Last year, the United Nations General Assembly met mostly virtually throughout the High-Level Segment for the first time in its history. This exploration of a new spatial dimension for the United Nations is a reflection of the potential and challenges of our time today. It is also further proof of how interlinked the modern world has become. No country is immune from the effect of cross-border infectious diseases, and no country is out of reach of the powerful information and communication technologies. In every crisis is an opportunity, and this global challenge facing the pandemic is also a catalyst for adopting solutions that were long put on the backburner. What we should not forget is that we are at a historic crossroad, and that the path we choose is one that will determine our direction for years to come. The choice at this juncture is either to further pave the road of multilateralism despite bumps on the way, or to take the seemingly easy unilateralism lane, yet face the future alone. Making the choice of which road to take at this traffic crossing is not enough. Investing efforts and resources to chart the way forward is required to ease the journey through.
This pandemic is not only further proof of the interlinkage among all units of the international system, it was also a further reminder that the three main pillars of work of the United Nations, the world’s only universal organisation with a comprehensive mandate, remain organically interlinked for the preservation of prosperity and well-being of states and peoples globally. Multilateralism is much needed in each of the three pillars through a mutually reinforcing mandate. This is not necessarily an expansion of the concept of security, but a realisation of the interdependence between the three pillars, as much as between all states. It is also a recognition of the interlinkage among the needs and challenges among states. Further empowering developing countries, thus enabling them to confront the daunting challenges that they face, adds a reassurance to the well-being and stability of the whole international system. COVID-19 has proven that the vulnerability of any unit of the system is as much a vulnerability of the system as a whole. ‘Collective development’ appears as a corollary of collective security. A developmental threat to any one of its units, including through a pandemic, should thus be met with a collective response by all the rest for the benefit of all. The only way to realise such a collective response is through the well-established tradition of multilateralism, albeit admittedly with sufficient innovation necessary for adapting to the new challenges.
Commemorating the 75th anniversary of the United Nations in a world plagued by COVID-19 may not be an unintentional coincidence. Well, even if it is, a ‘coincidence may be better than a thousand appointment (or plan)’. It is a reminder of the common destiny of humankind. It is an invitation to reflect on the value of multilateralism. It is an opportunity to explore the potential of working together. It is also a moment of truth that exposes the selfish drive by some blinded by the narrow perspectives of self-interest, which would only serve them for a limited time. The anniversary, in the pandemic context, should offer a corrective lens for the short-sighted unilateralists. It is the United Nations System, with the necessary adaptations, that can offer joint solutions to common challenges.
The platinum jubilee of the United Nations System should be a time of reflection for a brighter future of multilateralism. One that comprehends that diseases recognise no frontiers, and hence their cure should also not stop at any borders!
This blog post was originally delivered as a speech by Ambassador Amr Aljowaily (Embassy of Egypt to Serbia) at the special session ‘Commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the UN multilateralism & international security’ at the Deputies Club in Belgrade on 21 September 2020.