UN’s burden: A crowded agenda, a divided world - Hindustan Times
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UN’s burden: A crowded agenda, a divided world

Sep 26, 2023 12:43 AM IST

The UN has a crowded agenda. The problems of the climate crisis, development, and the Ukraine war require the international community to come together.

The United Nations (UN) Secretary-General in his opening address to the 78th session of the UN General Assembly in New York on September 19 said that the “world is becoming unhinged”. He pointed out that “global governance” reflects the “political and economic realities of 1945”.

The 78th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York. (AFP)(HT_PRINT) PREMIUM
The 78th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York. (AFP)(HT_PRINT)

The UN has a crowded agenda. The problems of the climate crisis, development, and the Ukraine war require the international community to come together. Instead, the world is witnessing increasing polarisation reminiscent of the Cold War era. The key pillars of global governance created at the end of World War II were the UN and the Bretton Woods system, which include the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. A little later, GATT was added to this trinity, since replaced by the World Trade Organization. The UN Charter vested primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security in the Security Council. Within the Council, the permanent members arrogated to themselves veto powers. This was to safeguard their interests, which could not be subordinated to majority decisions.

The UN Charter was amended in 1965 to expand only the non-permanent members category. However, Communist China was allowed to replace Taiwan as a permanent member in 1972. This was a momentous change, but was affected without any Charter amendment. The US needed “peace with honour” to exit Vietnam. This entailed China’s cooperation. The added bonus was to contain the erstwhile Soviet Union. The global realities have changed dramatically since.

US President Joe Biden began his speech to the current session of the UN by referring to his recent visit to Vietnam. The latter has accepted the US as a “strategic partner”. The new relationship is based on a shared concern over China’s policies. China, in turn, has come closer to Russia. However, there are limits to the change. The US and the European Union want “de-risking” not “de-coupling” with China. The latter, in turn, would be loath to lose its markets in the West.

Vietnam has received increasing investment from western companies shifting their manufacturing base from China. But it retains strong economic ties with China. The UN also hosted the Climate Summit. The UN Secretary-General in his address to the Summit warned that we are heading towards a “dangerous and unstable world” with 2.8 degrees temperature rise. He called for developed countries to achieve net zero emissions around 2040 and the major emerging economies around 2050. The current deadlines are 2050 for developed countries, 2060 for China, and 2070 for India. National governments are more cautious than the UNSG.

Senator John Kerry’s visit to Beijing in July to nudge China to do more drew a rebuff. On the eve of the current UNGA session, British Prime Minister (PM) Rishi Sunak announced investment in new oil and gas fields off the UK’s coast. Developed countries have refused to move beyond the $100 billion per annum promised in 2015 at the Paris Conference, though the target for emission reduction has been revised upwards. PM Modi is not attending the UNGA this year and India will be represented by the EAM. Amongst the South Asian leaders who addressed the UNGA, PM Prachanda of Nepal mentioned that his country will exit the ranks of LDCs by 2026. Sheikh Hasina mentioned that Bangladesh has brought down the poverty level in the country from 41.5% in 2006 to 18.7 in 2022. Sri Lanka’s President, Ranil Wickremesinghe, mentioned that despite challenges, his country managed to bring about a democratic transition.

However, Pakistan’s position remained mired in the past. Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar repeated Pakistan’s rhetoric about Kashmir. Apart from attending the UNGA, he met with the IMF Director General. Pakistan recently avoided default when the IMF extended its 24th assistance package to that country. The IMF DG Kristalina Georgieva’s advice to him was: “Please collect more taxes from the wealthy and please protect the poor people of Pakistan.”

DP Srivastava is a former ambassador. The views expressed are personal

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