As highlighted in Part I of the Blog last week, the 21st century has brought dramatic changes to the entire international society. Since WWII significant changes in the world economy have had a great impact on the international system. The current COVID-19 crisis which has accelerated an economic recession, unemployment and technological revolution also has implications for the balance of power in the World. Given these circumstances, old schemes and organizations will not meet the requirements of these new normal times. As the World leaders at the UN General Assembly made pronouncements this week, it is clear that the global crisis has posed new challenges to multilateralism on which the viability of the UN hinges. While tensions escalated when the Presidents of the USA and China squared off in their speeches to the annual General Assembly, the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres lamented most poignantly on the great global risk.
Negotiating Frameworks for Mitigating Global Risks
The current global risks require the United Nations (UN) to refashion its framework. There are calls for UN reforms. It means enhancing the aspirations of the UN Charter by moving away from the focus of the 1950s UN four-decade cluster of development programmes and adopting specific target-oriented programmes for the transformation of economic, environmental, and social systems.
What emerged in the contemporary era were intensified activities of North-South negotiating frameworks in the 1970s. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) for example came to the fore, unilaterally raising the price of oil. It created a new atmosphere with developing countries exercising leverage in the international arena. Consequently two major conditions provided the backdrop for a new phase on North-South negotiations, namely, the structural changes needed in the world economy and the importance of collective self-reliance by developing countries. It was the era when the Group of 77 of which Guyana is the current chair initiated a new international economic order.
In the succeeding decade of the 1980s, developing countries advocated for policy regulations in the development process. Meanwhile, the deepening of the debt burden in many developing countries beckoned their recourse to the multilateral financial institutions. This resulted in the prescription of structural adjustment by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund that was to become the overriding mantra in development discourse.
Contractionary monetary policies initiated by the development partners led to dramatic negative consequences for external balance of payments and economic growth rates of developing countries. This new environment had institutional consequences for the role of the UN and its agencies. It ushered in the focus on globalization and liberalization already addressed in Part I of the blog. But it also provided a catalyst for a multilateral approach to reducing global inequalities and poverty through the formulation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000.
Millennium Development Goals and Lessons Learned
The MDGs were a set of eight definitive commitments in the area of poverty reduction, education, gender, health, environment and trade and partnerships. Subsequent to its adoption, several recommendations were made to enhance the MDGs, including improvements in the gender focus by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). The MDG targets and their implementations yielded significant lessons for the role of multilateralism. UNDP 2010 report. Among the major ones that were a success in international cooperation depended on:
In the final analysis, the unique and special circumstances of the vulnerable that were ignored in the MDGs are being corrected in the broader policy recommendations of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) initiated in 2015. Whether they will be the driving force behind the current template for unilateralism is still in question.
Conclusion: COVID-19 a major challenge to the Sustainable Development Goals
GOFAD Blogs have previously covered the various elements of the SDGs. Here, however, we propose that the greatest challenge to the UN 2030 Development Multilateral Agenda and the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals is the COVID–19 Pandemic. The economic impact of COVID-19 is illustrated in the emergence of a vicious circle of debt and austerity policies which threatens the development progress in many countries. A recent study by the UN University World Institute for Development Economics Research predicts that the pandemic could increase global poverty for approximately half a billion people, about 8% of the total human population. In his address to UNGA this week, Mr. Trump who has been a longstanding critic of the United Nations, challenged its multilateral diplomacy as an impediment to his “America First” policy, blamed China for the coronavirus scourge that has traumatized the world and demanded that the United Nations holds China accountable. Mr. Xi, clearly anticipating Mr. Trump’s attacks, portrayed the virus as everyone’s challenge and described China’s response as scientific, generous and responsible.
These are compelling circumstances that call for the UN Member States commemorating its 75thAnniversary to renew commitments to strengthen their efforts in international cooperation and solidarity.
