María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd Session of the General Assembly, has written to members outlining the theme of this year’s debate as “Making the United Nations relevant to all people: Global leadership and shared responsibilities for peaceful, equitable and sustainable societies”. Further guidance in the letter suggests the president is hoping states will use the opportunity to publicly champion the value of multilateralism and cooperation.
This theme is very broad, as is the tradition for UNGA themes, but timely. In 2016 we commissioned a poll which showed that the British public have internationalist instincts, but that recent political trends have made them wary of an explicitly ‘global’ political agenda. The upsurge of populist nationalism globally suggests that the UK is far from unique in this respect.
Given the increasingly interconnected reality in which we live – with huge global challenges that require global solutions, and where events and decisions in other parts of the world can have an outsize impact on domestic agendas – UNA-UK believes that it is vital for senior politicians to make the case for multilateralism. At the same time, we believe they should also use this UNGA debate to suggest ways in which to address the continued exclusion, actual and perceived, of people from decision making processes at the international level.
This will be particularly important as we prepare for the 75th anniversary of the UN in 2020. UNA-UK believes that multilateralism today has to mean more than simply the relations between sovereign states: it must be a conversation we are all part of. This was the conclusion of the largest annual UN NGO conference last month, which called for a “people-centred multilateralism”.
There is a significant opportunity for politicians to demonstrate leadership, through calling for an inclusive UN reform process which reaches beyond traditional UN circles and engages activists across the world. A good starting point could be calling on the UN to appoint an appropriately high-level focal point for civil society. This sort of intervention could be particularly beneficial for the permanent members of the UN Security Council, given the deep dissatisfaction with the Council’s performance in the last year. It could also form an element for the UK’s Global Britain strategy.