Expediency, brinkmanship and the absence of global leadership

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Those of us worried about the state of the world and the explosive convergence of crises of military and non-military nature, cannot but be increasingly concerned by the expediency and brinkmanship demonstrated on a daily basis by countries and individual leaders, instead of advancing real solutions to the crises at hand.

One such example is the latest twist in the Gaza humanitarian disaster, where we see a rush to deliver assistance via air and sea, in view of Israel’s obstructionist tactics / de facto refusal to cooperate in allowing aid to be transported with lorries on land. The Occupying Power’s responsibilities towards more than two million “enGazed” / encaged Palestinians seem to have been taken over by a group of countries allied to israel, who come up with different ideas every day.

Some days ago it was the US parachuting humanitarian aid, partly into the sea or on the heads of needy Palestinians, leading to their deaths. Then it was the sea route that would require the building of a floating port that could take 30 days, then 60 days to construct, with the deployment of special US forces to do it. In parallel, came another initiative of the EU, US, UK and UAE for quick-fix, small-boat, small-quantity transport of humanitarian assistance from Cyprus to Gaza. While all this is being rolled out and paraded on prime-time news bulletins despite its dubious effectiveness, the starvation, killing and destruction continue in Gaza, the fate of the remaining Israeli hostages is becoming bleaker, and progress towards the two-state solution that most actors profess to want is shelved again into deepfreeze, till it is completely unusable.

Note in all this the sidelining of the United Nations, for some key actors apparently consider or pretend to consider the UN discredited due to the alleged involvement of a handful of UNRWA employees with Hamas, which is not even proven. It is another demonstration of the ease with which, now and again, a small number of global actors turn to unilateralism or minilateralism, taking it upon themselves to speak for “the international community”, while serving their own partial interests.

One might be inclined to excuse the usurping of authority, if the said global actors, even if few, remained consistent in supporting international law in word and deed. That is obviously not the case, though, as the recent examples of the wars in Ukraine and Gaza demonstrate. Actions, leaders, narratives and International Court of Justice (ICJ) decisions are treated very differently by the same actors in each of these cases. Disappointingly, and worryingly, the majority of global actors and the UN leadership do not step in to establish objectively the facts and collectively defend the rules.

Still, the collective judgement of the actual international community, the totality of UN member states, is most of the time if not always on the right side of history, so to speak. The General Assembly has condemned both the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as the Israeli onslaught on Gaza, to speak again of these two very obvious cases. When 193 countries with very different kinds of governments, interests and traditions come together, the collective sense apparently gravitates to what is globally right. This collective judgement cannot be replaced by the pronouncements of any part of the whole, be that part coming from the developed North or the developing South, the predominant West or the up-and-coming East.

Unfortunately, practices of expediency and brinkmanship, diversion and obfuscation are widely used and are not limited to one group of actors or only to major issues of war and peace mentioned earlier. A similar pattern of (not) addressing the core of a problem but dancing around it with political expediency and brinkmanship seems to be applied even in the case of the Summit of the Future (SOTF) process that is supposed to deliver the next generation of global governance arrangements and UN 2.0. The prospect of a real strengthening of the UN is drowned in sterile arguments on the centrality or not and the modalities of the input of civil society, or the degree of emphasis on youth and future generations, with small groups of states insisting on one or the other extreme. Important as they may be, these are not make-or-break issues for the realization of the 2030 Agenda, and the broader fairness and effectiveness of multilateralism for the benefit of current and future generations.

There are so many unmet goals and opportunities to improve things for all, through a more egalitarian sharing of influence among West and East, South and North, brave moves towards disarmament and establishing a culture of peace, rethinking of development finance and a drastic reorientation of the International Financial Institutions (IFIs), among other things. The debate, though, is wittingly or unwittingly pushed to ideological confrontations of the zero-sum kind, while practical solutions to the real problems of real people are left aside. Such attitudes, manifested by a wide range of actors depending on the case and the time, cannot be seen as responsible global leadership in any way. For the objective student of history and for those who are most impacted by all this, it is clearly reckless behaviour and very poor leadership that threaten to blow up the entire multilateralism-based global governance system, with disastrous consequences for all.

Georgios Kostakos

Dr Georgios Kostakosis Executive Director of the Brussels-based Foundation for Global Governance and Sustainability (FOGGS). He has been extensively involved in global governance, sustainability and climate-related activities with the United Nations and beyond. The starting point for the work of FOGGS is the need for a new Grand Narrative for a fair, human-centred and inclusive globalization. One of its projects is the UN2100 Initiativefor UN reform, which includes the proposal to establish a Global Resilience Council to effectively address non-military threats to human security like climate change and pandemics.

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