Senior Advisor UN Agenda
Former Director Climate Change
This week's blog is the first of two parts. It reviews the stages in the emerging international system and the responsiveness of the international community to the challenges facing the world. It addresses the evolution of multilateralism and will be followed up next week with insights on the contemporary challenges and actions of multilateralism.
The international community begins its annual deliberations at the United Nations General Assembly next week, September 22 - 29, 2020. Its theme is The future we want, the United Nations we need: reaffirming our collective commitment to multilateralism – confronting COVID-19 through effective multilateral action. The discussions will be the focus of several landmark events. Chief among which are:
• High Level deliberations to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations.
•High-Level Summit on Biodiversity and the 24th Anniversary of the 4th World Conference on Women.
• High-level meeting to commemorate and promote the International Day for the Total
Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.
It is not surprising that this year’s UN General Assembly will be concerned with taking decisive actions to effectively deal with the coronavirus, which is inflicting tremendous harm on economies and societies, globally. In this 75th anniversary year, a multilateral approach to COVID-19 and the other issues comport with the main aspirational goals of the UN to maintain international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations and promote social progress, better living standards and human rights. In this COVID era, The UN like many other organizations has had to shift from in-person to virtual operations. The results from this new formula for international diplomacy are unpredictable.
Evolution of Multilateralism
The arrangements that define multilateralism are generally seen as a collection of sovereign states taking policy actions to coordinate their relations based on a common set of principles, often in line with the main goals of the UN. In this regard, winning the war against the COVID- 19 pandemic will challenge the state of multilateralism and the collective leadership it needs to do so.
At the end of World War II, the focus of attention was on the reconstruction of Western European economies devastated by war. This involved extensive policy dialogue between USA and Western Europe. These deliberations and follow-up actions offered a period of great optimism for the Western countries in building a power bloc through a range of institutional settings. They included the construction of the Marshall Plan in 1947 which helped the Western European countries to combat poverty, disease and malnutrition. This plan was instrumental in the establishment of the United Nations, the Bretton Woods institutions and later, several treaties, agreements and other important institutions. On the other hand, the USSR and many Eastern European countries were pursuing a different path to reconstruction and development. It has led to two different strands in the emergence of the “cold war” revolving around the ideological divergence of thinking between a centrally planned and a market economy.
Historians have pointed out that the cold war experience existed since the 1930s, when it was used to describe the fraught relationships among European countries. In 1945, after the United States used the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, George Orwell introduced the term and predicted decades of nuclear anxiety in international relations. https://www.thevintagenews.com/2017/02/09/in-1945-george-orwell-coined-the-term-cold-war-and-predicted-decades-of-nuclear-anxiety/
The Cold War rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union that lasted from 1947-1991 led the two superpowers to the brink of nuclear disaster. It fizzled in August 1991 with the collapse of the USSR and Eastern European economies. The post-cold war experience has demonstrated that most successful economies are "mixed" relying on smart technologies and carefully scrutinized policy actions, leadership and public-private partnerships.
The Peace Dividend and multilateralism
The concept of the peace dividend emerged at the end of the Cold War. Many Western nations began making significant cuts in military spending. In the early 1990s, various US administrations initiated programmes involving moving talent and technologies from building military capability to economic development. The relative power of the US , the rise of Japan as one of the World's largest creditors and the economically united Europe as the world's largest market were prerequisites to the dawn of globalization and a justification for an upsurge in multilateralism. This development was referred to by Chatham House (Royal Institute of International affairs) as an investment in international stability by creating the socio-economic conditions of peace through political and economic interdependence . https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/field/field_document/20150619InvestingInStabilityBaileyFordBrownBradley.pdf
Decolonization and Development
Simultaneously, what emerged, was an upsurge in demand from the developing world for transformative change. During the period of postwar reconstruction, many people living in the developing countries were seeking their national independence from the colonial rulers. Many suffered from the worse forms of subjugation under colonialism. This was the period when colonial markets were extremely profitable with little attention given to human welfare. It was a trigger for developing countries seeking their independence at a time when the UK , other European countries and North America were industrializing, and the colonial arrangements were beginning to become less profitable.
