NEW YORK (IDN | UN News Service) - The United Nations envoy for Liberia has stressed the need for long-term, robust engagement by stakeholders, particularly the Security Council, towards a sustainable peace in the West African country.

Briefing the Council on August 25, Farid Zarif, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), said many Liberians are concerned about the prospect of the Mission’s withdrawal and potential lack of UN support during the October 2017 presidential and legislative elections.

- Photo: 2021

Whither the G20 in a World of Declining Multilateralism: Part 2

Viewpoint by Roberto Savio*

ROME (IDN | OtherNews) – A decision on the debt issue is now expected from the next G20 Summit in Rome, in November. But before that, the Global Health Summit called by the G20 together with the EU in May will be the occasion to verify what will happen with vaccines.

However, in the same month, Portugal has called the very important Social Summit of the European Union. Portugal has taken the much more substantial chairmanship of the EU, and this is a very positive contribution to a positive 2021. Portugal is today probably the most civilised country of Europe, a place of tolerance, harmony and civic engagement, much like Sweden in the ‘80s. And it is the only credible country on the issue of immigration.

At the Social Summit, Lisbon will push to strengthen social Europe, after so many decades of a solely economic Europe. The outgoing German chairmanship was fundamental in abandoning the austerity dogma and move to an unprecedented plan of solidarity and institutional strengthening, also made possible by the blessed departure of Britain, and its historical anti-European bias.

The fact that vaccination is a European plan, and not a hotchpotch of national attempts, marks great progress in term of vaccination. And if Europe continues along the same path on the issues of climate control and technological development, it will recover much trust from the citizens, who felt that Brussels was an unaccountable institution, far from their priorities.

Now the EU is dealing with unemployment, with the economic and social disaster brought about by the Covid virus. It is a tribute to the virtues of multilateralism, solidarity and development. And Portugal will try to complete what the German chairmanship was unable to conclude.

But if we look at the obvious need for a world vaccine, the reality is much dimmer. So far, the rich countries have bought as much of the vaccines as possible. Europe, with 13 percent of the world population, has bought 51 percent of the total production. Israel is a case study. With a population of 9 million people, highly registered and organised in the health system, Prime |Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (who will do everything to stay in power), has bought the vaccines at an extra cost, but is fast reaching the entire Israeli population. This certainly cannot be the case of India, with nearly 1.4 billion people, and a very primitive health system.

Even the Pope has launched an appeal for distributing a free vaccine in the poor countries, and India and South Africa (which are members of the G20) have asked to the General Assembly of the World Health Organization for free distribution in poor countries. There has been strong opposition from the rich countries, which financed the development of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to the tune of 10 billion dollars, and which they are now buying at market prices, several times higher than those of the AstraZaneca vaccine.

And then those two vaccines use a new technology, side effects of which are still unknown, unlike AstraZeneca, which uses a well experimented technique.

But even if we take the cheaper vaccines, there is a very basic issue: under which ethical and human logic can patents and money be made over public goods, as the Pope has repeatedly asked?

The patent industry has been patenting seeds, rice, plants, etc., which have existed for hundreds of years, and that peasants now cannot use without paying a royalty to the company that patented them. And then the pharmaceutical companies have also tried to patent parts of the human body.

Citizens from several parts of the world have been setting up associations like Agorà for Humankind, which is conducting a campaign for the elimination of patents and profits over public goods, given that they belong to humankind. An international alliance has also been set up between the public and private sectors, the Gavi Vaccine Alliance which has the task of financing vaccination in 93 middle and poor countries. But funding is still far from coming. As things are now, at the end of 2021, only 30 percent of humankind will have been vaccinated, basically from rich countries.

Yet, if there is something that should make all of us aware that we are in the same boat, it is this pandemic. Until at least 70 percent of all humans are vaccinated, the virus will continue to strike and kill. The British mutation, much more contagious, is a good example.

The country with most cases is now Spain, which has no physical contact with the UK. But the virus went to Gibraltar, the British colony since 1713 in the south of Spain, and from there spread to surrounding Spanish villages and towns. Did the realisation that viruses know no borders help to make the new treaty for relations between Gibraltar and Spain? The answer is not really: it is trade. Yet, it does not require a virologist to assume that trade spreads virus.

