Global south’s call for reformed multilateralism: challenges and prospects

Ambassador Asoke Mukerji, former Indian diplomat and Diplo’s Senior Fellow, calls for stronger voices of the Global South in the global decision making The existing multilateral system, established after World War II, excluded over 750 million people living under colonial rule from participating in the process. It was only after India gained independence in 1947 that former colonial countries, known as the Global South, were able to join the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). The Global South’s agenda in multilateral institutions focuses on consolidating sovereignty, protecting territorial integrity, and creating a supportive external environment for socio-economic development.

The Global South’s call for “reformed multilateralism” aims to rectify institutional biases in decision-making structures, particularly in the UN Security Council (UNSC) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The veto power held by the five permanent members of the UNSC (China, France, Russia, the UK, and USA) has been used to further the geopolitical interests of these states, often at the expense of the Global South. Similarly, the weighted quota governance system of the IMF has allowed Western economic powers to impose conditions on Global South countries.

Efforts to reform these systems have been stalled. India has long opposed the undemocratic veto provision of the UNSC and called for a review of the UN Charter, which has not yet taken place. Reforms to the IMF’s decision-making system have also been delayed, despite the voluntary contributions of Global South countries during the 2008 financial crisis.

Despite these challenges, the Global South has successfully raised its priorities through the Group of 77 (G-77), which coordinates the implementation of the multilateral development agenda. Key milestones include the formation of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 1965, the adoption of the right to development as a human right in 1986, and the negotiation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biodiversity in 1992.

However, the Global South’s prospects of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 have been hindered in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed an additional 100 million people, mainly in the Global South, into extreme poverty and exacerbated inequalities. Multilateral institutions have been influenced by the protectionist priorities of developed countries, impeding effective international cooperation in response to the pandemic.

Furthermore, the dysfunctionality of the UNSC, characterized by increased confrontation among the permanent members, has led to a significant increase in the number of people impacted by violent conflicts. The UN Secretary-General’s preventive diplomacy system has also been ineffective in addressing conflicts in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

The rise of confrontational regionalism, protectionist measures, unilateral economic sanctions, and the weaponisation of globalization pose additional threats to multilateralism. Ambassador Mukerji argues that dialogue and diplomacy, utilizing the commitment to convene a General Conference of the UN as outlined in the UN Charter, are crucial for reforming multilateralism. In this regard, the UN’s Summit of the Future in 2024 and the 80th anniversary commemoration in 2025 present opportunities to address these challenges and achieve true multilateral reform.

In conclusion, the Global South’s demand for “reformed multilateralism” seeks to rectify biases in international decision-making structures. Despite challenges, the Global South has made significant contributions to the multilateral system. However, setbacks in achieving the SDGs, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and dysfunctional multilateral institutions, pose dangers to the Global South. The rise of confrontational regionalism and protectionism further worsen the situation. Dialogue and diplomacy are crucial for reforming multilateralism and can be pursued through upcoming UN conferences and commemorations.

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