Various circumstances evolved and different outcomes emerged in the developing world. Many Latin America countries participated in the League of Nations, an international diplomatic group developed after WW1 because they attained their independence from Spain much earlier than most African and Caribbean Countries. Notwithstanding, their status the US government in the 1930s made provisions for Latin American countries to participate in the New Deal and other arrangements to counter the communist influences in the region. On the other hand, before India attained independence, the European colonial powers used a number of measures to represent the colonies (the current developing countries) in multilateral institutions through various colonial arrangements.
Independence of India in 1947 signaled the advent of many new independent states in the international arena, revolutionizing the multilateral system and shifting the international system toward a development agenda . This orientation over time, influenced new ways of looking at a range of issues including security matters.
In 1994 the UN Human Development Report introduced the concept of human security, which equates security with people rather than territories and with development rather than arms. The creative will of the developing countries was now on display at the UN. Recognizing these trends, the industrialized countries developed new ways to subjugate the aspirations of the developing countries. This was best illustrated during the 1980s with the emergence of the international debt crisis and the significant roles that were given to the Bretton Woods Institutions. In contrast, to the experience of the support given to the European countries in the post war reconstruction, developing countries were treated under the familiar model of risk management where “one size fit all”, where agreements were operationalized, and countries were assumed to be consuming and often importing more than they were producing. As a result, policies were constructed that sought to constrain consumption, imports and significant cuts in public expenditures. These policies in many instances led to a number of economic and social pathologies in developing countries.
Globalization and Development
By the last quarter of the twentieth century, globalization ushered in the gradual spread of trade, the growing presence of international corporations operating as internationally integrated production systems, the expansion and mobility of capital along with increasing restrictions on labor mobility and mass real-time access to information. As a result, many developing countries faced consequences of globalization due to the erosion of their autonomy and sovereignty. This was compounded by an increase in the importance of non-state actors such as transnational corporations, private financial institutions and NGOs. With the sheer multitude of actors and the large sums of money which many of them command, the possibility for individual Governments to formulate and implement policies effectively — whether regarding exchange rates, interest rates, or wages — declined. Worse yet, many developing countries, were excluded from the globalization process. These countries are mainly exporters of primary commodities which have become less and less important in world trade.
Conclusion: Whither the future prospects of Multilateralism
In a world of ever greater globalization and inequality, developing countries risk increasing marginalization if due attention is not paid to their fragility. The UN and multilateralism can certainly play an important role in asserting itself to address the growing vulnerability of many developing countries. These conditions played a leading role in the evolution of the Millennium Development Goals (2015) and are again doing so in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Whither the future prospects of multilateralism will be explored in Part II of this Blog.
Development Economist, Senior Advisor UN Development Agenda,
former Director Sustainable Development, CARICOM
During the past two weeks, a series of books have been published on the Trump era by Joy-Ann Reid, The Man Who Sold America, Michal Cohen, Disloyal and Bob Woodward, Rage. They add to the many others that reveal the sinister nature of the man who holds the most powerful office in the world. These books, drawing on empirical evidence, investigative journalism and personal knowledge portray President Trump as narcissistic, a pathological liar, racist, and promoter of white supremacy, among others. They also surmise that the cumulative effect of his mismanagement on foreign relations has contrived to transform the image of the “great” America, into the "pity" of the world. In essence, the various narratives in these books confirm the revelatory authoritative portrait of Donald J Trump by his niece, Mary Trump, in her book, Too Much and never Enough: How My Family Created The World’s most Dangerous Man (July 2020). In it, she illustrates, based on her training as a psycho pathologist and a developmental psychologist how her wealthy grandfather, “Fred Trump both instilled and fortified his middle son’s worst qualities — Donald’s bullying, disrespect, lack of empathy, insecurity and relentless self-aggrandizement — while lavishing on him every opportunity and financing every mistake, to the point that both men came to believe the myths they had created.” See Review | The real villain of Mary Trump’s family tell-all isn’t Donald. It’s Fred.
