“I cannot recall a time in our recent history in which the importance of collectivism has been more critical than now.”
The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern’s quote resonated with several other leaders, political thinkers, academics and heads of democracies who participated in World Leadership Alliance Club de Madrid’s Annual Policy Dialogue held virtually from Oct 28 to Oct 30, this year. Its theme, ‘Multilateralism That Delivers’ contextualised the most pressing concerns surrounding global harmony in the current times.
2020 has been a historically tragic, yet a politically significant year. The pandemic, while fundamentally altering the global order, has in the process exposed the inequalities the world is fraught with—be it unequal access to health care; the raging digital divide; pay gaps and unemployment; crisis on borders and in detention camps; communal conflicts and more. In light of this, as political and capitalist vendettas continue operating; people across the world have started to lose faith in their institutions—be it local, national or international. Transnational solidarities and global cooperation have become a pressing need of the present.
Encouraging this through ‘multilateralism’; the Annual Policy Dialogue (APD) of World Leadership Alliance Club de Madrid—an independent non-profit organization created to promote democracy and change in the international community, explored this approach in several avenues. Thinkers, Leaders and democratic heads such as Ban-Ki-Moon, former UN Secretary-General; Joaquim Chissano, the President of Mozambique; Laura Chinchilla, the President of Costa Rica; Hilary Clinton; the former US Secretary of State and several more participated in panel discussions and dialogues discussing the building of sustainable multilateral approaches in three thematic areas where global cooperation is lacking. These are (a) Digitalisation—Digital Cooperation and a Better Global Future; (b) Sustainability—Leveraging Multilateralism to Build Back Better towards a more Sustainable Future; and (c) Social Justice and Inclusion—Transforming Multilateralism for 21st Century Social Justice and Inclusion.
“The world is again at a crossroad, confronted with a danger of sliding into a downward spiral of the unbridled contest and power politics. But there is an alternative. We must seize this moment to set the world on a new path, a path that will end the assault threatening the foundations of our very existence, particularly that of the most vulnerable amongst us. We have to craft a path that will lead us to an equitable, secure and sustainable system of global cooperation and renewed multilateral institutions, fit for purpose in the 21st century and resilient against future disasters.”
As powerful and ideal this approach seems; multilateralism has often benefited from the same systems it aims to destroy. Powerful countries from the Global North usually acquire unsaid and informal oligopolies on such systems. The economic inter-dependence encouraged through this approach is usually based on capitalist systems that tend to exploit the most marginalised in developing and undeveloped countries. Further, the ideas of ‘development’ are itself based on western understandings and standards. This is followed suit by aid operations in the Global South encouraged by the White Saviour Complex. Thus multilateralism, drought with hierarchies of power fails to build a harmonious and accountable leadership that benefits people across communities.
Amrita Narlikar, Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation in this article comprehensively describes the malaise of multilateralism stating, that ‘to fundamentally renegotiate multilateral institutions; it would be wise to tap into ongoing efforts of the Global South.’
While the APD had few participants that may be complicit in the weakening of multilateral order; it seems to have taken these malacies in consideration by having plenaries specific to regions of the Global South with local leaders, academics and activists. These included panel discussions such as exploring current challenges on multilateralism from African, Asia-Pacific and Latin American Perspectives as well as having diverse speakers and regional/community-level interests represented in all sessions.
The APD also recognized the need for multilateral institutions to be democratic, accountable and transparent with greater citizen participation. It called for concrete policy level changes to influence grassroots level change such as, ‘the repurposing international financial institutions towards objectives of equity; support prudent fiscal stimulus to sustain economic activity, tax reform for greater tax fairness’ etc.
The dialogue also proposed a ‘Bretton Woods for Digitalization’ to ‘facilitate measures to enable improved global connectivity and data flows, inclusive digital platforms and better internet management’.
It called for an early convening of a global consultation building on the ‘broad-based coalitions between cities, states and civil society organizations to step up and deepen preparations for COP 26 in November 2021 in Glasgow, UK’; as well as the ‘empowerment of the World Health Organization, with strengthened authority, enforcement capabilities, resources and programs to build health resilience at the community level.’
The dialogue resonated with themes that encouraged building a ‘locally rooted global system—to improve alliances between citizens, cities and regional organizations that must solve problems for diverse peoples and communities.’ World Leadership Alliance, Club De Madrid plans to take these calls of actions to relevant institutions. The aim is for the dialogue to translate into real policy level change; and achieve a form of multilateralism that will hopefully, finally deliver.
Devyani Nighoskar is a former SOAS Digital Ambassador from India. A journalist, she is currently pursuing her MA in Critical Media and Cultural Studies. You may check out her work on Instagram @runawayjojo