Saying “no” to isolationism | Daily News

Saying “no” to isolationism

If there is one defining trend in global politics in 2018-2019, it is isolationism. Many leaders around the world are trying to isolate their countries from the outside world. From the America First campaign in the United States to the anti-immigration stances in Italy and Hungary, there is a movement towards shunning global cooperation to focus on one’s own country alone.

The United Nations is the best example of global cooperation or multilaterism in other words. At the UN, nearly 200 countries and territories work collectively on issues ranging from human rights to poverty alleviation. But questions have been raised whether the UN is effective in today’s world where individual countries tend to think outside the global picture.

Sri Lanka too witnessed a period, mainly from 2005-2014 when it almost became an isolationist State that antagonized the rest of the world especially over Human Rights concerns resulting from internal strife. However, being a developing country with an import-driven economy, this was not a wise strategy to pursue. Economic sanctions, which were on the verge of being imposed, would have crippled our growth. Thus the Government that came to power chose engagement over antagonism. It is better to work with the world than against it.

This was the message driven home by Sri Lanka recently at a high-level panel discussion on ‘Human Rights Mainstreaming’ at the ongoing 40th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Sri Lanka said it believed the “picture is not entirely bleak,” and “there is still hope that multilateralism can deliver despite challenges.” Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Representative in Geneva, Samantha Jayasuriya was speaking on the theme ‘Human Rights in the light of multilateralism: opportunities, challenges and the way forward’.

As Jayasuriya has rightly pointed out, there are broader concerns on whether the UN multilateral system can respond effectively to a rapidly changing global peace, security and development architecture. The news is not bad at all - in recent years, the multilateral outcomes reached through the Paris Climate Change Summit, the Marrakech Global Migration Compact, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, to name a few, had taken a human-centric approach, integrating human rights and transforming them into actionable commitments. The core principles and purposes enshrined in the UN Charter such as sovereign equality, non-discrimination and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms remained the guiding light in achieving international cooperation and addressing global socio-economic and cultural issues.

She stressed, however, that it was time to take a critical look on how and what more could be done to improve UN multilateral processes. We could not agree more on this count. As she noted, multilateral endeavours should be “effective and timely in delivering responses; fair and objective in approach; enabling and equitable in impact or outcome.” Given that many of the contemporary issues the world was grappling are trans-boundary in nature, solutions also needed to be global, based on shared responsibility, exchanging experiences, best practices and technical know-how.

One particular concern is that most, if not all, of multilateral processes are voluntary and non-binding. This gives countries a way out of even beneficial processed initiated by the UN. For example, since the Global Compact on Migration is an instrument of a voluntary nature, the implementation of its elements largely rests in the hands of each sovereign government. Several powerful countries had pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, which threatens to derail the globally agreed emissions standards and restrictions. Another example is the shift away from vaccination programmes, implemented successfully by the UN in many developing countries, on the basis of dubious scientific research. These programmes have saved millions of lives but if more countries shun them, millions of children will be at risk.

Most of the issues facing our world today are trans-boundary and trans-national in nature. Climate Change threatens the stability of the entire world. Diseases know no boundaries. Terrorist groups try to infiltrate as many countries as they can. Trade and energy issues affect all countries. Food security and water scarcity will be a major concern as the world population expands. As exemplified by the Makandure Madush case, organised crime is also spreading its tentacles the world over. Migration and human trafficking have become global phenomena. These require a coordinated global approach and also intelligence/data sharing where appropriate.

Many countries are learning at great cost that it is not so easy to break off established international links. One glaring example is the utter confusion in the UK over Brexit. With just one month away from the formal separation from the European Union, an acceptable deal is nowhere in sight, leading many to question whether Brexit is worth the trouble at all. A country gets stronger when it is in an alliance, not when it is on its own.

This is why the South Asian bloc should also get its act together and rejuvenate the SAARC. Pakistan and India must work towards a peaceful resolution of their problems and make South Asia a Peace Zone with seamless, borderless travel, like in the EU. Prosperity is best savoured together, not alone.


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