In Trump era UN debates relevance of multilateralism

U.S. President Donald Trump observes a demonstration with U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division troops, an attack helicopter and artillery as he visits Fort Drum, New York, U.S., August 13, 2018. Reuters photographer Carlos Barria: "President Trump often talks

In the Trump era of surging unilateralism and nationalism, world leaders at the United Nations this year expressed their support to multilateralism arguing that global institutions and platforms like the UN are more than relevant in the 21st century.

"Multilateralism is under fire precisely when we need it most,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres had asserted in his opening address to the 73rd session of the General Assembly in September.

Over the next several months since September till the end of this year, several world leaders came out in support of Guterres cautioning that doing away with multilateralism is not in the best interest of the world.

Laying the foundation of the debate of multilateralism vs unilateralism, Guterres urged world leaders to renew their commitment to a rules-based order, with the UN at its centre.

"In the face of massive existential threats to people and planet — but, equally, at a time of compelling opportunities for shared prosperity — there is no way forward but collective, common-sense action for the common good. This is how we rebuild trust,” he said, adding despite chaos and confusion in the world, there are winds of hope.

But US President Donald Trump believes that multilateralism is no longer working for the US. As such he has been pushing for bilateral engagement with countries. Trump in his address to the UN Trump said that the United Nations can work better together when they respect their neighbours and defend their people’s interests.

"America's policy of principled realism means we will not be held hostage to old dogmas, discredited ideologies and so-called experts who have been proven wrong over the years, time and time again," Trump had said his speech to the UN General Assembly.

But at least at the UN headquarters in New York, the US did not receive much support to its renewed emphasis on unilateralism.

Multilateralism stands alone as the only viable response to the problems facing the international community, said UN General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces. "No one can be indifferent to human suffering. Wars, conflicts, economic crises and environmental degradation affect us all equally,” she said.

Addressing the UN General Assembly, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani alleged that the Trump administration is determined to render all international institutions ineffectual.

“Unlawful unilateral sanctions in themselves constitute a form of ‘economic terrorism’,” said the Iranian president. He expressed "objections to bullying" on the part of the United States.

According to a UN analysis of the General Assembly debates and speeches, several African leaders in their remarks highlighted efforts towards greater democracy and sustainable development. They called for expanded multilateral cooperation as well as reform of the Security Council.

The world leaders, it said, united under the theme of making the United Nations relevant to all people, and stressed that only through a multilateral rules-based order can the international community meet emerging challenges. 

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In Trump era UN debates relevance of multilateralism

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