Author: Jahangir HUSEYNOV
“Five years ago, … in an interagency project to evaluate the future of the international order, … we recognised that the order was fragile and needed repair, but we also appreciated the power of inertia – it takes extreme moments for leaders to accept that the old order is broken and summon the will to forge a new one.
“Now that extreme moment is here, and U.S. leaders have an opportunity that typically comes around just once or twice a century: they can build an order that actually works for our times – one that combats climate change, cyberthreats and public health challenges, and that allows for the fruits of globalisation and technological progress to be shared more widely,” Edward Fishman, expert of the Atlantic Council (analytical think tank of NATO) told Politico.
It is difficult to disagree with the above statement in that the old rules developed back in the 1940s are hopelessly outdated, including all sorts of supranational constructions, which are incapable of responding to modern problems promptly and adequately. Nor do they have a proper authority and influence to carry out their mission.
Old mentality prevails
The United Nations, the most prestigious and oldest of the existing international organisations, which unites 193 nations of the world, is going to celebrate the 75th anniversary on June 26. In recent years, there have been many calls for reforms in the UN, but there is no clarity, not to mention consensus, about what these reforms can mean in practice. Some wish that the organisation played a greater or more effective role in world affairs, others insist that its role be reduced only to work in the humanitarian fields. However, both parties agree that the UN is no longer a body capable of resolving the disputes between nations and cooperation in the times of common crises.
In fact, the UN is a huge, clumsy and too bureaucratic colossus of a large number of overlapping organisational structures with vague functions and unbinding decisions. First of all, it is important to start with reforming the Security Council. Its five permanent members only compete with each other on who most often uses the right of veto. They practically block any decision that does not suit any of the founding nations of the UN: the USA, Great Britain, China, Russia (successor to the USSR) and France.
World Bank and IMF are mostly criticised for the imbalance in their governance structures, where large countries dominate. Low- and middle-income countries are underrepresented in these bodies and practically do not participate in decision-making. The rule of the US and Europe as the only leading nations of both organisations has been in place since the inception. Moreover, the US also has the right of vetoing the decisions. Both international organisations are commonly blamed for the inconsistency of decisions with the stated goals of promoting international financial stability and trade, high employment and sustainable economic growth. In particular, loaning conditions often undermine the sovereignty of borrowing countries, preventing them from fulfilling their obligations on social security, health care and education. The projects they sponsor often violate international human rights and standards.
“…Nowhere, in all of these discussions, did issues of workers' rights, including the right to participate in the decisions which would affect their lives in so many ways, get raised. It's a continuation of the colonial mentality. I often felt myself the lone voice in these discussions suggesting that basic democratic principles be followed,” Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate in Economics, who had previously worked for the World Bank as its chief economist, admits.
It might seem that there is still an international organisation - UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development), founded in 1964 for developing countries of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, where the voice of small countries can be heard. The head of this organisation is elected from these regions (although, again, a representative of a developed country should be his deputy).
But UNCTAD's relations with omnipotent financial institutions did not work out. Both IMF and WB do not approve of its leadership. According to UNCTAD, the prevailing trading system gives priority to liberalisation and deregulation, but developing countries also need to be able to choose their own policies to build a diversified and sustainable economy. However, instead of listening to these calls, IMF and WB insist that they have the exclusive right to analyse global finances and make decisions.
Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Robert Azevedo, recently announced his early resignation. This is understandable. How can one manage an organisation if its main structure, the Appellate Body that regulates trade disputes, has not been functioning since December 2019, as the US blocks the rotation of judges. In fact, what we see is the ongoing trade wars. The EU and 16 other countries developed an interim dispute resolution mechanism in January, but will all 164 WTO members support them?
At a meeting of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on May 18-19, all 194 participants adopted a resolution, which announced the beginning of an investigation to identify not only the causes and epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the role of WHO in the late response to the pandemic.
Over the seventy-two years of WHO’s existence, this organisation has demonstrated tremendous accomplishments, such as the victory over smallpox, as well as failures, such as the delayed response to the Ebola outbreak in 2014. This year's coronavirus pandemic has raised serious doubts around the world about the effectiveness of the UN’s health agency.
In September 2014, the US used the UN Security Council platform in order to determine joint actions in the fight against Ebola.
Only six years later, in March 2020, when the threat of the spread of COVID-19 was more than obvious, China, which was chairing the Security Council back in 2014, did not convene a meeting on COVID-19. The US and Russia also showed no desire to use the platform to coordinate joint efforts.
Instead, the major economies of the world decided to gather in mid-March in a narrow circle in G7 format (Germany, Italy, Canada, Great Britain, the USA, France and Japan) in order to discuss the situation. A week later, the leading countries gathered again, and already in a larger composition, at the G20, where they again confined themselves to promises of a general nature.
The Security Council convened only in April at the request of non-permanent members of the Council, headed by the Dominican Republic, which was then chairing at that time (changing monthly). However, this still did not produce any result. All the efforts of the authors of the resolution on coronavirus crashed against the stubborn demands of the US to include references to the origin of the virus in China in the document. Had this requirement been met, China would have used its right of veto anyway. A little later, the UN General Assembly, again gathered at the initiative of small countries (Norway, Indonesia, Ghana, Liechtenstein, Singapore and Switzerland), adopted a resolution calling for international cooperation in the fight against the virus. However, this was nothing more than a declarative step, since in such a global crisis as COVID-19, only the resolutions of the UN Security Council have the authority of international law and can prompt necessary actions.
The coronavirus pandemic, which revealed all the weak joints of the healthcare system around the world, as well as the widespread social and economic crisis that followed, turned out to be a litmus test to identify the true possibilities of the global cooperation structures.
Virus as a catalyst
COVID-19 can become a watershed in international relations. It can accelerate several pre-existing trends. Apparently, the international cooperation environment continues to remain highly competitive even during the crisis.
Some experts also note a paradox between the growing demand for broader and more effective cooperation and the declining willingness of the international community to act collectively.
International cooperation is weakening in many areas, but the growing role of developing countries and their influence on the norms and standards of cooperation can serve as the basis for starting a new relationship.
At the same time, we can see a significant weakening of the use of multilateral forums in decision-making. The collective actions of the international community are good for dealing with global crises, such as the one the global healthcare, economy and society suffers from. However, in a situation where countries are competing with each other to maximise national benefits, multilateral relations do not always work. Perhaps, a more prudent approach in certain cases might be if the governments prefer bilateral cooperation, as well as more efficient club management (such as the G7 and G20) or the creation of new platforms and institutions.
Moreover, these approaches might be multilateral, as large forums can rely on smaller groups of countries with their mutual interests being the main drive for cooperation.
That’s why we can perhaps agree with Mr. Stiglitz that the extreme moment that happens once or twice a century has really come true. But who will use it: world leaders or small countries that have proven their resilience in crises like the current one?
Everyone has a chance to become one of the architects of the new world order, including Azerbaijan.