RNA - The meetings are being viewed primarily as an attempt at reviving multilateral diplomacy at a time when a rash of hard-right nationalist leaders, including US President Donald Trump, are either rooting for authoritarianism, abandoning international treaties or undermining multilateralism - not necessarily in that order.
The United Nations is expecting over 180 world leaders, including foreign ministers and high-ranking government officials, to participate in the six-day mega event. The multilateral bodies - and international treaties - that have taken a beating include the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Human Rights Council, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and Paris Climate Change agreement.
As is, it is either a resurrection of multilateralism or a prelude to an obituary for international order. Scheduled to take place September 23-27, the meetings will cover a wide range of political and socio-economic issues on the UN agenda, including climate change, universal health care, sustainable development goals (SDGs), financing for development (FfD), elimination of nuclear weapons and the survival of small island developing states (SIDS) facing extinction from rising sea levels.
Speaking to reporters last month, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that multilateralism is under attack from many different directions precisely “when we need it most.”
According to Fars News Agancy, on the upcoming six summits, Guterres warned “the people of the world do not want half measures or empty promises. They are demanding transformative change that is fair and sustainable.”
But will the talk-fest produce concrete results or end up being another political exercise in futility? With the unrivalled super-power under the quixotic leadership of Donald Trump, even developing countries like the Philippines, Brazil and others have abandoned global norms. A rule based international order is collapsing before our eyes and Britain is on the brink of a messy Brexit while trade wars ruin Sino-US trade and drive the world towards a ruinous recession and the end of sustainable development.
But the important thing is that there’s needed substance here. The US might well sit out the Climate Action Summit, and that’s fine. The work of the UN and the member countries will go on without it. As for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), this is a signature UN initiative that needs more attention and focus.
Indeed, the world is not on track to reach many of these goals, and without greater commitment by member governments, they are not likely to be met by 2030. With the US disengaged from many of these discussions, the Secretary General is urgently needed to make a move to recommit leaders to these goals. This is a time of great international uncertainty and instability.
Above all, the UN, has lost its moral influence and not even the upcoming ritualistic General Assembly gathering of heads of state can salvage sensible limits on nuclear weapons, conventional weapons and a new generation of Lethal Autonomous Weapons or robotic weapons while negotiating an end to regional wars. Next year, in 2020, the UN will observe its 75th anniversary when a new chapter rededicating this unique global body to the ideals of the Charter opens.
New stringent agreements must be negotiated at the planned gatherings. The UN has the creative minds to do this. One other thing that is important to underscore is that these upcoming meetings will disclose if Secretary General Guterres plays any leadership role. The world has proven with climate that it can move forward without the US. The question is how much this happens in other areas moving forward?