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American Nationalism War on ‘Globalism’ will Spell the End of Multilateralism?

BY GODSON AZU

By considering one of the key arguments postulated by John Mashmeaniah, in his highly acknowledged book, “The Tragedy of Great-Power Politics”, it would be clearly understood why it is rather unfortunate for liberal institutional structures, and its policy engagements are systematically doomed to fail, with time. Power ravirary among great-power remains a significant factor to peace and sustainable progress around the world.

With the sudden rise of China as an economic powerhouse over the last century, and it’s massive military might capacity building, making the country a dominating power-bluc in both North/South-East Asia, which has gradually translated into major geo-politcal treats with its neighbours, and the United States of America, whom are not ready to stand idly-by watching while China gains increasing incremental powers. With these it is anticipated that China’s behaviour, and the reactionary effects of the United States would continue to create an intense security competition, between the great-powers rivals, with an ever-present danger of great-power conflicts hanging on the air, its knowledge that China and the United States are destined to be economic and security adversaries, as China’s global influence grows as against that of the United States, assumed to be the world policeman.

The United Nations is perhaps the most prominent manifestation of an international order built on balancing sovereign equality with great-power politics in a bid to maintain international peace. But its capacity to do that, and to meet its other objectives, which include protecting human rights and delivering humanitarian aid have been severely constrained in recent years by its member states.

The real power in the U.N. lies with the five veto-wielding members of the Security Council—the United States, Russia, China, Great Britain and France. And they have used their positions to limit the institution’s involvement in major recent conflicts, including civil wars in Syria and Yemen. Meanwhile, peacekeeping operations, one of the U.N.’s critical functions, are in need of significant reform. Blue helmets are ensnared in difficult, unwieldy missions in places like Mali and South Sudan. The U.N. launched the Action for Peacekeeping initiative in March 2018, in an effort to improve the effectiveness of these and other missions. But on-going discussions as well as follow-through on the initiative’s proposals have been hampered by great-power tensions, particularly between the U.S. and Russia. Now funding constraints due to the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic could further jeopardize the U.N.’s peacekeeping capabilities.

In the years since its founding in 1945, the U.N. has sprouted additional specialized agencies to address specific issues—health, women’s rights and refugees, among others—that have met with varied degrees of success. In some instances, they have been able to galvanize global action around urgent goals, like UNAIDS’ work curbing the international AIDS crisis. But many of those agencies are now also facing funding shortages that could severely curtail their work.

In addition to the U.N. and its agencies, multilateralism of all stripes is under strain, from the International Criminal Court to the World Trade Organization and more recently the World Health Organization, in large part because of the Trump administration’s hostility toward these organizations over the perceived constraints that multilateralism places on Washington’s freedom of action.

Having  covered the U.N. and multilateral institutions in detail and continues to examine key questions about their future. Will veto-wielding Security Council members continue to curtail U.N. involvement in key geopolitical hotspots, and what will that mean for the legitimacy of the institution? Will the U.N. and its specialized agencies be undone by threatened funding cuts? Will much-needed reforms to the peacekeeping system be enacted?

The Liberal International Order

The creation of the U.N. heralded the rise of an international order based on collective security, nondiscriminatory commerce and political self-determination. That is now beginning to recede as powerful states like China, Russia and, increasingly, the United States, prefer to oversee spheres of influence and disregard the principles of sovereign independence and nonintervention.

Seventy-five years ago this Friday, humanity accomplished something miraculous. On June 26, 1945, while World War II was still raging across the Pacific, 50 nations gathered at San Francisco’s Opera House to sign the Charter of the United Nations.* The culmination of years of planning, the new international organization was intended “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” Although the United Nations would often fall short of that lofty goal, its creation was a monumental achievement, providing the foundation for a rules-based international order.

The San Francisco conference had opened to great fanfare on April 25, 1945. Mindful of President Woodrow Wilson’s failure to secure Senate ratification of the League of Nations after World War I, President Harry Truman ensured bipartisan representation on the large U.S. delegation. Led by Secretary of State Edward Stettinius, it included members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, like Texas Democrat Tom Connally and Michigan Republican Arthur Vandenberg, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, like New York Democrat Sol Bloom and New Jersey Republican Charles Eaton, among many others. The State Department also extended semi-official status to 42 civil society groups, ranging from the American Bar Association and the Council on Foreign Relations to the Congress of Industrial Organizations, the League of Women Voters and the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, the NAACP.

Since reports of a novel coronavirus outbreak in China emerged around the new year, the lion’s share of attention has focused on immediate efforts to contain and respond to the pathogen that has now infected millions around the world and killed nearly 300,000 people, according to official counts. As the initial wave crests in many countries, observers are debating how the pandemic might reshape the world order, including prospects for international cooperation. Some anticipate accelerated U.S. decline and the advent of a more multipolar world. Others predict a deepening authoritarian turn worldwide, with an emboldened China atop the global standings.

The future of the world order is not preordained, but one thing seems certain. The arc of history will depend heavily on whether the post-coronavirus United States embraces constructive internationalism or clings to its current, disastrous course under President Donald Trump.

The U.S. Approach to Multilateralism

U.S. President Donald Trump has consistently criticized multilateral institutions since taking office. He has threatened to cut funding to the U.N. and has waged a largely victorious campaign to side-line the International Criminal Court. Meanwhile, he has withdrawn the U.S. from the Paris climate change agreement and the multilateral deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program. His latest targets? The WTO—and the WHO.

