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Opening Remarks on UN@75: India and the Future of Multilateralism

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  • Amb. Sujan R. Chinoy (Retd)
    September 04, 2020

    Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen.

    It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to today’s webinar on the theme “UN@75: India and the Future of Multilateralism”. As the theme suggests, this year marks the 75th anniversary of the United Nations.

    The UN was established on 24 October 1945, soon after the end of the Second World War. Its genesis lay in the international community's determination to collectively strive for peace. Since then, the organization has sought to bring nations and peoples together to preserve peace and security and to make the world a better place to live in.

    Today, we live in a completely different world from the one that emerged from the ashes of the Second World War. It also highlights the stark fact that the UN is an archaic structure. It has not outlived its utility, but it has certainly failed to keep up and adapt its structures to the vast changes over the past 75 years. If it were a corporate entity, it would have gone under many years ago.

    The UN Security Council set up in 1945 represents an exclusive club of victors of the Great War who decided to make a Euro-American structure a little more representative by giving a free pass to a single populous Asian country—China—without it remotely qualifying as a great power then.

    Possession of nuclear weapons was not a required qualification then, because in 1945, only the United States possessed nuclear weapons capability. Ironically, over time, the UNSC bestowed upon its members an entitlement to selectively acquire and legitimise nuclear weapons.

    When we look back at the past 75 years, the UN system appears crowed today as compared to its origins. Membership has gone up from 51 countries in 1945 to 193 countries today. But we cannot aver that it is any more participatory or representative. The blatant possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) by the P5 and their arbitrary veto power ensures that. The expansion of the non-permanent category of UNSC in 1965 has provided no relief from the monopoly of real power by the P5.

    As Milton would have said in his Ode to His Blindness, “They also serve who only stand and wait”.

    History reveals that nations do not voluntarily give up power and privileges. Only fundamental upheavals can reorder the existing UN power structures, especially the Security Council. Any expansion of the non-permanent category will remain a patchwork exercise.

    The world has moved from bipolarity during the Cold War, through a brief decade of unipolarity to a putative dyad today of the US and China, both of which have struck a blow at the existing UN structure in their own ways. An inward-looking US has taken renounced the UN system, or taken “sanyas” as Indians would say, in favour of an America First policy with the objective of regaining through MAGA a pre-eminence that existed in 1945. China, on its part, is desperately trying to fill the void created by the US’ absence, and also to remodel the existing global order in support of its narratives.
    De-coupling on trade in an age of super globalisation of supply chains is virtually impossible. However, a new Cold War is clearly evident in the technology space.

    The world is undergoing a fundamental transformation. A fragile international compact has been rendered a mortal blow by COVID-19, exposing flaws in multi-lateral structures and national capacities. Multilateralism is on the retreat.

    The UN Security Council must be faulted for its egregious lack of action in March this year when China held its Presidency. Obfuscation of facts about the origins and nature of the pandemic undermined the global community’s response. When it comes to Pakistan’s culpability, China’s duplicitous position on terrorism has been well-documented in the UN Security Council’s 1267 Committee.

    China’s egregious policies, its unilateralism and aggression manifests today from the South China Sea to Ladakh. Its attempts to raise the Jammu & Kashmir issue in the UN Security Council have been thwarted. Lamentably, China’s actions are shrinking the canvas for multilateral cooperation between India and China.

    The pandemic has created a fresh opportunity for dialogue. There is hope, and scope, for creating a new global compact provided there is a willingness to share ideas, best practices and available resources to develop systems for early warning and cooperation among nation states. This will also be a pre-requisite for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

    Historically, India is an active founding member of the UN, with contributions on a broad range of issues, including peace-keeping. Over the last few years, India has shown extraordinary dynamism in engaging the world. India seeks to play a leading role on security developmental issues. It has taken a lead in promoting holistic health through yoga, tackling climate change through the International Solar Alliance and reforming multilateral institutions on the principles of fairness and equitableness.

    This dynamism is also reflected in PM Modi’s initiatives to develop joint responses to COVID-19 in SAARC and G20. India has provided medical assistance to more than 150 countries to tackle the pandemic.

    As a non-permanent member of the UNSC starting 1 January 2021, India has outlined its approach in the form of “New Orientation for a Reformed Multilateral System" (NORMS). This could provide an opportunity for India to strengthen ties with traditional partners such as the US, France and Russia and also develop closer links with Vietnam, Mexico and Brazil. A renewed focus on building new synergies with the large African constituency is in India’s interest.

    Many questions arise. (1) Is the UN still relevant? (2) Can it adapt to the evolving geo-political realities and power shifts? (3) What are the steps necessary to re-energise multilateralism? And, finally, (4) what role can India play in shaping multilateralism?

    To discuss these issues, we have with us a distinguished set of panellists comprising Amb. Asoke Mukerji, former Permanent Representative of India to the UN, Prof. Ramesh Thakur of the Australian National University, Prof. Amrita Narlikar of the German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA) which, incidentally, is one of our partner institutes, and, Prof. W.P.S. Sidhu of the New York University.

    I now request Amb. Asoke Mukerji to deliver his remarks.

    Thank you.

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