Trump, Putin, Abe, Modi, Duterte, Erdoğan: The list of “strong statesmen” could be continued further – also in view of Central Europe and South America. Worldwide, populists and strictly authoritarian movements are gaining followers. By threatening to withdraw from multilateral organizations or denying their legitimacy, their “Our Nation First”attitude also puts pressure on international peace and security order.
So can international multilateralism, and with it human rights, rule of law and multilateral crisis management, be said to be in a veritable crisis? This was the key question discussed by politicians and scientists from Brazil, China, Germany, France,Great Britain and Russia at the 2017 Tiergarten Conference, the annual FES meeting on foreign and security policy. The answer: A resounding yes and no.
In connection with the UN, participants stated that populist rulers too use the Security Council as global crisis managers, but also noted that at the same time, the Council's “old” problems still endure.
Even outspoken UN critics like Donald Trump utilize the UN Security Council in order to handle the North Korea nuclear crisis. Similarly, Syria's accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention would have been impossible without the UN. Consequently, the UN system can be said to work in regard to security crises with global dimensions, so UN-expert Richard Gowan from the European Center for Foreign Relations. But when the crises do not affect the Security Council Members' geostrategic interests, the UN fail on a regular basis, with devastating consequences for the people in countries like Myanmar, South Sudan or Yemen.
Therefore, the primary threat to the UN is not the increasing strength of authoritarian forces. Rather, both the ability to act and the credibility of the UN in general are in danger, due to the fact that the Security Council reform, which has been discussed for decades, has still not happened until today.
Against this background, right-wing rhetorical attacks against international organizations cannot be simply dismissed per se, so the US politician Tom Perriello. For too long, technocratic apparatuses – including UN and EU organizations – were able to evade urgent reforms that could lead to more transparency, effectivity and accountability. Accordingly, answering populist politicians' attacks with a blanket reference to “liberal world order” is not enough.
Instead, Perriello emphasized, multilateral organizations must contribute to a better life for people. Populations must experience in a concrete way that it pays off to relinquish a piece of sovereignty to the international community. This is also true in regard to fears of a loss of control and direction. Only this will lead to a higher acceptance of international organizations and at the same time invalidate critics' arguments.
For further information, please visit the homepage of the Tiergartenkonferenz.
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