Since his first day in office, President Donald Trump has made clear his general discomfort with multilateralism and particular dislike for the World Trade Organization. It was little surprise that he appointed Robert Lighthizer, a long-standing sceptic of the WTO and its legally binding dispute settlement system, as the U.S. trade representative. Over the past two years, as it has unilaterally imposed tariffs on trading partners and launched a major trade war with China, the Trump administration has taken steps to steadily weaken that system by blocking appointments to the body overseeing appeals. Now, the White House is reportedly threatening to bring the entire WTO to a halt by blocking its budget for the coming year.

At the core of this confrontation with the WTO is its process for settling trade disputes, what is known as its Dispute Settlement Understanding, which can authorize penalties against member countries that refuse to bring their policies into compliance with international trade rules. Under this mechanism, a WTO member can file a formal complaint against another member, alleging a violation of the rules. If the parties cannot resolve the dispute through consultations, they bring their case to a panel of experts. If one or both parties disagree with the panel’s ruling in that case, they can appeal the decision to the WTO’s Appellate Body; the WTO’s director-general will then assign three people from a standing roster of seven Appellate Body experts to review the case. If at least two of the three uphold some or all of the initial complaint, and if the two parties still cannot reach a negotiated solution, the complaining party can be authorized to seek compensation from or impose sanctions against the defendant. .

U.N. Politics and Security Council Diplomacy

The Security Council’s activities have always been constrained by the five veto-wielding members, known as the permanent five, or P5. Syria is a prime example of this failure, as Russia has consistently blocked any measures that would work against the interests of the administration of President Bashar al-Assad, with which it is allied. There have regularly been calls to rethink the composition of the permanent members to reflect contemporary geopolitics, but those efforts have made little progress. Meanwhile, as gridlock in the Security Council hampers many diplomatic efforts, the U.N. The General Assembly has taken on added significance as a sounding board for multilateral initiatives that lack great-power sponsors.

In a setback for Beijing’s efforts to raise its profile at the United Nations and other multilateral organizations, a Chinese candidate failed to win a leadership contest for the U.N.’s intellectual property agency on Wednesday. Wang Binyang’s bid to head the World Intellectual Property Organization, or WIPO, had been opposed by the United States due to concerns about China’s respect for intellectual property rights.

Crisis Management

One of the strengths of the U.N. and its specialized agencies is their ability to organize relief in the aftermath of a natural disaster or humanitarian crisis. The U.N. and its agencies are currently leading efforts to end the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, organizing the response to the cyclone damage in southern Africa and working to stave off famine in Yemen, even as their ability to participate in the political process there is limited. Now the U.N. and other multilateral actors have a role to play in the response to the coronavirus pandemic, if the U.S. and China can agree to set aside their rivalry.

2020 dawns with the multilateral system in crisis. The next 12 months will determine whether the world is capable of controlling nuclear proliferation, arresting runaway climate change and restoring faith in the United Nations. Some pivotal events will shape success or failure in the coming year.

Preserving the Nuclear Regime. Of the several potential catastrophic risks confronting humanity, the specter of nuclear war remains the most terrifying. Since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the world has escaped the horror of nuclear weapons. Much of the credit, beyond deterrence and plain dumb luck, goes to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, known as the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or NPT. Yet 50 years after the NPT came into force, nuclear anxieties are increasing

Peacekeeping

After several high-profile failures of its peacekeeping missions in the 1990s, the U.N. set out to rethink and improve blue-helmet operations at the turn of the millennium. But they continue to be dogged by a number of critical problems, including the intransigence of local leaders and missions that are simultaneously bloated and underfunded. Meanwhile, other actors, including the African Union and the European Union, have raised their profile in peacekeeping efforts, with mixed results.

Did the U.N. Security Council squander a chance to strengthen peacekeeping in December? 2018 was meant to be a big year for intergovernmental talks on how to improve U.N. operations. Yet Russia and the U.S. joined forces to torpedo a council resolution on potential reforms as the year ended. Why?

Technical issues like reforming peace operations might already appear less pressing, given the council’s torrid start in 2019. Its permanent members are split over how to respond to the escalating crisis in Venezuela. Headaches from Iran to North Korea are likely to dominate the agenda this year.

Nonetheless, a new report from Security Council Report, an independent think tank, raises uncomfortable questions about the council’s oversight of blue-helmet missions. The story of this otherwise overlooked diplomatic spat offers interesting lessons about the state of politics at the U.N., and perhaps the U.N.’s relevance to international security more generally.

Almost everyone in and around the U.N. agrees that peacekeeping needs an overhaul. The organization’s missions in trouble spots like Mali and Sudan are entangled in complex conflicts, attempting to implement ambitious, lengthy and meandering mandates hashed out in New York.

Following the thoughts and arguments poised by Francis Fukuyama, in his book, “The End of History and Last Man Standing”. has there been any further progress in the development of underlying principles and institutions, as a result of all the really big issues had been settled, such as the very end of the Cold-war, and the victory of liberal democracy. But further then according to Hegal, who asserted, that history can only come to an end, when the longing that drives the historical process, for the struggle of recognition has been satisfied in a society characterized by universal and reciprocal recognition, by which no other arrangement of human social institutions is better able to satisfy this longing, and hence no further progressive historical change is possible. So the desire for recognition now,  by China is therefore providing the missing link between liberal economics and liberal politics.

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