What Mary Trump said of Fred Trump is essentially true of the President’s enablers, members of his cult and the prevailing Trump Tribalism effectively endorsed by Republicans in Congress and the Senate and what has been transformed into the Trump Republican Party. Nowhere is this more vividly demonstrated than in the way Mr. Trump and many of his supporters and political allies downplay the severity of the coronavirus pandemic and criticize public health measures deployed to prevent its spread. As a result, the coronavirus has spread faster and sickened or killed more people in the United States than in any of its peer nations. At the time of writing, the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Tracker for COVID-19 for the US (September 9) shows 6,310,663 total cases; 189,147 deaths and 262,971 cases in the last 7 days.
Drawing on evidence from Bob Woodward’s book, Rage, released yesterday, the New York Times editorial (September 10, 2020) aptly puts it: “Mr. Trump’s lack of leadership almost certainly made the nation’s suffering greater, its death toll higher and its economic costs more severe in the long term. When the President dithered on testing and contact tracing, when he failed to make or execute a clear and effective plan for securing personal protective equipment, when he repeatedly belittled and dismissed mask mandates and other social distancing edicts, Mr. Trump knew the virus was deadly and airborne. He knew that millions of people could get sick, and many would die”
Trump’s America at odds with the World
It is interesting to note that while the Trump administration has confirmed its withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN agency has established a Review Committee of the International Health Regulations with membership drawn from renowned scientists to recommend changes it believes are necessary to enhance the world’s capability for dealing with the next pandemic. In his press conference ahead of the UN General Assembly beginning September 15, 2020, where COVID-19 is high on the agenda, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General stated that the concerns will include establishing firm commitments from UN member states to build back better. But to do so means investments in public health for a healthier and safer future. He referred to the many examples of countries that have done well because they learned lessons from previous outbreaks of SARS, MERS, measles, polio, Ebola, flu and other diseases. Among them and in advance of other subregions of the world, the Caribbean Community(CARICOM) was the first to eliminate polio, measles, and rubella through functional cooperation under the umbrella of the Caribbean Cooperation in Health. At the same time, the Trump administration disregarded the scientific warning scenario on emerging pandemics provided by the Obama administration https://www.politico.com/news/2020/03/16/trump-inauguration-warning-scenario-pandemic-132797
As the World prepares for the UN General Assembly next week, the emphasis on multilateralism is the hallmark of the United Nations’ 75th Anniversary Initiative (UN75). The data, gathered from hundreds of conversations, and an online survey involving some 186 countries launched in January 2020, is the largest exercise mounted by the Organization to gather public opinion and crowdsource solutions to global challenges. The results show that around 95 percent of respondents – across all age groups and education levels – agree that countries need to work together to manage global issues. According to the UN report this almost unanimous response saw a noticeable uptick from the end of February onwards, as the spread of COVID-19began to cause major upheaval to health systems, the economy, and social norms. Prof. Cecila Cannon, Academic Advisor to the UN75 Team offers a sanguine view: “COVID-19 is a preview of the global catastrophe we are marching headlong into if we don’t find better ways of working together”. It is clear that the Trump administration has a divergent view. It has opted out of the global coronavirus vaccine initiative coordinated by WHO in favour of its own device. Then, contrary to the collective statement by the pharmaceutical companies, Trump is advocating the possible release of a COVID-19 vaccine prior to the November elections, even without the required scientific phase 3 trial. That glaringly is playing politics with peoples' lives.
