The challenge to global governance comes today from the decay of the very institutions created for that purpose some 75 years ago. This is the 75th year of the creation of the United Nations Organisation or UNO. The UN was the brainchild of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who first shared the idea with Winston Churchill, although FDR was not there to see it come alive.
When the charter of the founding of the UN was being signed on 26 June 1945, Harry Truman, who just became the President of the United States of America, had proclaimed, “Oh what a great day this can be in history!” Like his predecessor of 25 years, President Woodrow Wilson, Truman also believed that the countries in the world would overcome differences and come together “in one unshakable unity of determination—to find a way to end wars.”
Speaking at the UNGA in 1950, Truman said: “The United Nations represents the idea of a universal morality, superior to the interests of individual nations. Its foundation does not rest upon power or privilege; it rests upon faith. They rest upon the faith of men in human values—upon the belief that men in every land hold the same high ideals and strive toward the same goals for peace and justice.”
Today, those words sound like a dream statement from the other-world. The UN became almost everything that Truman did not want it to become. In the process, it has lost its sheen and relevance.
Global governance needs to be thought of afresh. The ideas and institutions have to be new, to represent the 21st century reality.
The institutions of global governance that were created in the middle of the last century do not represent the emergent new global power order anymore. The global power axis has shifted away from the Pacific-Atlantic region to the Indo-Pacific region in this century. Yet the UN is still dominated by the western powers. Four out of the five permanent members are from the west, whereas the east is the global powerhouse today. The only country to represent the eastern world is China.
Freedom from wars and striving for peace were the driving force behind the creation of the UN in the last century. Towards that end, it was visualised that a few powerful countries, the permanent members, should have more than equal standing in the world order with a power of the veto.
But the world has transformed since then. We moved from the lofty ideals of the UN to Cold War bipolarity to ambitions of unipolarity to a facade of multipolarity to finally a heteropolar world today. States, and non-state actors like multinational corporations, religious groups, social NGOs and even the terrorist groups have emerged as new poles.
This new world order calls for new institutions and also a new agenda. From a country aspiring to become the lone pole in the world, the US has decided to withdraw into its own shell. “21st century world doesn’t belong to globalists; it belongs to patriots”, declared President Trump at the UN last year. China under President Xi Jinping, on the other hand, aspires for the “Middle Kingdom” status; yet the Covid crisis has certainly affected its standing in the world.
The new institutions that emerge in the post-Covid world should offer greater say for countries in the Indo-Pacific region like India. The 20th century global agenda items like security alliances, multilateral trade and commerce arrangements etc., although important, should take a back seat and new agenda items like climate change and environment, universal healthcare, new and frontier technologies and rules-based world order should come to the forefront on the high table of global governance.
In the 21st century, with the shift in the global power axis, the Indian Ocean has emerged as an important region. It is the lifeline for India. Centrality of the Indian Ocean to regional geopolitics cannot be ignored; and centrality of India to the Indian Ocean too cannot be overlooked. Similarly, the centrality of the Indo-Pacific to global geopolitics cannot be understated; and centrality of the ASEAN powers to the Indo-Pacific too needs to be acknowledged.
In the emerging new global order, India has ambitions to rise as an “influential and responsible” power. India is home to the world’s most ancient knowledge system called the Vedas. From time immemorial, India has championed the cause of environment, healthy living and a rules-based social order called Dharma.
The Covid pandemic has underscored the need for an urgent re-look at the issues related to environment protection and holistic living. Prime Minister Narendra Modi champions the cause of the environment and climate change. India leads the world in non-renewable energy and other climate change issues. He has also championed the spread of yoga—the Indic knowledge system of holistic living. India’s traditional wisdom, coupled with the rise of India’s collective national consciousness under Prime Minister Modi, will help in catapulting the country into playing a significant role in the making of the post-Covid new world order.
India is the world’s largest democracy with impeccable democratic credentials. Prime Minister Modi has handled the Covid crisis very efficiently by exploiting the democratic potential of the country, thus setting an example to the rest of the world.
In the post-Covid new world order India’s mantra of “Human Centric Development Cooperation”, as enunciated by Prime Minister Modi, should become the sacro missionem for the world.
(The article was originally published in Sunday Guardian on July 6, 2020.Views expressed are personal.)