Forum: Global partnerships key to solving world's pervasive problems

Indonesia's Centre for Strategic and International Studies executive director Philips Vermonte asked a critical question at the webinar Covid-19 In Asia: Navigating Geopolitical Risks Amid Unprecedented Disruptions (Asean's inclusive regionalism a precious asset amid pandemic and US-China tensions: Experts, Aug 19).

"How can we convince our citizens that multilateralism will serve, and not threaten, their national interests?"

While some geopolitical debates tend to pit one movement against the other and certain world politicians pitch the same to the perilous point of submitting globalism as an adversary to patriotism, we should know that multilateralism and nationalism need not be mutually exclusive.

On the contrary, they can, and should, be integrated as complements.

Although justified frustrations frequently brew over the efficiency of multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, World Health Organisation, World Trade Organisation and Asean, the contribution of these alliances to the international world order cannot be overstated.

The onus, however, is on their member states to sharpen these vital instruments.

None of the world's most pervasive problems today can be solved by one country alone. It takes concerted transnational effort to tackle issues ranging from climate change and technological disruption to nuclear proliferation and terrorism.

Coronavirus is a daily reminder that citizens of the world are all in this pandemic together - so either we collaborate to lift everyone out of this contagious disaster or we sink together.

With that said, multilateralism is not without woes, and we ignore them at our peril. For one thing, disgruntlement on the ground concerning multilateralism-induced inequality must be addressed and not be allowed to fester and be weaponised by political interest groups.

The existing architecture of multilateral organisations is also in need of critical reform to make them more inclusive and effective.

This will not be easy as it would involve certain countries relinquishing their long-held entitlements.

Lily Ong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2020, with the headline 'Global partnerships key to solving world's pervasive problems'. Print Edition | Subscribe