The Charter of the United Nations came into force on October 24, 1945, 70 years ago to this day.
Addressing the General Assembly, on September 25 2015, Pope Francis reminded leaders of the founding purpose of the United Nations: “saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and “promoting social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”. These are, in fact, the very principles boldly proclaimed in the preamble of the UN Charter. The Pope, however, also reminded the august forum that without strong ethics and judicious use of power, the Charter can only be an unattainable illusion or “even worse, idle chatter which serves as a cover for all kinds of abuses and corruption”.
The 70th anniversary of the United Nations is also being marked by its inability to address new and emerging challenges and an inability to carry conviction, let alone credibility, in large parts of the world. Policy-induced failures, action with or without authorization for use of force has resulted in the unraveling of countries, with long-term ramifications for the global community: from the highest numbers of displaced peoples since World War II to global pandemics.
The Syrian conflict has entered its fourth year, with more than 300,000 killed, millions displaced and over 12 million in need of humanitarian assistance. The unraveling of Libya has produced a “Somalistan” on the Mediterranean coast. The ISIS/Daesh, the most vicious terror entity known to mankind, is holding territory larger than the United Kingdom and attracting recruits from over 80 countries, including many from rich Western economies.
The United Nations itself was conceived during a period of disarray and long-term suffering. It is entirely possible that, without the Second World War, agreement on the Charter may not have been forthcoming. Unless all countries big and small alike can set aside their immediate short-term differences and rededicate themselves to the principles enshrined in the Charter and a genuine reaffirmation of multilateral approaches – prevention rather than intervention – the situation will only get worse. The deep longing for peace was the basis for the creation of the United Nations. It must be that same yearning for peace, stability and growth which will give the United Nations hope for survival.
Not everything, however, appears to be hopeless; there is a silver lining. On September 25, 2015, 193 member states adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This was one of the most important gatherings in recent years, attracting several heads of state not usually present during the High-Level Week of the General Assembly. The adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a historic moment for the community of nations, and is described as a “charter for people and planet in the 21 century” (2030 Agenda Declaration).
Building on the success of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the SDGs’ objectives are broader in scope and more ambitious, including: ending poverty in all its forms; reducing inequalities within and among countries; urgently addressing climate change; changing unsustainable patterns of consumption and production; and inclusive economic growth and employment. Each goal is not built in a silo but is a part of the greater whole. As opposed to the MDGs, it is not an agenda solely for the south but rather a universal plan to be applied in all countries and by all peoples, with a firm priority to “leave no one behind” and reach those farthest away. The ownership of the agenda stems from a three-year negotiation process that included all member states, while eight million people offered their views.
The 2030 agenda sets a new international framework that encourages inclusive governance and inclusive economic growth. In order to implement these global agreements, national policies will need to be integrated. The “business-as-usual” models of development and of economic growth that perpetuate poverty and inequalities require an overhaul.
The adoption of the SDGs constitutes the one bright spot and, hopefully renewing collective interest in multilateralism a new relevance for the UN. The summit demonstrates the UN’s unique convening power and a visionary path for the community of nations. The multilateral community will, however, be tested again this December. Can member states adopt a universal agreement that limits average global temperature below two degrees Celsius and lead the way to the decarbonization of the world economy by 2050? These agreements require deep transformation in the world economy and in our societies.
The Pope’s message that “the misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion” acquires a special relevance. World leaders normally do not stake their personal reputations on the successful outcome of a multilateral conference. The Pope had no hesitation doing so. World leaders gathering in Paris should draw inspiration from this.
Hardeep Singh Puri is vice president and Jimena Leiva Roesch a policy analyst of the International Peace Institute, New York. The views expressed are personal. They can be contacted at email@example.com)