Upholding Multilateralism and the UN-Centred International System
Expected Council Action
In May, the Security Council will hold a high-level briefing via videoconference on “Maintenance of international peace and security: Upholding multilateralism and the United Nations-centred international system”. Wang Yi, China’s state councillor and minister for foreign affairs, is expected to chair the meeting. Volkan Bozkir, the president of the General Assembly, is expected to brief.
The briefing builds upon the open debate initiated by China during its November 2018 presidency on “Strengthening multilateralism and the role of the United Nations”. At that meeting, Secretary-General António Guterres warned about the eroding effects of the decline in trust among nations while stressing that the “crises in Syria, in the Middle East peace process and elsewhere have shaken popular faith in the potential of the international community to deliver solutions”. He added that to strengthen multilateralism, the international community must reinforce its commitment to the UN Charter, and UN bodies should seek further cooperation with regional organisations and civil society.
On 9 January 2020, Viet Nam convened an open debate on “Upholding the United Nations Charter”. In a presidential statement adopted during that meeting, the Council “reaffirm[ed] its commitment to multilateralism and the central role of the United Nations” and “recognised the critical importance of the Charter to the maintenance of international peace and security and development of international law”. The statement also underscored the role of regional and sub-regional organisations in maintaining international peace and security.
Transnational challenges such as terrorism, climate change, cyber threats, and pandemics (including COVID-19) continue to put a spotlight on the need for an effective multilateral system that draws strength from international solidarity and cooperation. In this regard, when the Council adopted resolution 2565 on access to COVID-19 vaccinations on 26 February, it called for “the strengthening of national and multilateral approaches and international cooperation…in order to facilitate equitable and affordable access to COVID-19 vaccines in armed conflict situations, post-conflict situations and complex humanitarian emergencies”.
On 21 September 2020, the world’s heads of state and government issued a declaration to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the UN during the General Assembly’s annual debate. In the declaration, adopted unanimously as General Assembly resolution 75/1, they emphasised that “our challenges are interconnected and can only be addressed through reinvigorated multilateralism”. Reflecting on the effects of COVID-19, they added: “Multilateralism is not an option but a necessity as we build back better for a more equal, more resilient and more sustainable world”. In the declaration, they expressed their determination to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, to abide by international agreements, to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, and to uphold the rights of women and girls, among other measures.
Key Issues and Options
An overarching issue is how multilateral mechanisms can be used most effectively to address threats to international peace and security.
A related issue is how to promote solidarity and cooperation to resolve transnational threats such as terrorism, climate change, cyber threats, and transnational organised crime through collective action.
Council members could use the briefing as an opportunity to take stock of the state of multilateralism and explore options for enhancing cooperation on intractable issues on the Council’s agenda.
In the future, the Council could also consider holding a private meeting with representatives of the General Assembly’s “Special Committee on the Charter of the UN and the Strengthening of the Role of the Organization” to discuss the committee’s activities and to consider potential ideas for strengthening the Council’s work.
Council members are expected to reiterate their commitment to the UN Charter and multilateralism. They may underscore that issues such as climate change, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, mass migration, and the spread of diseases have consequences beyond the scope of one state and therefore can only be resolved by joint efforts. In the November 2018 debate, member states referred to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and UN peacekeeping as positive examples of multilateral cooperation. Such examples may be noted again in this month’s briefing. In addition, Council members may emphasise the importance of international solidarity and cooperation in responding to the COVID-19 crisis.
Members may show a different understanding of the key characteristics of multilateralism and the UN Charter. Several members are likely to emphasise the importance of multilateralism and global cooperation in combating pandemics and climate change; however, some may underscore the importance of state sovereignty as a key principle of the international order enshrined in the Charter. Conflict prevention, mediation and the relationship between the Council and regional and sub-regional organisations in addressing regional disputes are among other elements of the Charter that may be discussed in the meeting. Some members may encourage the use of these Chapter VI and VIII tools, rather than sanctions and other coercive measures outlined in Chapter VII of the Charter, which are often more controversial.
While strong divisions persist among the permanent members, some Council members believe that the current international environment might lend itself to enhancing multilateralism, as the new US administration has expressed a commitment to multilateral values that the previous administration did not. It remains to be seen whether and how this can be translated into progress on divisive issues on the Council’s agenda.
UN DOCUMENTS ON MULTILATERALISM
|Security Council Resolutions|
|26 February 2021S/RES/2565||This resolution demanded humanitarian pauses to deliver vaccines and reiterated the Council’s demand from resolution 2532 for a general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations on its agenda to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.|
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|9 January 2020S/PRST/2020/1||This was a presidential statement adopted during the ministerial-level debate on “Maintenance of international peace and security: upholding the UN Charter”.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|9 January 2020S/PV.8699||This was a ministerial-level open debate on “Maintenance of international peace and security: upholding the UN Charter” where member states reflected on and reaffirmed their commitment to upholding Charter principles, particularly in the context of international peace and security. The list of speakers numbered 111 member states, which led to the open debate continuing over the following two days (Resumptions 1 and 2).|
|9 November 2018S/PV.8395||This was an open debate on the theme “Maintenance of international peace and security: strengthening multilateralism and the role of the United Nations”|