The world needs multilateralism to survive Covid

Thursday, November 12th, 2020 00:00 |
US President Donald Trump. Photo/AFP

There is no other time than the current period in human history, when unity of purpose is being demanded from all nations.

Combating the borderless Covid-19 cannot be effective without empathy between nations. 

Multilateralism and diplomacy have been the backbone behind addressing global issues in international law, environment, weapons of mass destruction, pandemics, gender equality, among others. 

The UN states that, “multilateralism requires States to follow international norms, and pay more respect to international institutions”, as opposed to unilateralism, “where a single State can influence how international relations are conducted.”

Donald Trump’s openly vengeful action temporarily withdrawing America funding from the World Health Organization (WHO), is testament to the perils of unilateral action.

If Trump had genuine grievances centering on alleged bias of the WHO towards China, he would have engaged established UN channels.

The fact that no other credible international organisation supported Trump’s unilateral action, shows that it was a whimsical action based on his personal feelings, and not as a consequence of any compromise of the WHO’s, or the UN’s mandate, for that matter. 

Indeed, the difference between a multilateral approach and unilateral action during a global crisis like we now have is evident.

While the US has insulated itself against the outside world following Trump’s “America First” mantra, China has used the opportunity to help countries across the world to mitigate effects of the pandemic.

Notwithstanding non-factual accusations of its culpability in the spread of Covid-19, China has closely engaged many countries in fighting the epidemic.

This outreach spirit is captured in a government white paper, China’s Peaceful Development Path, released in December 2005.

The paper states:  “Peace, opening up, cooperation, harmony and mutually beneficial policies remain our philosophy, doctrine and pursuit.”  

Addressing the 49th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 23, 2019, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a champion of multilateralism, advised that “from our part of the world, we should be ready to look at established institutions and see the balance of power realistically reflected with them.”

People are asking what the world will look like after the Covid-19. Will it be more open, or will we witness a paradigm shift that will initiate a new world order of interdependency and mutual respect?

In an interview on April 17, 2020 with the British Broadcasting Corporation, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, warned against “pandemic protectionism”, where some developed countries hoarded medical equipment for domestic use. Georgieva stressed that, “we would very much encourage countries to actually integrate their capabilities, rather than trying to keep it each-one for itself.” 

Multilateralism and diplomacy are obviously the only sustainable solutions to mounting global challenges.

They enable countries to have a consensus in a wide range of areas on the basis of mutual benefit, manage differences, strengthen mutual understanding and friendship between nations and to jointly address major international and regional issues.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres aptly captures the spirit of multilateralism by stating:  “The UN Charter points the way, with its vision of people and countries living as good neighbours, defending universal values and recognizing our common future.”

A champion of multilateralism, Guterres underscored the unavoidability of multilateralism during the 73rd session of the General Assembly on September 16, 2019 by noting that humanity’s most pressing issues “are increasingly interlinked”. 

With Covid-19, nothing could be further from the truth.  WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warns, “without national unity and global solidarity, trust us: the worst is ahead of us.”

— The writer is a communications expert and public policy analyst. [email protected]

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