Conclusions: Variations in Elections Outcomes during COVID 19
Several elections continue to take place around the world. The goal has been to address both the practical and legal questions around holding elections while also decreasing the potential for spreading the virus in a pandemic. Examples from various sources show varying results. In the Republic of Korea that voted on April 15, where measures were implemented to ensure voter participation in the election without safety concerns, the turnout of more than 66% was the highest in the last three decades. France cancelled its second round of local elections which was due to be held on 29 March, after the turnout in the first round on March 22 was much lower than in previous elections. In Jamaica, which held elections on September 3, the voter turnout at 37.5 percent was the lowest ever. In Trinidad and Tobago, whose elections were on August 12, 2020, voter turnout at 58% was down from 66.8% in the 2015 elections and as with Jamaica, there were reports of a spike in the virus and a reversal of phased opening of businesses due to events related to the respective electoral campaigns. In the US, 14 states postponed their primaries: Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Wyoming, as well as Puerto Rico.
The Presidential Elections will take place in the US in 53 days. Seven (7) individual polls show Biden’s approval ratings over Trump’s ranging from 2-15 %. However Trump’s ratings on the accumulative 358 (September 8) poll is 53.1%disapprove to 42.7%approve. Even more important is the fact that 35.1% of voters are very worried about being infected; 32.9% somewhat worried; 18.6 % not very worried and 12.0% not worried. While Trump’s ratings for handling COVID-19 is at 56.5% disapprove and 39.2% approve - the partisan nature of political cleavages is fully illustrated by 81.1% Republicans, 34.1% Independents and 8.2% Democrats believing he is doing a good job.
Notwithstanding these polling trends, the Youtube presentation of Woodward’s book in the link, more than any analysis we could provide, illumines Mr. Trump’s contribution to the human tragedy in the USA and beyond.
Please see link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJkVOs0s3mw
"In effect America is increasingly resembling countries like Belarus" [from comment on last week's blog]
A very pertinent comment raised by one reader of last week’s blog referred to several issues that could distort the meaningful role of polling and predictions of the 2020 US Presidential elections. They include manipulation of the psychological dimensions of voting behaviour through the interrelated use and/or misuse of technology, in particular the social media; foreign interference; voter suppression; the conflation of protests and violence with law and order; and COVID-19. Consequently, I thought that this week I will reflect on the rationale and benefits of polling and on those aspects in the electoral process that could distort polling predictions.
The Essence of Polling
The most credible market research services rely on the design of a scientifically local or nationally representative sample of the population (electorate) on the basis of which they make projections to the entire population. Whether the sample design is with 1,000 persons or 4,000 as is the range among US pollsters, the most important factor is that it precisely mirrors the national profile within small margins (1-3%) of error. It is therefore within the margin of error for the most part, that distortions may mostly occur. With 60 days to the Presidential elections, a useful gauge to voting outcomes is the accumulated averages of credible polling establishments such as FiveThirtyEight. And while the prediction of the elections results is of most concern, very often the subsets of the national polls such as marginal (swing)states, trends among certain demographics like urban women or voting turnout of black/brown populations and psychological factors like views on violence, commitment to specific ideologies or to tribal affiliations are equally relevant in sounding the pulse of the electorate. Then there is the distinction between the popular vote and the vote allocations from the electoral college where different states are allocated a number of electoral college votes with these accumulated votes in the final analysis determining the winner.
Updates on Polling Trends
Interestingly, while President Trump received a slight bump following the Republican National Convention (RNC), the following average polling results up to September 3, 2020 are relatively mixed.
