The risks we face from climate change to nuclear weapons, pandemics to terrorism, are worse than ever and skepticism about the purpose and valueof a global system of government is at an all-time high. Multilateral approaches to peace and security are needed now more than ever, and the UN’s 75th anniversary in 2020 must be the starting point of a global governance transformation. A leaders’ Summit scheduled for UNGA 2020 provides the opportunity for a year of targeted advocacy for many organisations.
UNA-UK, as part of Together First - a growing movement of global citizens, coordinated by a network of over 100 experts, practitioners, civil society activists and business leaders from all regions of the world - is campaigning for multi-stakeholder involvement in the summit to mark this occasion. The goal: to discuss, adopt and initiate the reforms we urgently need, and to unite around a shared vision for the future.
Over the next year the campaign is working to produce a “to-do list” for world leaders and push for the inclusion of civil society at the decision-making table of global governance. Humanity faces challenges that threaten our very survival and rising to those challenges requires the world to work together.
However, global coordination of work to mitigate major threats like climate change and cyber warfare remains overwhelmingly dominated by states, despite it being undeniably apparent that, to be successful, a host of other actors need to be part of the decision-making process.
It is vital that this year, at UNGA74, states continue the important work of the 73rd session to create a “UN for All”. We hope that Member States will show their commitment to the multilateral rules-based order, and endorse the practice that global shared problems must be faced together.
There will be opportunities for it to do so on 26 September. States will have the opportunity to join the Alliance for Multilateralism - an initiative spearheaded by the Foreign Ministers of France and Germany - which is an informal alliance of countries committed to upholding the rules-based multilateral order.
The launch is co-hosted by France, Germany, Mexico, Chile and Canada and we were encouraged to see that civil-society are being giving a seat at the table with ministers. During the event, concrete initiatives around the following theme will be presented and potentially endorsed:
- Respect for international humanitarian law and principled humanitarian action
- Responsible state behaviour in cyberspace
- Information and democracy: freedom of expression and opinion
- Climate related security risks
- Arms control: lethal autonomous weapons
However, coalitions of like-minded states - while a vital tool for championing crucial reforms - can only go so far. The core strength of the UN is in its universality; there is a risk that a reform process that does not reach out to all parties will create a “two speed” world order, deepen the divisions that threaten our global system and increase the alienation of those who feel that the current international order doesn’t work for them. This is why a comprehensive approach to reforming our global system, open to all states, non-state actors, and the public, is vital to securing our shared future.
2. Escalating tensions in the Middle East
High-level week can bring out the pageantry and performativity of international affairs. The pulpit of the General Assembly has in the past turned into a stage for iconic moments of bravado and insult.
Nonetheless UNGA serves a vital role by bringing leaders and ministers together in one place, and so creates a space to diffuse tension and resolve conflict through dialogue. The sidelines of the GA allow for face-to-face conversations around some of the world’s most incendiary political issues, without the scrutiny or high stakes of a dedicated bilateral trip.
This mechanism is needed more than ever in the face of escalating tensions in the Middle East, in particular the:
- Ongoing conflict in Yemen
- Attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities
- Continued deterioration of the JCPOA agreement or “Iran Nuclear deal”
- Continued tensions in the Strait of Hormuz
- The threat by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to annex part of the West Bank
While each of these issues are separate, what links them is a ratcheting up of regional tensions between key actors to a point where a significant escalation in violence appears possible. All parties who are invested in the region must be encouraged to take advantage of the opportunity provided by the General Assembly to deescalate tensions and pursue diplomatic and political solutions.
Attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities
Any prospect of US and Iranian leaders meeting at UNGA appears to be off the table after the Aramco refinery was targeted by apparent drone bombings. Tensions between The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and Iran has already had devastating consequences: the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and the untold suffering in Syria.
Further escalation deepens this crisis, embolden hardliners and militarists - stifling reformists on both sides, and runs the risk of spiralling to all-out regional war. A diplomatic and political de-escalation of tensions must be pursued fervently during the opening of the new session of the GA. It is a vital moment to reopen lines of communication.
Over the last few years UNA-UK has consistently added its voice to those of the House of Lords International Relations Committee, respected experts like former US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and others in saying that responsible international powers such as the UK should not be taking sides in this confrontation, and should instead work to open up space for compromise and negotiations towards a more peaceful coexistence.
Continued deterioration of the JCPOA agreement
Tensions between the US and Iran have been escalating since President Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May 2018. This coupled with the subsequent re-imposition of sanctions on Iranian oil and currency - despite the strong opposition of other parties to the agreement and the confirmation of Iranian adherence to the agreement by IAEA inspectors, has led to Iran threatening to abandon the deal.
We would like to see diplomatic efforts led by the EU continued and extended in pursuit of reviving the JCPOA agreement and providing Iran with political and economic incentives to remain compliant.
Strait of Hormuz tensions
The news that Iran seized another tanker on Monday was yet another event in a summer of heightened tension over the key oil shipping lanes around the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman.
A vital channel for the international oil trade, parties should be inclined to avoid further incidents that could lead to deteriorating political relations.
Ongoing conflict in Yemen
The deadly war in Yemen has led to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The UK maintains it is not a party to the conflict, but supports members of the Saudi-led coalition politically, materially (through arms sales) as well as militarily through training and intelligence sharing. We have urged the UK Government to take a more neutral stance and campaigned for weapons transfers which might be used in Yemen to be halted, in line with the Arms Trade Treaty.
Recently the UK Court of Appeal ruled that UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia which might be used in Yemen were unlawful, and instructed the UK to desist from granting any relevant new licences. The Court also told the Government to retake past decisions to authorise licences for exports to Saudi Arabia, this time taking into account the evidence of civilian harm which during Court proceedings the Government was found to have overlooked. In response the Government announced intention to appeal the ruling.
The Government’s implementation of the Court ruling is now under the spotlight following an admission from the UK’s Secretary of State for International Trade that the Government “inadvertently” granted licences for several hundred-thousand-pounds worth of equipment in breach of the Court ruling. This calls into doubt the UK’s oft repeated claim to operate “one of the most robust export control regimes in the world.”
Netanyahu’s promise to annex West Bank
Israel’s second election of 2019 looks likely to lead to lengthy coalition talks as the results from early counts have been inconclusive. As of 18 September, it is still unclear who is Prime Minister and Netanyahu has confirmed he will not be attending UNGA.
In the context of the election, Prime Minister Netanyahu stated his intention to annex parts of the West Bank in the event of his reelection. Any such action would be both a clear violation of International Humanitarian Law and the roadmap to a peaceful solution. The statements have been condemned by UN officials.
Israel is an emotive and symbolic issue in the Middle East. While UN focus on Israel is often disproportionate and sometimes unfair, it is also the case that the UN stands for a global system based on rules, and violating those rules as Israel has done and threatens to do again, weakens the system and threatens peace.