The future we want, the UN we need: Reaffirming our commitment to multilateralism

By Philip Afaha

Expectedly, the first Keynote Speaker, the Hon Minister Of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Godfrey Onyeama has spoken extensively and pointedly on the theme, especially reiterating the need to continue to have faith in multilateralism. My duty now is to scramble some random thoughts on today`s theme. I have also been opportune to witness first hand, the robust polemics in this chamber by our very distinguished youth diplomats I must confess that your knowledge on climate change, terrorism, food security, refugee crisis, etc is beyond commonsense. I almost forgot I’m watching a simulation. I’m very proud of you; I wish you could also discuss Nigeria with this passion as an International problem too. I have a feeling the giant of Africa is sleepwalking into the same ugly categorization as a cesspool of problems.

The theme for this year’s conference “The Future We Want, The UN We Need: Reaffirming Our Commitment To Multilateralism” communicates two distinct emotions; the first section; “The Future We Want, The UN We Need” confesses the fact that there is a problem or a yawning gap in the UN system. Thus the cry for a better future. The second section of the theme, as it is casted, is a reaffirmation of a hope in the UN system in spite of the flaws reflected in the first section. In discussing this I will borrow a metaphor from automobile sector. History teaches that anytime one is contemplating or navigating the future, one must rely on the side mirror of history for guidance and understanding. Hence, the future you are yearning for and the UN you need requires a rear–view of history.

Your Excellencies, multilateralism evolved after the world war ll. Its synonym is international cooperation and partnership. It was suppose to be a relationship of equals that seeks to carter for the interest of all and protects all in the international system under the big canopy of the United Nations. But within the past seventy-five years, multilateralism has suffered serious bruises from the actions and inactions of its nannies, the super powers–the very members of the Security Council who are supposed to drive it.

I have lived in two centuries. I have seen 3 decades of 20th century and 2 decades of 21st century and I can conclude, without reserve that multilateralism is under threat. There appears to be more suspicion and rancour among states and actors in the international system than ever. Intra and inter–state conflicts seem to have defied all known remedies. The weight of climate crisis, poverty and diseases is making countries to recoil against openness and friendship that was the bulwark of the multilateral world. Science and technology though advancing at a dizzying speed seems to have thrown the world into a frenzy; the spasm has eaten up our humanity.

I have said it in other fora that the major problem of multilateralism can be found in the workings of the UN system itself. The current UN is a chessboard; where the stronger countries chose which rules to obey, which challenge to tackle, who among the weaker countries to befriend or reprimand, while callously using the smaller countries as pawns to sacrifice for the defence and good of the privileged kings and queens of multilateralism. The past 75 years has also revealed calousy and sometimes rascality of the superpowers in very critical issues. We have witnessed the Super Powers opting out of major agreements supported by the UN and resorting to unilateral measures. We have seen these flipflopsin cases relating to conflicts and climate change. Apart from the withdrawal from the arms proliferation treaty and the Paris agreement on climate change, we have witnessed proxy wars playing out in helpless countries of the world. In Africa, the Rwandan genocide is not treated with the same vigor as the holocaust because the victims were blacks, and the big countries that orchestrated that horrible slaughter have not been sanctioned. We also observe that the same folks who are supporting the state of Israel to reclaim her ancestral lands are heaping sanctions and crippling Zimbabwe even when Mugabe is no more. The double standards oozing from the UN must be addressed to secure our common future. It is not enough to accede the position of Secretary-General to the 3rd world states, the world demands equality and unity of purpose instead of selective support for multilateral engagements. This situation loudly calls for urgent reforms of the workings of the United Nations.

Diplomacy is too serious to be left in the hands of career diplomats and politicians. This is because the actions and inactions of statesmen directly impact on the people. As a historian I take this simulation seriously, the more so as it is driven by the energy and voices of our youths. It is the duty of everyone to lend a voice to what goes on at the international circle as most human problems have taken global dimensions and can best be cured with global serum. History has shown that while public opinion has gradually lost the battle against state rascality in domestic affairs, people`s voices appear to count more in international politics in recent days. Political leaders tend to be more circumspect about the perception of the global citizenry of their conduct and policies. The youths must rise up to speak up and engage the public space. I commend the young Greta Thunberg who has risen to confront world leaders of their complacency on climate matters. If the world hears more from our youths, then solution is near.

Recently the world was caught in shock at how leadership psychology imposes consequences on the populace during the US-Iran altercation. What we witnessed was that after threatening fire and brimstone, and after bouts of attacks and denials,
Iran finally admitted it shot down the Ukrainian civilian plane and killed close to 180 mostly Iranian passengers. In other platforms, I had warned that the Iran-US war games will not end without collateral destruction. I’m not a fan of the US in this but Iran is known to be fond of threatening other countries with extermination at the slightest provocation even when dealing with more powerful foes. Truth be told, preaching martyrdom as a national creed by Tehran is below commonsense in the 21st century.

World leaders should be told in clear terms to separate their ego from their country’s foreign policy. The current excuses and regrets oozing from the Ayatollah regime over the airliner and the victims are not enough to undo the evil. Dialogue is always preferable to talking tough and putting innocent citizens in harm’s way.

On a final note, I wish to maintain that the UN needs to be more assertive in promoting multilateralism that favours all. The world yearns for the kind of multilateralism that can exert the commitment to resolve global problems enumerated in this conference. Currently, the body appears helpless in the face of conflicts, climate crisis, refugee, arms proliferation, diseases, etc.

I would love the UN to put up a modality to control global gun supply. We know these guns deployed in killing people mostly in third world countries have their factories in the developed world; these weapons factories contribute to the economies of the super powers. It is not enough for the UN to mouth non-proliferation. The global body should go a step further to curb the supply of guns the way global petroleum is regulated.

The perception is that the UN only acts when the interest of the super powers are to be massaged. It is a truism that total equality cannot be attained in human dealings. Equality is anthithetical to the laws of creation. But it behoves on the stronger states to moderate their powers to accommodate the weaker countries. The UN must in changing the order and to mainstream if the cloud of inequality among members must give way to robust diplomacy. The UN as the fulcrum of multilateral diplomacy, must reform to regain its strength. That is the future we want. Your Excellencies, I yield the floor.

Dr. Philip Afaha, an associate professor and head of dept, history and diplomatic studies, University of Abuja, delivered this keynote address at the 5th Abuja International model United Nations conference at the ministry of foreign affairs, Abuja, on 30th Jan, 2020.

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