Since the murder of General Qasem Soleimani in the US drone attack at Baghdad airport last week, the tension between the Islamic Republic of Iran and America has heightened.
The development has got many commentators – policy analysts, economists, and historians, among others talking. Already there are major demonstrations in the slain General’s home country as well as in allied countries raising tension in the Gulf region. As a result, the global economy is witnessing some negative ramifications. Crude oil prices have surged over the fear of possible retaliatory attacks by Iran on US interest in the area. By 3rd January 2020, Brent crude price jumped by 3 per cent. At some point, the price reached a high of $69.50 per barrel representing the highest increase since September 2019. Iwis, the tension when allowed to linger on without de-escalation, could have serious consequence for global growth.
At the same time, many are questioning if indeed the posture of America in recent times represent a significant indication of a possible collapse of multilateralism and a rise of nationalism? And could the world be heading for a third world war amidst US’s foreign policy U-turn! I sense that Trump’s sudden foreign policy whiplash is only ephemeral and reversible. In that sense, multilateralism still presents the most viable alternative to addressing challenges of humanity. Undeniably, multilateralism has its own problems, and one cannot overlook them. Indeed, as President Macron and others have said, for multilateralism to continue to be the bastion of global peace, it needs to reinvent itself and also engage new actors.
It is only through that that multilateralism will be positioned to deal exhaustively with the world’s emerging challenges. This is particularly important because, through cooperation, the world stands the better chance of being able to address the complex challenges facing humanity. This is particularly true since the challenges are multifaceted, interwoven, transnational and overly complex. The complexity of the problems renders nationalism (unilateralism) and to an extent, bilateralism ineffective. Multilateralism, therefore, seems to be the only approach with the right ingredients needed to ensure global poverty eradication, access to quality education and to achieve collective climate action.
Below I discuss the central considerations that make multilateralism the most desired approach in the Holocene epoch. The factors affect the entirety of humanity, regardless of geography. These factors make a mockery of the sudden wave of nationalism in America and part of Europe where walls are being built, immigrants denied access, spewing of dangerous and denigrating rhetoric and so forth an illusion. Nationalist and Identitarianism groups have regrettably failed to appreciate the era the world finds itself in today.
Distractive technological advances – one challenge of today that require the collective effort of humanity is the potential of technological advances to produce rather distractive outcomes. It is a truism that advances in infotech and biotech have the potential to produce incredibly excellent results and products that could aid humanity in all facets of life. Advances in information technology, artificial intelligence, next-generation technologies, and internet of things (IoT) are changing economies, healthcare systems, transportation network, education systems and energy provision and as a result, turning around human lives.
The world is a much better place than it was several decades ago, thanks to advances in technology. Sapiens are highly unlikely to suffer dreadful death from the outbreak of contagious plagues, nor suffer continuous plummeting in productivity due to marked improvements in machinery. In the same vein, the world could not suffer severe famine because of modernisation in agriculture.
However, there are some aspects of improvements in technology that could be quite distractive. Technology has created a new global existential threat that no single nation can resolve on its own. We know that technology is creating a new class; moniker “useless class” by displacing no/less skilled people from permanent work. The other doomsday consequence of distractive technology is the potential to create the so-called “digital dictatorship” across the political landscape around the world by concentrating power and information at one place. As technology increasingly morphs individual data at one central point, the possibility that distractive techniques could be applied to create manipulative systems which give the political class significant control is high. Such unfortunate developments could allow power-drunk politicians to target and discriminate against individuals they perceive as opponents.
Others include the potential to exploit vulnerabilities of the cyber ecosystem to create economic and social mayhem. Certainly, these distractive technologies could harm all sovereigns regardless of borders. At the same time, solutions to such distractive technology could come from any part of the world. It, therefore, makes sense to have a transnational (multinational) response to potential distraction from technology.
Persistent Nuke threat – the other equally significant reason why multilateralism must be sustained is the fact that there still exists an existential threat to humanity from nuclear. Unfortunately, the number of countries with nuclear capabilities have increased since they were last detonated on a large scale in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Since that time, several countries have obtained the capacity to enrich uranium, and nukes have been used on several occasions, albeit on a lower scale. These nuclear rich countries which include North Korea, Pakistan, India, China, Israel, USA, France, Russia, and Britain presents a live threat to global peace since the goals for these countries are not necessarily peaceful. It, therefore, makes sense to use multilateral channels in formulating ethical guidelines for these countries to prevent the possible misuse of such technology which could have a dire consequence on all when used.
Dreadful ecological threat – the final consideration that makes the recent nationalism wave ephemeral is that the ecological challenges facing the world today know no borders. The activities of illegal gold mining in Ghana potentially could poison marine life in places miles away. Oil spillage, indiscriminate bush fires and industrial pollution in the east could impact people in the west, south and north. Ecological abuses do have severe consequences which include sea-level rise, drought, and famine. These awful outcomes of misuse of ecological resources will be felt across the world, although the magnitude differs.
At the same time, no single nation can unilaterally correct these climate damages. It requires the entirety of humanity through coordinated efforts to bring down carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, reduce harmful farm-level greenhouse gases and reduce industrial air pollution. Yes, no single country can take the climate change fight head-on without complement from the others.
In conclusion, it is evident that multilateralism still is the best approach to today’s global challenges. With the unprecedented connectedness in global ecology, in the global economy and global science, it makes much sense to explore a collective approach to solving problems than to think individually. Need I say that the recent US attitude to global commons present a great setback to multilateralism. That said, the world indeed does not have any other optimal option than to continue to rely on multilateralism since that is the only way to prevent the factors discussed above from materialising.