Pratham Sharma and Avishikta Chattopadhyay,
The United Nations was formed on 24th October 1945 as a result of the substantial lobby for a multilateral organisation by the United States of America. It was the American ideology that evolved into an institution such as the United Nations after World War II regardless of the failure of an institution of similar nature called the League of Nations. After 75 years of this historic day, the international community seems to be disgruntled due to the imperceptible withdrawal of the Americans from this multilateral structure.
The Trump administration within a year after assuming power had made a declaration regarding the withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). The Americans further withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in June 2018. The US government expounded that the organisation’s anti-Israeli bias is the core reason for their withdrawal from the multilateral structures. Both UNESCO and UNHRC have been critical of Israeli treatment of Palestinians. While UNESCO accepted Palestine as a member of the organisation and declared the old city of Hebron as a Palestinian World Heritage site, the UNHRC, on the other hand, has a permanent anti-Israeli agenda on their Item list. The agenda Item 7 of the UNHRC explicitly suggests discussing the Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories. The permanent feature of this issue on the Agenda item has been a cause of concern for both the Americans and the Israeli’s. The Americans have also pointed out that the bias against Israel is clear due to the lack of discussions on countries like Venezuela who have been committing gruesome human rights violations on the civilians.
The Americans have even resorted to domestic legislation to disconnect from the United Nations. Mike D. Rogers, the Republican from Alabama had introduced the ‘American Sovereignty restoration act (H.R. 193)’ back in 2017. However, it is not the first time that such legislation has been introduced in Congress. It was first introduced in 1997 by Ron Paul and proposed to not only withdraw from the United Nations but also expel the headquarters of the UN from New York and restrain the funding for the organisation. It did not receive the support that it needed to be codified as a law but the persistent attempts by politicians for its codification symbolises the sentiment amongst the Americans towards the organisation.
While this is old news for the academicians and diplomats across the globe, a relatively fresh bulletin is the probable withdrawal of the Americans from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Mr Donald Trump has already undermined the WHO by demanding accountability from the body and has gone on to put a hold on the American funding for the international body. The American president has also threatened to block the funding of WTO back in 2018 and has disregarded the appellate body of the organisation. The relatively escalated American hostility to the global International order has put the diplomatic world on alarm for the near future. The main cause of concern is the loss of belief in the multilateral ideology and the effect of this gradual American disregard for the International multilateral structure.
The United States of America is not the sole country to have shown tendencies of abdicating its position from notable international organisations. Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union sent shock waves throughout the world. Additionally, the intended withdrawal of African States from the International Criminal Court was also one such instance which raised a number of eyebrows in the international community. The sovereign status of the countries gives them the exclusive right to withdraw however, the trend has deeper implications concerning international cooperation and the changing dynamics of power in the world.
The 21st century has heralded a shift of power with the third world countries and the developing nations frequently taking the centre stage. Based on the three metrics: the size of the population; the size of the economy and military might, USA, China, the European Union, Japan, India, Russia, and Brazil are accepted to be important world powers. Retrospectively, it would be impossible to consider that countries like Brazil and India would become important powers of the world.
There are several reasons for the cause of power shift which includes the (1) The rise of Asia (2) US imperial overstretch and (3) The global financial crisis with its impact on the international order. Asian states like Korea, Japan, India and China have gained prominence as world powers after The Cold War. Their domination is backed by innovation and economic upliftment. One of the major contributing factors is the large number of populations residing in these countries. The term imperial overstretch coined by historian Paul Kennedy was used to describe what happens to great powers when their global commitments become too expensive to sustain. It was alleged that such a phenomena was visible in the commitments of the United States of America(USA) particularly in the case of its defence investment. Therefore, such obligations were becoming a compulsion for the USA. The act of the USA slowly shredding its international commitments is directly related to containing its imperial overstretches. The third reason is the financial crisis faced by the countries and the successive market crashes. A more contemporary reason for the causes of power shift is the technological involvement in determining power of states. Technology and Artificial Intelligence has diffused the definition of power that existed a few decades ago.
The stepping down of the major world powers from established international organisations also raises the question over the sustainability of multilateralism in the multi-polar world. On one hand there is the increase in the power of developing states owing to contemporary reasons on the other hand there is an apprehension over the probable destruction of the concept of multilateralism. The international order saw bipolarity during the Cold War followed by unipolarity characterised by hegemonic domination of America in all strategic spheres. Multipolarity is a product of the 20th century. Multipolarity ensures that all countries have substantial power established in a given field thereby giving sufficient power to all the countries. Multilateralism on the other hand requires that all the countries have a level playing field and they work together to ensure a stable global order. The basis of multilateralism is interdependence which is different from multipolarity which depends on power already established in a state. The act of America, Britain and the other similar states leaving international organisations ensues the decline of multilateralism.
The situation of cooperation among the countries has worsened after the Pandemic. It seems highly unlikely in this context that the world will return to the idea of mutually beneficial globalization that defined the early 21st century. There are several predictable outcomes that can emerge after the current situation. Firstly, there would be a unipolar world with absolute USA domination. However, it is unlikely owing to the unstable leadership and recent degradation of overall goodwill of the USA. Secondly, there is a possibility over the emergence of a bipolar world with the USA and China as the major actors. This has a greater probability than that of the first outcome but is still less likely owing to the increasing prominence of the emerging powers. Thirdly, the situation can so arise that there may be “multipolarity without multilateralism,” wherein there would be constant power play eventually benefitting the one which is more powerful.
These developments also bring about an array of opportunities for countries like Japan, Germany, India and Brazil. The imperceptible withdrawal of incumbent world powers from the United Nations and International cooperation paves way for these underdogs to step in and try to initiate a global order in which they become indispensable. It is important that these potential new world powers contribute in preserving the multilateralism and structure that represents it as once Dag Hammarskjold said that “UN was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell.” This statement summarises the true value of the United Nations and makes us see clearly why it needs to be saved.
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