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Selective multilateralism has created global crises

International organizations are facing a crisis of legitimacy and effectiveness, in turn a symptom of the crisis of multilateralism.

The critical years of the COVID-19 pandemic revealed the difficulties that the World Health Organization had in meeting its institutional objectives — namely, to keep the world healthy and serve the vulnerable so that everyone can achieve the highest level of health.

Some Western leaders politicized the COVID-19 pandemic, and they didn’t take any steps to reduce the contagion risks that people in poorer countries suffered. Recently, during the Summit for a New Global Financing Pact, hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, Cyril Ramaphosa, the president of South Africa, said that African countries “felt like we were beggars” when it came to vaccine availability.

“The Northern Hemisphere countries had bought all the vaccines in the world… and they didn’t want to release them at the time when we needed them the most,” he said. This statement is a tough truth.

According to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals Report 2021, “The pandemic has set back progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals by decades, across all areas.” The International Monetary Fund has estimated the cumulative financial loss through 2024 due to the pandemic at $13.8 trillion. But is this due to the pandemic or the lack of solidarity and the greed of the wealthiest countries?

Talking about the IMF, its legitimacy is also in question as it fails to convince many countries that it can help their economies. Argentina is the principal debtor of the IMF, and its relationship with this international organization goes back to the 1980s, without any substantial improvement to its economy. Although the IMF is dominated by the United States, which holds about 17 percent of the voting rights in a system that requires 85 percent consent, the US is upset by the growing presence of Chinese banks in the world and claims to want to prevent countries borrowing from the IMF to repay Chinese loans. Interestingly, Argentina made a significant payment to the IMF using yuan from the central bank of China.

The rise of the Chinese economy and the fact that China is a very active country in several international organizations seem to have motivated the US to disengage from the multilateral system that it created in the 20th century. Furthermore, former US president Donald Trump started the trade war against China by imposing additional tariffs on Chinese products.

The competition with China has made the US more protectionist and caused some damage to multilateralism. But with the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and with NATO backing Ukraine, multilateralism is at serious risk. This conflict could acquire more significant proportions, and the countries in the conflict are looking for international support.

Fortunately, the detachment of the vast majority of developing countries has been noteworthy, as it can be interpreted as a generalized dissatisfaction of these countries with the way in which NATO, Ukraine and Russia are dealing with this complex situation.

The crisis of multilateralism is a crisis of Western leadership. Instead of committing to inclusive multilateralism, the most powerful countries in the West are practicing selective multilateralism, trying to isolate China and threatening other developing countries not aligned with their will. The West’s selective multilateralism is contrary to the spirit of the UN Charter.

The foundations of the post-World War II international order are being shaken. The world is at a dangerous crossroads. Fortunately, developing countries are rightly keeping a relative distance from the Ukraine crisis. But although this distance can stand between them and irresponsible acts, silence is not an option.

Perhaps it is time to convene a new “Bandung Conference” in order to include all peaceful countries. This is also as crucial as the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. A conference for inclusive multilateralism would be in line with the China-proposed Global Civilization Initiative, which advocates a real dialogue and inclusiveness among civilizations. The language of cooperation and peace must speak louder to save multilateralism, and this language increasingly depends on developing countries.

The author is a professor of international law and head of the Center for Brazil-China Studies at the Law School at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and a professor of international law at Fluminense Federal University in Rio de Janeiro state. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Este artigo foi publicado originalmente no CHINA DAILY GLOBAL, no link: http://www.chinadailyglobal.com/a/202307/26/WS64c06abba31035260b818820.html

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