NEW DELHI: Five months into the pandemic, on May 8, the UN Security Council failed to vote on a resolution on COVID-19 because of the geo-political blame game between the U.S. and China. On May 18-19 the World Health Assembly, the WHO’s decision making body may also fall prey to global politics over Taiwan. In this week’s Talking Point, Helen Clark, three time New Zealand Prime Minister and the former head of the United Nations Development Programme and Asoke Mukerji, India’s ex-Ambassador and Permanent Representative at the UN, discuss whether the COVID-19 Pandemic can be a catalyst for a so-far leaderless globe, in this conversation with StratNews Global Associate Editor Amitabh P. Revi.
The ex-PM and UNDP Administrator feel pained that the UN Security Council has been hopeless in letting down the world with its lack of leadership. “When we’re faced with an existential health crisis like a pandemic,” Helen Clark says, “surely we can put geopolitics aside and work like our forebears did 40 + years ago to eradicate smallpox.” Ambassador Mukerji feels, “Pressure from the common global citizen can push a mute UNSC into action.” Ms Clark adds, “The pandemic can be a circuit-breaker. It’s now or never.”
On Taiwan, the former-PM feels China can be smart by moving to invite Chinese Taipei as an observer(on the basis of its exemplary health record during the pandemic ) like the Chinese Head of the WHO Dr Margaret Chan did from 2009-2016 . As of May 15, Taiwan has only 440 cases, 7 deaths and 383 recoveries. Beijing kept Taiwan out post 2016 after the election of independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen. Ambassador Mukerji says the challenge for India, which will assume the chair of the WHO Executive Board this month, expects to be elected for a two-year term at the UNSC from January 2021 and assumes the chair at the G-20 in 2022, is its leadership skills in a team, since it clearly can’t act unilaterally. Both also point to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation and the World Trade Organisation, which has both China and Chinese Taipei on the table as precedents.
On stalled UNSC reform including more permanent members and the veto power, ex-envoy Mukerji says, “It’s now time for a general conference to be called to review the world body’s charter.” Helen Clark agrees adding, “What’s more fitting to mark 75 years of the UN than to say this isn’t working very well and let us use this anniversary as an opening of how we make it fit for purpose for the next 25 years through to its centennial.”
Ms Clark says that, ‘India unlike other powers is a stalwart in favour of multilateral systems and understands that a solution to the coronavirus can’t be found by individual countries within their borders. India’s role is critical,” she argues,”if there is to be a leader of a rudderless international system dealing with the globe’s worst crisis in 120 years.”
Helen Clark was Prime Minister of New Zealand for three successive terms, from 1999–2008. In April 2009, she was appointed Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, the first woman to lead the organisation, and served two terms. At the same time, she was Chair of the United Nations Development Group, a committee consisting of all UN funds, programmes, agencies and departments working on development issues.
Ambassador Asoke Mukerji’s diplomatic career spans 37 years, from 1978-2015. As India’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York (2013-2015) he oversaw India’s negotiations on Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development. He represented India in the inter-governmental negotiations that recommended a text-based outcome for UN Security Council Reforms in September 2015. Ambassador Mukerji was India’s Delegate to the World Trade Organization in Geneva (1995-1998), Ambassador to Kazakhstan, served in the UK, Russia, the Russian Federation, as India’s first resident Charge d’affaires in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and was also posted to Dubai.