So, after this lengthy journey through different subjects, its thread should be clear. We have gone from an era when the lessons of the Second World War created a generation of politicians who made of peace and development the common ground for international relations, even during a very dangerous Cold War. Had Trump, Johnson and Putin been at Yalta, instead of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, the outcome would have been very different. Most probably, we would have had no United Nations, no international organisations. Just think that, in its push for creation of the UN, the US agreed in its founding engagement to pay 25 percent of its costs.

Then, beginning with Reagan and Thatcher, came a profound change. The interests of my country are more important than international cooperation, and the stronger I am, the more so. Multilateralism and cooperation came under attack, and so did the role of the State, its function of guarantor of social progress, equity and participation.

Other organisations started to sprout, and weaken the UN, and the instruments of a social pact, like trade unions.  From the spirit of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a number of clubs of rich countries, like the G7, the G8, the G20, started to substitute the UN, and private clubs, like the World Economic Forum of Davos, attracted more important personalities than the General Assembly of the United Nations.

We are now in a third phase, the symbols of which abound: nationalism, xenophobia, and the illusion that sovereignty is more important than cooperation. Brexit is a notable example. But Trump sets up an unprecedented level of legitimacy to what was once considered betrayal of civism and democracy: he exploits and exasperates the racial, cultural, gender divides of a country, and runs without any compliance with rules and traditions.

He is accompanied by a variegated assortment of autocratic, populist and narcissistic kinds of a new political generation: Jair Bolsonaro, Viktor Orban, Jaroslaw Kacynski, Vladimir Putin, Narendra Modi, Abdel Al-Sisi, Benjamin Netanyahu, Rodrigo Duterte, just to cite the most known, while others, like Matteo Salvini, are poised to take power.  

The virus, instead of uniting citizens, has further divided them. To wear the face covering is a left-wing declaration, like worrying about the climate, which is a survival concern. 

Military expenses are on a continuous increase. In 2019 they reached the unprecedented amount of 1,917 billion dollars – enough to solve all problems of food, health and education worldwide. The UN is still the only organisation able to provide the world with plans of global significance. Its Agenda 2030 gives a plan for the solution of our most significant problems. It costs a fraction of military expenses. The G20 has paid some lip service to Agenda 30, but never anything significant. The new generation of politicians is under general scrutiny, and the outlook is not positive at all.

I would say that representative of our crisis is that books are being published on a world of conspiracy, like the one that the virus is being used by Bill Gates to introduce nanoparticles that will make it possible to control all human bodies, or myths like the one on the Bildberg Club, one of the private clubs meeting, as the place where decisions are taken by a small elite on how to run the world … the explosions of conspiracies is a good sign of the decline of democracy. This, when more than ever, it is clear that the system has lost its compass, and even the climate tragedy and soon-to-be two million deaths from COVID-19 are not able to bring back cooperation and multilateralism.

So, Italy now begins its chairmanship of the G20. It is a position without any significant weight and Italy has the task of organising a summit of Heads of State, from which nobody expects much.

If Trump’s defeat has any significant meaning, by November the political situation could have improved, but we will have a Germany without Merkel, probably more nationalist, and the miraculous social engagement of the European Union could come to a halt.

Italy has a very fragile government, and the dubious distinction of having a very young Minister of Foreign Affairs, whose only working experience was being a drinks seller at Naples’ football stadium. On the Health Summit he does not look as though he particularly commands respect and authority. This will be Italy’s first test. 

In May, it will be clear that without vaccination in the world, rich countries will not be out of danger. It should be easy to rally the 20 most important countries of the world, including India and South Africa, to such obvious actions. But in these times, where interests and selfishness are the reality, it is legitimate to nourish many doubts.

Anyhow, if 2021 is not to be a year of regeneration and creation, we will be on an irreversible sloping decline … time is running out.

Click here for Part 1. [IDN-InDepthNews – 13 January 2021]

Image credit: Italian G20 Presidency

* Publisher of OtherNews, Italian-Argentine Roberto Savio is an economist, journalist, communication expert, political commentator, activist for social and climate justice and advocate of an anti-neoliberal global governance. Director for international relations of the European Center for Peace and Development. Adviser to INPS-IDN. He is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus.

IDN is flagship agency of the non-profit International Press Syndicate.

Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

Related Posts

Begin typing your search term above and press enter to search. Press ESC to cancel.

Back To Top