Towards a more secure future through effective multilateralism


  • Opinion by Stefan Lofven (Stockholm)
  • Inter Press Service

From the geopolitical shockwaves of the war in Ukraine, to military spending, nutrition and food security, to our stewardship of the planet, far too many key indicators are moving in dangerous directions.

We can and must turn them around. In the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his 2021 report Our common agenda‘The choices we make today, or don’t make, can lead to further degradation, or a breakthrough to a greener, better, safer future’.

Making the right choices requires political will and leadership, based on the best available knowledge. The latter aspect is SIPRI’s trading stock.

A ‘watershed moment’

The theme of the 77th General Assembly is ‘A Turning Point: Transformative Solutions to Interlocking Challenges’.

Evidence of these interlocking challenges is everywhere: the floods in Pakistan, war and insecurity plaguing every region of the world, the erosion of arms control and stagnation in disarmament, rising hunger, the economic and political turmoil that followed the Covid-19 outbreak. 19 pandemic, and the list goes on.

These interlocking challenges share some common features. Their consequences, and often their motivations, do not respect borders or alliances. They are characterized by uncertainty and volatility. They tend to traverse traditional policy areas.

This has a clear implication: the only realistic path to a ‘greener, better, safer future’ on this planet lies in collaboration. Countries, societies and sectors must work together to face global challenges, set aside tensions and political polarization and restore their trust in institutions and the rules-based international order.

Earlier this year, Secretary General Guterres invited me to co-chair his High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism, alongside Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former President of Liberia.

The task of the Advisory Council is to come up with concrete suggestions on how to improve cooperation at the multilateral level, how to ensure that it is fit to face the challenges of an unpredictable future and the urgently needed transition to more sustainable, peaceful societies. to go. To accomplish this mission, we will rely heavily on science and expertise.

Tackling the Biosphere Crisis

SIPRIs Environment of peace report examines the most dangerous sets of interlocking challenges we face: the complex and unpredictable ways in which climate change and other environmental crises intertwine with more human-centric aspects of security.

In addition to providing policy insights, Environment of peace report documents the indirect pathways linking climate change impacts and insecurity, and the interactions between climate, conflict and food security, continuing SIPRI’s contributions to elaborating how UN peacekeeping operations should adapt to climate change.

The crisis in the biosphere can only be successfully tackled through cooperation. Countries should share green technologies and innovative solutions.

They must agree on fair ways to share vital natural resources and resolve disputes peacefully. There must be give and take; measures in one society to mitigate the effects on another.

Countries also need to agree on fair ways to share the burdens, costs and benefits of a green transition. From South Asia to sub-Saharan Africa to indigenous communities around the world, those most vulnerable to the effects of the biosphere crisis are often those least responsible for causing it – something most recently was clearly illustrated by the devastating floods in Pakistan.

There is a clear moral case for richer, industrialized countries to meet their climate finance obligations and compensate the hardest hit countries for loss and damage. But there is also a strong security reason for doing this. Local uncertainty can spread quickly.

From National Security to Community Security

A logical response to such threats to their shared interests would be for countries to set aside differences and join forces. Instead, they have generally followed a path of division and militarization.

Even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine this year, that was clear. SIPRI data shows large increases in global military spending over the past two years, as well as arms imports to Europe, East Asia and Oceania. All nuclear-weapon states are modernizing or expanding their arsenal.

At the same time, we are also seeing rapid and radical developments in weapon systems, technologies, and even ways to conduct conflict. A new, expensive and risky arms race is in full swing. There is an urgent need to revitalize nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control.

Disappointingly, the recent 10th Review Conference of the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) ended with no agreement on the path to follow. However, there were signs of hope.

The conference has provided much to build on in the next five-year evaluation cycle. Notably, all five NPT-recognized nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) agree on the need for measures to mitigate strategic risks.

These will be important steps. What is especially needed, however, is a shift from the pursuit of security through military capabilities to investment in peace and common security. Collaboration will again be the keyword.

How Evidence Supports Collaboration

Successful collaboration must be supported by reliable, unbiased information and analysis. As Secretary-General Guterres explains in Our common agenda: ‘Now is the time to end the ‘infodemic’ plaguing our world by defending a common, evidence-based consensus around facts, science and knowledge.’

The Secretary-General rightly characterizes ‘facts, science and knowledge’ as a public good that must be protected in everyone’s interest. They provide valuable common ground for discussion, even when trust between the parties is lacking.

They inform effective solutions. They make it possible to check whether others adhere to rules and fulfill agreements. They warn early about new challenges and impending dangers.

The Environment of peace report highlights the fact that risks and uncertainty lie not only in the external challenges we face, but also in the actions taken to address them in the transition to sustainability.

This transition must take place at an unprecedented scale and speed, using new solutions in an environment of uncertainty. There will inevitably be setbacks, unintended, unexpected consequences of well-intentioned policies.

There will also be resistance, parties that have to be convinced that the costs justify the benefits. Making the transition just and peaceful requires communication, collaboration, trust and agility to face unexpected risks and quickly change course to avert them.

For this we will have to produce and distribute even more reliable and verified information. SIPRI will continue to be a resource in this regard.

Opportunities for change

The UN General Assembly has a very ambitious agenda for transformative change. The milestone of the Summit of the Future, scheduled for September 2024, has been heralded as ‘the moment to agree on concrete solutions to challenges that have arisen or grown since 2015’.

The COP27 – the 27th Conference of the Parties to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – to be held in November, and the much-delayed 15th Conference of the Parties to the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity in December are other important opportunities to reduce future security risks at the multilateral level.

As important as these types of intergovernmental forums are, the task of addressing our interconnected challenges is ongoing and societally broad. Solutions must come at multilateral, national and sub-national levels.

And they need to involve a wide range of stakeholders, from youth to indigenous peoples to the private sector. Reliable information and expertise must be available to guide all of this.

I am both proud and discouraged to assume the position of Chairman of the Board of Directors of SIPRI as we face these difficult challenges ahead.

SIPRI’s core mission as a source of freely available, reliable evidence, fair analysis and balanced assessment of options, as a driver of dialogue and as a provider of support in the formulation and implementation of international agreements and instruments remains as important as ever.

Stefan Lofven (Sweden) chairs the board of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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