EDITORIAL: Without fairness, the UN system rings hollow
As it celebrated its 75th anniversary last year, the United Nations stood at a crossroads. Surrounded by legacy interests and the clamor for a more inclusive order, the world body, which for decades has been the closest thing to a world government, launched what it has described as a global conversation about building a better future for all.
It was a timely initiative, but it managed to avoid some problems. In surveys that involved some 1.5 million people among its various members around the world, the UN wanted the global community to contribute ideas to what it saw as priority actions for the future. The results were predictable, hinging around a 12-point agenda that she said could only be “addressed by reinvigorated multilateralism”.
âTo get there, we have to think big. We must put the foundations back and reaffirm the fundamental values ââthat underpin collective action. “
These values ââwere highlighted this week as the United Nations General Assembly convened for its 76th meeting. Listening to the leaders of developing countries, it was palpable that little had changed in the power relations within the global body. The “reinvigorated multilateralism” touted by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres seems to have been a euphemism for greater convergence between the quintet of permanent UN security members – the US, UK, Russia , France and China, on how to contain the rest of the world community.
More than anyone outside of this group, African leaders seem to understand their place in the global pecking order. Speaking in polite and largely conformist terms, none of them dared to raise the need for a more equitable distribution of power in the UN Security Council; where apart from the five permanent members, the rest of the world plays on the peripherals of a rotating presidency.
It is difficult to imagine how the United Nations can become more inclusive when the power to make important decisions remains in the hands of the privileged few. With the exception of China, the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council represent less than 10% of the world’s population. India and Africa, which together represent a fifth of the world’s population, have yet to find a place at the high table.
Why is this important? Because the UN has often served as a veil to sanction unilateral positions. Military intervention aside, the global West has over the years written the rules, hampering the rise of emerging economies. The World Trade Organization is a body that has been an instrument of Western hegemony. After practicing centuries of protectionist policies that have contributed to their own economic consolidation, the Western powers now want an open trade regime.
In the sustainability debate, it is indisputable that the global West has a monopoly on sustainable energy technologies and the new industrial revolution. The efforts of emerging global players such as China have encountered a barrage of obstacles,
The result is that emerging economies are perpetually trapped in a subordinate role, where they only matter when the raw material for Western product innovation is threatened. Until the UN gives emerging economies a say in global affairs, its vaunted desire for a more inclusive world will ring not only selfish, but hollow.