Reflecting upon the historical development of global institutions, the first adventure that marked the beginning of a political world organisation was the formation of the League of Nations. Based on the four fundamental pillars for maintaining peace, viz. no general prohibition of war; war as a social wrong; no war without a settlement of dispute procedure and the guarantee of territorial status quo, the League experiment failed due to instability and betrayal by the great powers.
The geopolitical changes post World War II and horrendous human rights violations that followed, the need for a universal international architecture became unassailable for maintaining peace and to establish the principles of sovereign equality. Experience of the horrors of World War made it clear that the legal equality of states could not be generally maintained in practice as long as the Eurocentric international law allowed the use of force as an instrument of policy. The quadripartite conference at Dumbarton Oaks in 1944 attended by the Soviet Union, the United States, the United Kingdom and the Republic of China, paved way for discussions concerning the new world charter, global administrative law and establishing rule of law at the global level.
In 1945, forty-six more Allied Nations were invited to review and rewrite the Dumbarton Oaks Proposals. This new conference took place from 25 April to 26 June 1945 in San Francisco and resulted in the creation of the United Nations Charter. The United Nations has catalysed decolonization, promoted freedom, carved norms for international trade, stimulated inclusive development, promoted healthcare, disrupted technologies, advanced democracy and most importantly prevented wars. On 26 June 2020, the UN marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the singing of the United Nations Charter.
To commemorate the 75th Anniversary, the organization stimulated a global dialogue on the role of international cooperation and proposed the declaration on the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. By a Modalities Resolution adopted by the UN Member States, the UN will mark its 75th anniversary on the theme, ‘The Future We Want, the UN We Need: Reaffirming our Collective Commitment to Multilateralism’. The declaration is set to be adopted by the world leaders this September as a renewed vision for collective global action and governance.
The responsibility for facilitating the intergovernmental negotiations was entrusted on Alya Ahmed bin Saif Al-Thani, Permanent Representative of Qatar and Anna Karin Enestrom, Permanent Representative of Sweden. Adding to the 2005 World Outcome document adopted to mark the United Nations’ 60th anniversary and the United Nations 70 Declaration in 2015, the UN 75 Declaration talks about structural reforms, climate action, women’s rights, terrorism, and the promotion of democratic values and the rule of law. The declaration also facilitates an opportunity to further bridge the gap between national governments and international civil society’s view of the “Future we want, the United Nations we need.”
However, the declaration faced several objections and was delayed. The third last paragraph of the Declaration says, “Through reinvigorated global action and by building on the progress achieved in the last 75 years, we are determined to ensure the future we want. To achieve this, we will mobilize resources, strengthen our efforts and show unprecedented political will and leadership. We will work together with partners to strengthen coordination and global governance for the shared vision for a common future.” The Five Eyes network consisting of the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, objected to the use of a phrase “shared vision of a common future”. India too joined the bandwagon to express its resentment against the use of the phrase as it resonated with is the Chinese Communist Party’s articulation to describe its foreign policy aspirations. The phrase was used by former Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao in a 2012 report to the 18th Chinese Communist Party Congress.
The final draft of Declaration was circulated on June 17 and the initial deadline of raising objections and the silence period was stretched multiple times till 6 pm on June 26. According to the UN procedure, “Silence process” is a procedure by which a resolution passes if no formal objections are raised within a stipulated time. The United Kingdom Chargé d’Affaires informed the co-facilitators that they along with a group of member-states were breaking the silence on June 23.
The ‘silence’ process was broken at the request of the United Kingdom’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Jonathan Allen, who wrote a letter on behalf of the intelligence alliance the Five Eyes viz. the U.S., the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and India, to the President of the 74th General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, suggesting alternative wording. However, China’s geopolitical trade allies Russia, Syria and Pakistan raised objections to the silence being broken. China argued that the phrase “shared vision for a common future” was a part of the 2019 Modalities Resolution that had provided the framework for the commemoration of the 75th-anniversary celebration.
