75th UN General Assembly: A Call for an Urgent Reform

By Temmuz Yiğit BEZMEZ

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a tragic reminder of how deeply connected we are.” had said UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Actors within the international community have never been engaged and interdependent at this level throughout history. This phenomenon normally brings the utmost necessity of multilateralism to overcome all challenges including local and national ones that can easily be transformed into global challenges. Yet, multilateral institutions are being questioned more and more because of their incapability of action. The 75th UN General Assembly has started in an environment of arising concerns on account of the weakening trust and the lack of collective leadership.  Many nations, who are getting more visible and conducting proactive diplomacy international issues, raised this issue by calling the necessity of reform during their virtual addresses. U.N.’s 75th anniversary also came at a time where the world is tormented not only by a pandemic, but also by the worst global economic crisis in a century, growing geopolitical competition, and a deepening climate crisis. There is more to something than meets the eye. On the flip side of the coin, H.E. Volkan Bozkır who presided over the GA as the first Turkish national has become a proud moment for the history of Turkish diplomacy.

As the world is becoming more multipolar and the emerging global trends are getting crystal clear with the pandemic, the utmost necessity of functional multilateral organizations is lucid more than ever. 

Systematic Problems of the UN Security Council

The UN was founded in 1945 with 5 permanent Security Council members and with 50 nations. Nevertheless, it still has 5 permanent SC members while the UN’s total member states reached 193. In his UN GA speech, Mr. Erdogan repeated his long-standing call to reform the UN Security Council. President Erdogan also signaled the transformed outlook of the international relations. He raised the importance of the “sine qua non” action that needs to be taken: “The fact that the current structure created within the global balances that occurred following WWI and WWII can no longer be maintained reveals itself once again in every incident that occurs.” Same issue regarding the UN Security Council has been raised by the Group of Four (known as the G-4 nations), which includes Germany, Japan, Brazil, and India. They stressed “the urgency of reforming the United Nations and updating its main decision-making bodies, in order to better reflect contemporary realities” in a joint statement. At this point, Tomas Scholz of the Observer Research Foundation perfectly points out that by involving strong new permanent voices from Latin America and Asia in the Security Council, the body would increase representation and effectively counteract the perception of a bipolar world. Regarding this, PM of India Modi also stated that: “We cannot fight today’s challenges with out-dated structures.” 

Thus, against “unilateral” US and “assertive” China, opportunities are emerging for other countries. The multi-polar and interdependent world of 2020, the “leaderless global conjuncture” where multilateral organizations are being questioned, presents a unique environment for countries like France. As we’ve seen in French President’s Macron’s 48-minute address, he has shown full desire to fill the leadership vacuum on most of the international issues, from climate change to the Eastern Mediterranean issue. Having said that, the US’ absence to lead international cooperation has once again  created opportunities for Chinese President Xi to demonstrate leadership on emerging global issues. In his UN GA speech, President Xi declared that China’s CO2 emissions would peak by 2030 and the country would reach carbon neutrality by 2060 and expressed more funds to the UN agencies. He sent a clear message by speaking the language of multilateral diplomacy: “We should pursue win-win cooperation and rise above ideological disputes and not fall into the trap of clash of civilizations.” 

Global Challenges Ahead: Is this the 1945 Moment?

There is no doubt that global challenges need global responses and the world is definitely a better place with the UN and all other multilateral institutions. Nonetheless, contemporary challenges are now complex and interconnected. As ECIPE Policy Brief  No. 6/2020 analyses; “factors that pushed the rapid growth in goods trade in the 1990s and the 2000s are no longer the leading vectors of globalization. Now it is rather ideas, data, and intangible services – often traded digitally – that are expanding cross-border global integration.” In a nutshell, even global trade dynamics are changing in a decade. Charles E. Morrison successfully brings out that building an international order not just to prevent war, but to address critical threats of existential significance. These sophisticated challenges include rising income inequality and the gap between the real economy and financial markets. While the past five years, from 2016-2020, are set to become the hottest five years on record, with the increase of disasters in many countries and a biodiversity loss is at an unprecedented level in the history of humanity, the climate crisis is the greatest challenge of the 21st century. Furthermore, the shift to the digitally connected economy causes many problems in different areas. Marietje Schaake emphasizes that multilateral organizations fail to take the digital world fully into account in their mandates and agendas, even if many are finally starting to focus on digital cooperation, e-commerce, and cybersecurity. Besides, all around the world, the voices of ordinary people are not heard from representative democracies to authoritarian states. Citizen empowerment is highly important to prevent further social unrest. This is the reason why we need to raise the credibility of democratic institutions in a post-truth age we’re living in. Last but not least, demographic aging is set to create a great risk for the sustainability of the global economy. These complex and sophisticated challenges of the 21st century need a 1945 moment, not to be led by a group of winners, but by leaving no one behind.

Role of the Alliances - US and Turkey

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with its 17 SDGs in various issues provide a decent framework to address the 21st century’s challenges mentioned above and the prosperity of developing and under-developed nations. In order to strengthen the UN’s capacity and efficiency, like-minded countries like Turkey and the US should aim to come together more to address these issues globally and regionally. More cooperation on the SDGs is of paramount importance. Besides their different strategies on geopolitical issues, the US and Turkey can come together to lead the poverty eradication projects in Africa and in Latin America; both generous countries on humanitarian aid may work jointly. 

Regarding rising concerns on restructuring supply chains, both countries should examine their strengths and advantages for seeking strong partnerships. Beyond Turkey and US alignment, multilateral organizations are getting momentum to find sustainable and effective solutions for global wicked problems. Therefore, Turkey and the US need to increase cooperation with each other and bring issues to these international platforms. Washington and Ankara need to cooperate more as two crucial NATO allies during the time of the world's largest military alliance re-calibrating it's "raison d'être" to overcome new security threats that we have been facing. Both countries have strong capacity to help and strengthen the relevance and efficiency of the organisation. Just like the UN, another legacy institution of the cold war era, NATO needs a coherent dialogue. Turkey and the US should work together to tackle the challenges mentioned above. Both countries should work towards diplomacy to find solutions for a more stable international and regional order.  In a time of global turmoil and amid rising geopolitical tensions, Turkey and the US can facilitate a dialogue between different parties in terms of building regional and global peace. Both have had a recent history of jointly being a part of  the global coalition against ISIS, counter-terrorism activities in Afghanistan, coordinated actions within the UN Humanitarian in Syria also initiated many joint cultural mechanisms such as educational exchange programmes.

Reviving multilateralism also passes through strengthening alliances.