The Nobel Prize for Peace was awarded to the UN World Food Programme (WFP) last week, acknowledging its work done in regions struck by conflict and disaster. The win most of all underscored the necessity for multilateralism in ridding the world of its social and economic troubles. Quite uncoincidentally the picture that comes to my mind in an overlapping montage is that of Donald Trump’s puerile threat to exit the WHO. It almost feels like the prize came as a fitting response to the likes of Trump who believe multilateral cooperation must come to a halt and social responsibilities are no longer applicable to them. The extent of authoritarianism that now thrives – particularly because of the extraordinary measures demanded of such testing times – has paved the way for the POTUS to further assert his ‘lone-warrior’ image.
For Trump, it appears that the solution to America’s troubles lies in pulling out of cooperative platforms, be it WHO or the Paris Agreement. One cannot come to terms with how the expansive negative implications of decisions like this could be overlooked for a greater nationalistic impulse that drives something as momentary as an electoral campaign. The pandemic has become a point of pivot for leaders who wish to secure and concretize wider support for their governance. But, to do away with multilateralism and accept a politics of ‘self-isolation’ (however ironic that may be), would be a grave mistake, even for the world’s oldest democracy. It’s just as harmful as expansionism if America withdraws into a cocoon.
The disruption in global supply chains and governance courtesy of the pandemic was unprecedented – the economic slump is estimated to be far adverse than the Great Depression or the decade-old Great Recession. Today, there are tapering ends both on the side of supply and demand. To meet the economic and health emergencies posed by the pandemic, cooperation must be ensured. If the US was to sever its ties with the WHO, not only is there a risk of cutting the fund short for world-wide health efforts, but also a chance that the country is kept to the margin when it comes to scientific data vital for preventing similar outbreaks later on. Through organizations like WHO and other political groupings like the G7 and G20, leadership must unite with increased fervour.
Of course, these platforms are not without fault. We need to begin by studying, re-evaluating, and structurally transforming these institutions. There are major shortfalls faced by WHO and even the WFP in terms of funding. Leadership is often not inclusive as per the expectation of our times. Delayed responses are also a matter of concern. A redefinition of multilateralism may also be needed to strike a consensus between each stakeholder on the values that need to be upheld by these institutions. Such fissures sure do exist in these systems, but none of a permanent nature – these can be corrected if political will around the globe converges whilst diversifying each country’s reliance on another. The two immediate tasks at hand – economic resilience and vaccine delivery – will demand exactly this convergence from all leaders. Nationalism that overrides equal distribution and recovery cannot be encouraged – this would topple the very equilibrium of the world order. The way ahead can be straightened only if we focus on the detection and correction of errors and not by propagating disbelief in multilateralism as a whole.
This year’s Nobel Prize for Peace should serve as a reminder for the fact that it’s time not to turn a blind eye to multilateralism but to strengthen it. When there’s a creaking board in your house, you fix what’s broken, not tear everything apart.