Global Radar Screen

Decades-long issues continuing to stifle global progress

Dissector

The coronavirus epidemic that is increasingly taking on the proportions of an international scourge seems to be raking-up thoughts of the Europe-wide ‘Black Death’ of the 14th century in the collective memory of humankind. While the wish of humanists is that such a calamity would not come to pass, the observer is compelled to wonder whether this isn’t one of ‘nature’s’ ways of awakening the world community to the urgent need to sink all differences and unite for the sake of saving the human race from grave and irrevocable harm.

The establishment of the UN system at the end of the Second World War in the latter half of the forties was, by any standards, a turning point for the world but it is clear that the full promise of the system is remaining to blossom. To be sure, humankind has benefited to a degree by the UN and its specialized bodies over the decades but has the rationale said to be underlying the system been taken to its logical conclusion? That is, among other things, to unite the world’s peoples as one. And the world is badly in need of unity to fight epidemics like the coronavirus, besides political and economic issues that have been keeping the international community divided over the decades.

If the world is to work as one to reach laudable collective aims it needs to concur and agree to common ideals, principles and programmes. However, it is plain to see that such consensual vision and conduct has generally eluded the international community. The result has been division and strife, save on very rare occasions.  Will the current health crisis drive home to the world community the imperative of working and living in unity?

In the words of the UN, ‘Every Human is Equal in Dignity’ and should not be deprived of the benefits of progress, if any. Irrespective of there being any agreement on whether humankind has been progressing over the years or not, there is no doubting the validity of the principle that ‘Mankind is Equal in Dignity’ and that there could be no divisions of any kind among humans.

However, it ought to be beyond dispute that the world is hardly within sight of bringing into being an international political and economic order where every human would be getting her or his due and where every state would carry equal weight. At the time of writing, some of the world’s conflict and war zones are continuing to flare, bringing misery and bloodshed to tens of thousands of humans. A case in point is Syria, where there has been no let-up in the hapless country’s blood-letting.

An important factor that keeps the world’s war zones ‘on the boil’ is big power military intervention. In the case of Syria, Russia and Turkey, among others, have been playing major interventionist roles in the continuing conflict, thereby preventing a swift resolution of the problem. The same goes for the world’s remaining theatres of wasting wars and conflicts. In the Middle East, the US’ staunch backing for Israel figures prominently as a spoiling factor in efforts aimed at resolving the problem.

The recent US-Taliban accord on Afghanistan has earned for the latter some respite from war but it is the degree to which big powers refrain from involving themselves in the Afghan tangle, besides other major facilitatory factors, that would determine whether the current cessation of hostilities in the country would be translating into permanent peace.

The US is expected to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan as per an agreement signed between the US and the Taliban.
The US is expected to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan as per an agreement signed between the US and the Taliban.

The above unresolved conflicts and the major issues growing out of them, such as, minimizing bloodshed, respecting human life, recognizing the independence and sovereignty of states, ending identity-based strife and perpetuating democratic rights, ought to remind the world that the thorny questions that it took up at the end of World War Two are continuing to not only engage it but even torment the more civilized sections among it. It is as if humankind has not moved out of ‘Square One’, so to speak, these long decades.

What has been hampering ‘progress’? This emerges as one of the most profound queries of our times. It is even a question of the highest philosophical magnitude. While a perfect world would remain an idealist’s dream, it behoves mankind to try to find out with renewed zeal how his lot could be alleviated.

All this and more ought to remind us that we are nowhere near ‘The End of History’ as some thought the world was, with the collapse of the Cold War-bred bipolar world and the onset of the nineties. Undoubtedly, the prime issues of ‘History’ are continuing to dog the international community.

The UN continues to be an imperfect system regardless of the profound, humane principles it has been trying to foster in the world. Given the intrinsic value of the aims of the UN, states have no choice but to uphold the system. But there is no disputing that the UN is in urgent need of reform.

The principal limitation of the UN is that although all states within it are theoretically equal, some among them are ‘more equal than others’. From this fundamental flaw flow the inabilities of the system. To be specific, power has been predominantly in the hands of the ‘Big Five’ constituting the UN Security Council. To compound the UN’s problems, ideological and Realpolitik interests prevent these main powers from coming together amicably to put even some of the world’s relatively minor wrongs right.

Contrary to the ‘End of History’ prediction, the world is not replete with market economies or liberal democracies despite the collapse of communism. In fact, history seems to have marched backwards with Realpolitik guiding the conduct of the world’s main powers who also, of course, dominate the UN. This is, essentially, a replication of the nationalist international politics of the early 20th century, barring some vital differences.

The unbridled power aspirations of the major states dominating the UN Security Council, besides keeping some regions of the world mired in wasting wars, are preventing the democratization/reform of the UN Security Council. However, death is a great leveller and the coronavirus epidemic is highlighting this in no uncertain terms. Could the nearness of death and economic devastation drive home to the international community the importance of coming together and freeing the world of hazards that imperil human existence? This is the Question.

Accordingly, the coronavirus could be the proverbial ‘Blessing in disguise’. The international community would do well to use this crisis as a catalyst for mustering global collective action and unity to fight a pervasive and dreaded health hazard, which, if not defused could spell ruin for the world.

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