‘Multilateral’? Southern leaders question solidarity

DAKAR, Senegal — The United Nations was founded on one simple notion above all others: working together is better than going it alone. But while the term “multilateralism” might be in vogue at this year’s UN General Assembly, some leaders are calling out to the heads of the wealthiest nations.

Whether it’s the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic or climate change, developing countries say it seems the wealthiest nations are thinking of themselves first, not the most vulnerable of the world.

“The global economy is now a burning house, but we continue to use evacuation methods that rush some nations to safety while leaving the rest of us to fend for ourselves in the burning building,” said the President of Malawi, Lazarus Chakwera. “But if we are truly one United Nations family, then leaving no one behind should be practiced, not just preached.”

Tanzanian Vice President Philip Isdor Mpango was even more blunt. He said, “Unilateralism driven by greed is leading us – rich and poor, strong and weak – to disaster.”

When the United Nations was established in 1945, world leaders hoped it would ensure that an event like World War II would never happen again. Over the years, his mandate has touched on everything from nuclear proliferation to refugee protection. But this noble notion of multilateralism has never wavered, even if reality has sometimes done so.

Kiribati President Taneti Maamau Beretitenti last week reminded member states that the founders of the United Nations wanted not only to prevent future wars, but to “improve the standard of living for all”.

“Today we take stock of progress towards these goals as well as new commitments and to reflect and assess whether we have truly lived up to these values,” he said. Regionalism and solidarity, he said, “risk increasingly being used to serve specific national interests” rather than for the common good.

“Broken humanity cannot be repaired by wonderful speeches, meetings, resolutions or international instruments, but by a game of greater compassion and solidarity,” he added.

Mohammad Niamat Elahee, a professor of international trade at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, said most rich countries pay lip service to multilateralism but actually act otherwise.

“When we try to solve it on our own, maybe in the short term, we only get benefits for a limited number of people. But in the long term, it gets worse for everyone,” said he said, pointing to the variants of COVID-19 that emerged in developing countries after wealthy countries initially stockpiled the vaccines.

“For multilateralism to work, we need cooperation at all levels. If some countries follow multilateralism and some don’t, then it doesn’t work,” Elahee said. “Big countries have disproportionate influence in the world,” he said. “When they drop multilateralism, everyone else drops it and it becomes a world of dog-eating dogs. And that’s the challenge.

Multilateralism has suffered a steady stream of blows over the past 20 years, from US military interventions to backlash against globalization. Former US President Donald Trump’s tenure reintroduced an “America First” approach to foreign policy. His administration shunned the United Nations as an “unelected and unaccountable global bureaucracy.”

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic – a shared global catastrophe, but also a catastrophe that revealed that there was enough oxygen for some countries, but countless patients elsewhere would die without it.

“Wealthier nations immediately received vaccines at the expense of the have-nots,” Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said last week, echoing the anger of a number of other countries.

Even issues around which many countries have rallied, such as condemnation of the war in Ukraine, look different for nations whose armed conflicts have not elicited the same international solidarity.

“They should pause for a moment to reflect on the stark contrast in their response to wars elsewhere where women and children have died by the thousands as a result of wars and famine,” East Timor President Jose Ramos said. Horta, to the Assembly.

“The response to calls for help from our beloved Secretary-General in these situations has not been met with the same compassion,” he said. “As a country in the South, we observe double standards.”

Countries like Ghana say they also need more international solidarity, when it comes to inequalities in how economies have weathered the impact of the pandemic and global inflation. The resulting currency devaluations made it even more difficult for countries to repay their US dollar borrowings.

The consequences are also more severe for developing countries when it comes to climate change, leaders say. Presidents from Africa and island nations have called on wealthier countries to take greater financial responsibility for contributing the most to carbon emissions.

The fear also lies in what will happen once this annual wave of pledges ends, said Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, whose country has experienced apocalyptic flooding.

“My real worry is about the next stage of this challenge – when the cameras leave and the story moves to conflicts like Ukraine,” he said. “My question is: Will we be left alone to deal with a crisis that we did not create?

Ultimately, the term “united” in the United Nations means interdependence. It is a notion that the last three years have taught many nations in a substantial way. Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recalled this, telling world leaders that “the biggest lesson we have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is that ‘no one is safe until everyone is safe’. is not safe “”.

“Mutual solidarity must be demonstrated more than ever,” she said. “We must prove that in times of crisis, the UN remains the cornerstone of the multilateral system.”

West Africa bureau chief Krista Larson has covered the news across the continent for The Associated Press since 2008. For more AP coverage of the United Nations General Assembly, visit https: //apnews.com/hub/united-nations-general-assembly

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