Just from a simple reading of these trends, if elections were held at the time of writing , Biden would be elected President. Why then are most pollsters indicating that election results are still in the balance. This is mainly due to the incalculable components revolving around manipulation of the psychological dimensions of voting behaviour, including discrediting and tampering with the electoral process. What follows are examples of how the psychological dimensions are being manipulated
Voter suppression and Creating Doubts about rigged elections
There are concerns about Mr. Trump’s capacity to affect the election by using the powers of his office to obstruct the voting process. Interference in the post office to slow down the outcomes of voting by mail is a glaring example. Trump has also set up the conditions to undercut confidence of the electoral process by declaring postal votes as a predilection for rigging the election. This claim is made despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The states like Colorado and Oregon, that have created a universal vote-by-mail system years ago, are examples of overwhelming success. Then there is a record for a Democratic primary in the Massachusetts on September 2, where more than 1.5 million people voted, wait times at polling places were mostly short, many people voted by mail, and the results were available on election night. It was a contrast to the recent messes in Georgia (June 2020) where voting times in white areas averaged 6 minutes per voter but 51 minutes in non-white areas where lines lasted for hours and in New York (July 2020) where some results were not available for a week. Whatever the results, The New York Times provides a poignant reminder that Trump has questioned the veracity of an election even when he won.
Trump’s Universe of Distractions
In reference to the RNC, Frank Bruni described as an “upside-down vision” of the world, the shameless display of loyalty to President Trump, a universe in which the coronavirus pandemic was largely in the rear view and where, radical Democrats were portrayed as threatening to “disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door.” In this a universe of distraction, the existential dangers of climate change find no place even as the West is ravaged by wildfires and the Gulf Coast is slammed by a devastating hurricane.
Trump has reverted to a formula used by Nixon in the 1980s to proclaim himself as the President for Law and Order, conflating protests with violence and condoning white supremacy disruptions on many otherwise peaceful demonstrations. That the President could make excuses for the white youth that murdered two other white men in the black lives matters (BLM) protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin as self-defense, stands in stark contrast to his lack of condemnation of the white police officer that shot Jacob Blake in the back seven times leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
Camouflaging the response to COVID19
COVID-19 has undoubtedly been one of the major factors contributing the President's under water favourability ratings. The RNC's downplaying its severity, including the largely unmasked gatherings and the popularizing of the unscientific 'herd immunity' thesis from the Whitehouse and Fox news are examples of camouflage. Most terrifying is the attempt of the Trump campaign to use the clout of the Presidency to influence the messages of CDC and create the illusion of a vaccine availability by November 1, and the role of plasma treatment to reduce spread, despite the overwhelming views of the scientific community to the contrary. But the evidence is overwhelming. At least 1,078 new coronavirus deaths and 45,600 new cases were reported in the USA on September 3 and an average over the past week of 40,530 cases per day, a decrease of 12% from the average two weeks ago. At the time of writing, more that 6,167,400 people are affected and at least 187,700 people have died from coronavirus. In addition, food insecurity and persistence of hunger and the economic crisis through high unemployment at 8.4 percent are some of the immediate deleterious effects that highlight the dramatic income disparity on many who may or may not vote.
Conclusion: Is America becoming like Belarus?
Voter suppression, undermining the credibility of the elections, Trump's universe of distraction, violence in Trump’s America converted into a Law and Order prescription, and camouflaging the effects of COVID-19 are among the major sources of manipulating the psychology of voting to which GOFAD's valued reader referred. There are several others including the discontinuation of face to face US Intelligence briefings of the Congressional National Security Committee, a glaring attempt at camouflaging Russian interference in the USA 2020 elections as it did in 2016. Amid all this is the number of books recently produced that fully underscores Trump’s combative and unyielding messages as a generator of the nation’s escalating polarization and violence. What is most terrifying is the quote in the subscript of this blog from a GOFAD's reader: "In effect, America is increasingly resembling countries like Belarus". This warning is aptly amplified by an insightful-must read blog by Peter Laurie former Barbados Ambassador to USA and Head of its Foreign Service. He highlighted that Trump summed all this up in the slogan "make America great again ... he tops it off by a classic fascist tactic used by Mussolini and Hitler I alone can fix it". TRUMPISM: The Last Gasp of White Supremacy - By: Peter Laurie | Barbados Today
The good news is that the higher the voter turnout according the polling trends, the greater the possibility that voters will " fix that" thereby saving America from becoming Belarus.
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.