Research Professor, Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University and former Ambassador of Chile to India, the question is why the crisis is so deep now, just at a time when we need the multilateralism most to cope with the challenges emanated from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The cause may lie in the manner in globalisation has progressed over the last two decades. While it has benefitted many, there are losers too, particularly in service sectors in northern economies. This is being reflected in strong reactions against globalisation. We have to balance the means of globalisation with the needs of the common public.”
“This is the context behind a very weak reaction on the part of multilateral and inter-governmental bodies to the current pandemic-induced crisis. Today, not many countries are ready to stand up and defend the virtues of these organisations.”
Echoing the thoughts of other panellists, Lakshmi Puri, former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of the UN Women, underlined the importance of multilateralism by explaining what multilateralism means. “In short, it is about one planet solidarity. If it is in crisis then our civilisation will be under trial.”
“The UN system talks about a global governance universe and it cover all possible areas of our life. It is the inter-play among the governments, the people and the secretariat which determines of the credibility of multilateralism. Also, it is the power play of dominant member states which determine its success.”
“The discontent about globalisation as manifested in jobless growth to national to global trade-offs among the major supporters of multilateralism is getting reflected on how the on-going pandemic is being tackled or not. We are increasingly moving towards more and more transaction-based regionalism; the emergence of a culture of de-globalisation, which is worsened by the COVID crisis. We need to stop the institutional capture of these bodies.”
The panel discussion was followed by an interactive session between the panellists and the participants. Questions ranged from the future form governance of trade to possible counterfactuals to the current multilateral system.
According to Pascal Lamy, for balancing the interests of producers and consumers engaged in trade, we need to find a new approach, which can address 21st Century issues including those emanating from bio-security concerns.
This is the first of a series of webinars that CUTS International will organise on the future of multilateralism. The second programme is scheduled to take place on Friday, the 18th of September, 2020.
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