With polarisation and populism gathering momentum across the world in 2018, India gave a clarion call for bolstering multilateralism, emphasising that pressing issues like terrorism, climate change and migration cannot be tackled in a segmented manner. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned at the start of the high-level General Debate in September that the world was suffering from a bad case of “trust deficit disorder”, where polarisation is on the rise and cooperation among nations is more difficult. “Multilateralism is under fire precisely when we need it most,” he said.
Nowhere did the multilateralism seem more under threat and populism hit its peak than in the US, resulting in calls for renewed commitment to a rules-based global order.
President Donald Trump touted American sovereignty in his address to world leaders at the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly in September, saying the US rejects the ideology of “globalism” and embraces “patriotism” and will always choose “independence” over global governance. As the winds of polarisation and populism gathered momentum in 2018, India vowed that it will never weaken the multilateral mechanism.
“India believes that the world is a family, and the best means of resolution is shared discourse. A family is shaped by love and is not transactional, nurtured by consideration not greed, believes in harmony not jealousy,” External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said in her UNGA address. “Greed breeds conflict; consideration leads to resolution. That is why the United Nations must be based on the principles of the family. The UN cannot be run by the ‘I’, it only works by the ‘We’,” she said.
Swaraj said India proposed a draft document in 1996 on Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) at the UN which till today has remained only a draft as the UN member states cannot agree on a common language. “On the one hand, we want to fight terrorism; on the other, we cannot define it. This is why terrorists with a price on their head are celebrated, financed and armed as liberation heroes by a country that remains a member of the United Nations,” she said in her strong remarks.
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“The biggest challenge of our era comes from the existential threats of climate change and terrorism. We imagined that the arrival of the 21st Century would bring with it an age of common good, defined by cooperation in the quest for peace and prosperity. But, the horrific tragedy of 9/11, and the catastrophe of 26/11 became the nightmares that shattered our dreams,” Swaraj said.
On climate action, India stepped up and was seen as a leader at a time when the US withdrew from the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement. The International Solar Alliance (ISA), launched jointly by India and France, emerged as a successful example of India’s role in strengthening multilateralism to tackle the climate change.
“The ISA and the role it can play in climate action and clean energy positions us in a matrix where we are seen as trying to address the issue and be part of the solution”, said India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin. “It is quite clear that people are seeing India as a willing partner to step up both in action and in a principled basis. On environment and climate change we are among the leaders in terms of what is the right trajectory of action,” he told PTI. He said India stressed that issues such as migration and climate action require multilateral solutions.
“We are among those who are fully committed to multilateralism because we feel these issues can only be addressed multilaterally. You cannot address them in a segmented form,” he said. Akbaruddin said 2018 was a “difficult year” for international organisations because they are generally built on the premise that there will be greater role for cooperation than competition or differences of opinion. He said in 2018 the levels of competition and differences were sharper than in previous years.
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“It has been clear that there was greater competition than cooperation so it was inevitable that it will have an impact on the functioning of the UN or other international organisations. This was reflected during the entire course of the year,” he said.
Akbaruddin said India believed there should be an architecture that counters terrorism rather than use procedural mechanisms to block it. While India welcomed the establishment of the United Nations Office of Counterterrorism, it lambasted the lack of progress at the world body for adopting a global convention on international terrorism.
India also continued to stress to move the UN Security Council reform process forward, saying the talk needed to be followed with action to achieve a credible progress on the issue. The 193-members of the UN also endorsed a new international agreement to forge a stronger, fairer response to large refugee movements known as the Global Compact on Refugees.