UN has been at frontline of multilateralism : The Tribune India

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UN has been at frontline of multilateralism

As the UN turns 75, during this time, when conflicts have raged in the world, it has been the most important whistleblower that has sought to hammer on the principles of non-intervention in the internal affairs of states and the resolution of disputes by peaceful means. For this, the ICJ serves as the principal judicial organ of the UN.

UN has been at frontline of multilateralism

On High Table: As India readies for a seat in the Security Council, it will need cutting edge ideas to become a global solution provider.



Bharat H Desai

Bharat H Desai Jawaharlal Nehru Chair & Professor of International Law, JNU

The United Nations (UN) rolled out on September 21 celebrations for its 75th anniversary under the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic. The third week of September each year normally brings heads of state and government to the United Nations. However, this year, the UN has been forced to go in a virtual mode. The historic milestone of the UN will hammer on multilateralism as a dire necessity in our troubled times. The UN Declaration adopted on this occasion clearly sets the stage: “There is no other global organisation with the legitimacy, convening power and normative impact as the United Nations. No other global organisation gives hope to so many people for a better world and can deliver the future we want.”

In his video address to the UN General Assembly’s virtual session on Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a clarion call for ‘comprehensive UN reforms’. “We cannot fight today’s challenges with outdated structures,” the PM said. The reform that he was alluding to includes the long-pending expansion of the UN Security Council.

The advent of the UN followed the horrific aftermath of World War II and demise of the League of Nations. The unanimous adoption of the Charter on June 25, 1945 at the Opera House of San Francisco brought to a close the monumental work. On June 26, all 49 country delegations — Poland was absent — including India, signed the Charter that came into being on October 24, 1945 after ratifications in accordance with their respective constitutional processes (Article 110). “The Charter of the United Nations which you have just signed is a solid structure upon which we can build a better world…With this Charter, the world can begin to look forward to the time when all worthy human beings may be permitted to live decently as free people,” said US President Harry Truman in his prophetic address to the final session at the San Francisco Conference.

In a way, the crafting of the UN Charter was a culmination of a series of confabulations, even as the World War II was raging, especially between the Big Three — US President Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Churchill and USSR leader Stalin — from 1941 to 1945 — in places such as London, the Atlantic, Moscow, Tehran, the Dumbarton Oaks, Yalta and San Francisco. The UN did not become exactly a successor to its predecessor, the League of Nations (1920-1945).

Still, it seems in hindsight, that the institutionalisation of ‘multilateralism’ became the basis for the application of international law and the conduct of international relations would have been inconceivable without the previous League experiment. Hence, the 1945 Charter firmly laid down the pathway for the UN-led international order.

Notwithstanding the pastime of UN-bashing among some quarters, its proverbial bureaucracy and failings, we still have only one UN that is indispensable for the maintenance of international peace and security.

It is only truism to state that the Charter of the United Nations is the cornerstone of international law. It has emphatically declared the principle of sovereign equality of all states, respect of their territorial integrity, political independence and the right to self-determination of peoples. Without the proverbial battles fought in the UN forums, the liberation of the colonies would simply not have been possible. As a consequence, the UN membership today stands at 193, up from the original 50.

If we wish to pay tributes to the successes of the UN, the demise of colonialism and apartheid would be at the top. Even though there have been numerous conflicts raging around the world, the UN has been the most important whistleblower that has sought to hammer on the principles of non-intervention in the internal affairs of states and the resolution of international disputes by peaceful means. For this, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) serves as the principal judicial organ of the UN. The UN Charter does provide a concrete blueprint (Article 2.4) for the prohibition of threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. If this Charter blueprint has been eroded, it is due to the self-serving interests of the member-states. A layman needs to understand that the UN cannot do anything unless the member-states want it to be done.

As India prepares to take up a non-permanent seat at the horse-shoe table of the UN Security Council in January 2021, there are heightened expectations. Most of the member-states have been looking to the UN system as a whole that comprises several commissions, programmes, funds and the 16 ‘specialised agencies’, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO). It is this entity that is at the frontline of the current battle and search for vaccines for Covid-19. Though it has been lampooned by vested interests and some sovereign states, the WHO has an impeccable track record in addressing global health issues. Several other functional organisations do commendable jobs, such as for civil aviation (ICAO), education and culture (UNESCO), food and agriculture (FAO), meteorology (WMO) etc. Looking at the unique global challenges, the UN and its entities address them with their very limited resources amidst heavy odds.

Does the UN matter?

Skeptics and UN-bashers are well aware of the gigantic task that the world organisation has been entrusted with. There have been threats for the stoppage of funding to the UN and withdrawal from the UN agencies such as the WHO and UNICE. The UN attaining the diamond jubilee itself vindicates that it is vital for global health, stability, peace and security and adherence to the fundamental human rights. As a creature of international law, the UN itself is a multilateral treaty and has institutionalised multilateralism as a way of international life at a time of perplexity in this second decade of the 21st century.

It has been aptly summed up by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, “In this 75th anniversary year, we face our own 1945 moment. We must show unity like never before to overcome today’s emergency, get the world moving and working and prospering again, and uphold the vision of the Charter.” For all this, the member-states would need to rally around the UN and strengthen this unique project for the peace, security and welfare of the teeming millions of the world on this earth.

At this hour of reckoning, as India gets ready to sit on the global high table, we will need cutting edge ideas and proposals to become a global solution provider. In order to meet the challenge and facilitate the task, the onus lies on the Prime Minister to augment our knowledge base, as a sequel to NEP-2020, by ushering in the futuristic architecture for our universities and centres of learning.


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