The objecting countries preferred the resolution to be replaced with, “We will work together with partners to strengthen coordination and global governance for the common good of present and future generations and to realize our shared vision for a better future as envisaged in the preamble of the UN Charter.” Following the disapproval by powerful international players, UN General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande suggested an alternatively phrased declaration.
UNGA President Muhammad-Bande circulated the updated draft declaration to the UN Member States under silence procedure. On June 26, the Declaration of Commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations was finalised with no objections after the end of the “silence period”. The replaced wording of the Declaration with “We will work together with partners to strengthen coordination and global governance for the common good of present and future generations and to realize our shared vision for the common future of present and coming generations” was accepted by the six countries as the new phrase resonated the language in the United Nations Charter. The United Nations over the period has become a forum for China to use power politics. This strategic collaboration can be perceived as a major pushback to China’s diplomatic influence.
While this decade also signifies China’s amoral leadership in dealing with COVID-19, with its growing influence in international institutions, heavy militarisation, irresponsible sovereignty and growing territorial ambitions, China’s snowballing influence at the global level is also reckoned a threat to many. China has played a divisive role to exploit today’s crisis of the legitimacy of international institutions. China’s influence in the WHO and China’s transnational efforts to delegitimize Taiwan’s democracy are exemplars of China’s shrewd global influence. The United Nations is now the most acceptable institution in the domain of global governance. China has in the last few years has played a proactive role to influence the United Nations as an institutional tool to foster Chinese global ambitions. Today, China with its economic power controls 4 of the 15 UN specialized agencies and is the secondlargest monetary contributor to the institution.
Amidst the unrest in the western economic structure, at the World Economic Forum in 2017, China emerged as the defender of economic globalization and advocated going global. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which is largely perceived as an economic misadventure, has enabled China to emerge as a political voice in the Eurasian system. China’s geo-economic outreach in the region is also challenging the United States – Europe security tie-ups. This economic aggressiveness translates to military aggressiveness in the South China Sea. From a security paradigm, China with its ‘Blue Sea 2020’ Project is covertly securitizing the South China Sea under the guise of ‘special law enforcement campaign to enhance marine environmental protection’. In 2016, China blocked NGOs critical of China from receiving UN accreditation. China’s geopolitical and geo-economic expansion is chaperoned by an auxiliary programme for global administrative law.
To sustain a rule-based order of international law requires strategic collaboration in the participatory world order. India’s objection to the UN 75 Declaration was viewed with scepticism being the only non-western member to raise the issue. In the current multipolar and multicivilizational geopolitical realm, India’s diplomatic allegiance to the Five Eyes in the UN and Japan in the Asia Pacific Group can be sensed as an effort to block Chinese aggression at the diplomatic level amid the recent border tensions. After the violent clash in the area, China has illegitimately laid a formal claim to the entire Galwan Valley area that has been under the control of Government of India.
On 2 July 2020, Germany and United States intervened and blocked China’s antiIndia statement under the UNSC procedure denouncing the Karachi terror attack. There is a clear sense of solidarity in support of India and global political mood to push back China’s aggressiveness. Recently, the Government of India has exerted its ‘digital sovereignty’ by blocking 59 Chinese applications which were prejudicial to the security of the nation. The United States Federal Communications Commission on 30 June 2020 listed Huawei Technologies Company and ZTE Corporation as ‘national security threats.’ It is also amply clear that the Indian Government will not allow Chinese 5G project in India.
With India’s eighth term as a non-permanent member in the Security Council beginning from 1 January 2021, India’s efforts to promote global peace, resilience and equity will add impetus to its candidature for a permanent seat in the UNSC. South Asian region is geopolitically sensitive due to the absence of an Asian Union making space for many Asias within Asia. While China’s foreign policy is inexorably linked to challenging the legitimacy of global institutions, India’s newest foreign policy tools like New Orientation for a Reformed Multilateral System, Indian Ocean diplomacy and BIMSTEC can facilitate India’s emergence as an alternative leader to global economic affairs in the Asian region.
Adithya Anil Variath is a lawyer and researcher based in Mumbai, India.