BY SHASHI MALLA
Germany and France announced last week Tuesday the creation of an “Alliance of Multilateralism” to promote global cooperation at a time of rising narrow nationalism and outdated isolationism. At a joint press conference, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drain said that the initiative would be officially launched at the United Nations General Assembly in September this year. In the meantime, they had already spoken to Canada and Japan. Other countries like Australia, India, Indonesia and Mexico could also be interested in joining. In the era of ‘globalization’, ‘multilateralism’ is here to stay. It also equals ‘institutionalism’. Multilateralism can be defined as “deliberate action(s) by a state, in concert with others, to realize objectives in particular issue areas” [Graham Evans/Jeffrey Newnham: Penguin Dictionary of International Relations, 1998: 340-341].
The first objective of the Franco-German initiative would be to demonstrate that countries that “support multilateralism and support the United Nations remain the majority in the world.” The second objective would be to establish a network of countries ready to support multilateralism and cooperation, including joint efforts on inequality, climate change and the consequences of new technology. Le Drain underlined that the alliance would be in a stellar position to explain “the consequences of unilateralism and isolationism, and enabling nationalist and extremist speech to flourish.”
The initiative was unabashedly aimed at US President Trump’s extremely harmful short-sighted policies. He has shamelessly cut funding for the United Nations, withdrawn from the UN Human Rights Council, UNESCO and the Paris Climate Agreement and brazenly peddled his own “America First” foreign policy. Trump’s many policies have been toxic, not only America, but to the world at large. A worst US president – antediluvian, uncouth, and unenlightened – has not yet been elected.
Unique Franco-German Cooperation at UN Security Council
France and Germany have already demonstrated their determination to take ‘multilateralism’ to new heights. Germany, a non-permanent member elected to a two-year term in January, has taken over the chair of the UN Security Council in April as part of a “dual presidency” with permanent member France – a very innovative move in the annals of the United Nations. It also cements the Franco-German axis in the European Union (EU). According to Foreign Minister Heiko Maas [from the Social Democratic Party/SPD of the grand coalition], Germany wants to highlight certain issues like conflict prevention, protection of humanitarian workers, arms control and protection of women in conflict situations.
The German foreign minister told the UN body last week Monday that besides helping the Security Council to fulfil its role in crisis and conflict management [its primary role], Germany wants to use its position to “strengthen long-term conflict prevention”. That night’s debate concentrated on humanitarian workers who are being targeted or hindered in conflict zones. Maas told the international body: “The most important and noble task of the Security Council is to protect human lives”, and continued: “Every bit of progress we make here today will have a direct impact on the people in conflict areas. Every bit of progress will help the workers on humanitarian missions. This may not prevent conflicts, but it can at least relieve human suffering.”
Also a first in discussions in the Security Council, Maas said that Germany intended to bring the protection of women in conflict zones onto the international agenda. He underlined: “We will work for better protection for women in armed conflicts and a stronger role for women in conflict resolution.”
Germany also wants to focus on nuclear disarmament and arms control. Heiko Maas leading a UN Security Council meeting told representatives that “world peace is threatened by nuclear weapons.” He conceded that the ultimate goal of ridding the world of nuclear weapons was a difficult undertaking, but added that it was exactly why it was important for the Security Council to address the problem. It has not dealt with this issue since 2012. He also warned that the drift toward more, rather than less, nuclear weapons could lead to a new arms race. He specifically targeted Trump’s decision to exit the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia, which was designed to limit land-based ballistic missiles. He urged Council members to develop a dialogue with other nuclear powers such as China and North Korea and highlighted: “The Cold War is over, the Warsaw Pact no longer exists, and there is no longer a Wall in Germany. Thus, we cannot solve the problems that face us today with last century’s answers” [!]
Germany has always placed an emphasis on promoting the core ideas of the UN, i.e. ‘international cooperation and collaboration’. And increasingly, Germany and France have adopted an international multilateral approach in opposition to the growing nationalism of people like US President Donald Trump. The unprecedented “dual presidency” in the UN Security Council already exemplifies this postulation. At the same time, Germany and France have also closely coordinated with the other European members of the Security Council – permanent member United Kingdom, and elected, non-permanent current members Belgium and Poland. These European Union (EU) members are working jointly to preserve such vital international agreements and treaties, like the Paris Climate Agreement and the INF Treaty on nuclear disarmament.
Within the UN Security Council – the executive arm of the world body – Germany and France have been adamant in insisting that UN resolutions must be respected without reservation. Thus, recently Germany’s permanent representative to the UN, Christoph Heusgen forcefully censured the United States for violating international law for recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and for its opposition to the UN resolution on the Golan Heights in Syrian occupied territory [rejecting Israeli jurisdiction].
To the casual observer, the UN seems very impotent when it comes to first, “the pacific settlement of disputes”; and second, “action with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression” [UN Charter] – the primary responsibility of the UN Security Council. This is because the international body is often acutely disunited on the necessary course of action(s) over urgent and significant questions of global politics. All the permanent members (‘P 5’/ US, Russia, China, UK and France) have to work in unison on any grave matter under discussion and awaiting a major decision. If even a single permanent member rejects a major resolution – using [or misusing] the so-called “veto power” – it is doomed, and no action whatsoever can be taken.
For years now, the UN Security Council has been unable to agree on a meaningful resolution on Syria, in spite of a raging multi-faceted civil war [and until recently the depredations of the evil Islamic State]. This is because primarily the United States and Russia are pursuing different interests in the Syrian conflict in particular and the Middle East in general, and have effectively blocked each other in the UN Security Council.
This policy of ‘mutual blockage’ is also evident in Venezuela. The UN Security Council has also been unable to agree on a common approach to the unprecedented humanitarian crisis. Germany, France and the other European countries supported a US resolution that called for humanitarian aid to be dispatched and free and fair elections to be held. Unfortunately, Russia and China used their vetoes to block this resolution. Clearly, the Council was firmly divided in its evaluation of a domestic conflict [with complicated external overtones] and tragically reflecting the division in the international community of states. This was a major breakdown of the international principle of the “Responsibility to Protect” (“R 2 P”).
Reform of the UN Security Council ?
Germany has been attempting to be awarded a permanent seat on the UN Security Council ever since German unification in 1990. Recently, France and Germany have laid down in the Treaty of Aachen the urgent necessity for a reform of the United Nations and at the same time for Germany to be granted a permanent seat. There are very cogent reasons for this as the UN Charter as it is does not reflect the current state of the globalization of world politics. In the case of Germany, there are compelling arguments. It is the fourth largest contributor to the UN budget, the biggest provider of troops within the UN framework, and is proactive in the international arena in many areas of UN concern, such as climate policy, human rights and disarmament.
However, Germany’s permanent membership can only be part of an overall ‘package deal’ as other medium and emerging powers like Brazil, Japan, India and South Africa are also campaigning for a new, permanent seat. Unlike Germany, their candidatures will be robustly opposed by regional rivals, India’s by Pakistan, Brazil’s by Argentina, Japan’s by China and South Korea, and South Africa’s by Nigeria and Egypt. A solution could be found in some sort of ‘revolving membership’ or ‘dual membership’ [as that of Germany and France currently, which could be tolerated sine die by the other permanent members!]. This last solution would also avoid the vexed question of adding a third [West] European permanent member, and also avoid any delay for Germany, the most deserving candidate. After all, the UN is proceeding towards reform at snail’s pace!
The writer can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org