International Order & Conflict

Coping with New and Old Crises

Global and Regional Cooperation in an Age of Epidemic Uncertainty
Revitalizing the global governance system for charting a durable, green, and broad-based recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic
By Banou Arjomand  ·  William Durch Senior Advisor ·  Joris Larik  ·  Cristina Petcu  ·  Richard Ponzio

The Doha Forum Report 2020 examines the leadership deficit in multilateral cooperation toward both the coronavirus pandemic and other existing and emerging global challenges, includ­ing runaway climate change, rising political violence, menacing cyber-attacks, and growing inequality within and between countries. It finds that present international efforts are too often fragmented, delayed, ad hoc, and under-resourced, while pointing to promising new public-private partnerships to spur innovation through new technologies and to promote decent job and wealth creation opportunities. The report also recommends a roadmap for a durable, green, and broad-based global recovery and institutional revitalization, culminating in a 2023 World Summit on Inclusive Global Governance. With the recent news on the expected arrival of one or more effective vaccines, the road to recovery must chart a bold new course and avoid a return to the “old normal” of unsustainable practices.

Executive Summary: A Roadmap for Global Recovery & Institutional Revitalization

The pandemic has illustrated beyond dispute the gaps in our multilateral system. As countries go in different directions, the virus goes in every direction … We urgently need multilateral institutions that can act decisively, based on global consent, for the global good.”—UN Secretary-General António Guterres (Briefing to the Security Council on Global Governance Post-COVID-19, September 24, 2020)

COVID-19 is one of the greatest challenges to confront the United Nations since its found­ing in 1945. Over the past year, the pandemic has posed a clear test of international coop­eration. However, the international response to the crisis has often proven fragment­ed, delayed, ad hoc, and under-resourced. Emblematic of this reality is the UN General Assembly’s high-level special session in re­sponse to COVID-19, planned for December 3–4, a full ten months after the World Health Organization declared “a public health emer­gency of international concern.”

To grasp the magnitude of the leadership deficit facing the multilateral system, one need only survey the startling human tragedy and socio­economic devastation left in the wake of the pandemic: over 1.3 million deaths and 50 million confirmed infections (as of early November) and a projected 4.4 percent contraction in glob­al GDP in 2020. Millions of jobs were lost over­night but only slowly, partially, and episodically restored. Moreover, this crisis occurs alongside existing and emerging ones, including runaway climate change, rising political violence, men­acing cyber-attacks, and growing inequality within and between countries.

Successfully meeting these challenges requires not only an effective roadmap for moderniz­ing our global governance system (building on the UN75 Declaration, adopted on September 21, 2020, by world leaders), but one that charts a durable and broad-based recovery from the pandemic and meets the climate crisis head on. In this spirit, the 2020 Doha Forum Report in­vestigates the following questions:

  • In which ways did national, regional, and international mechanisms falter and allow the rapid global spread of the coronavirus to happen?
  • To what extent are international re­sponses commensurate with the level of the COVID-19 crisis and its acute socioeconomic, environmental, and political dimensions?
  • How can global and regional organi­zations pull together in a more deci­sive and unified way in response to future pandemics and other global crises?
  • Does the pandemic reinforce or tem­per other global challenges, such the refugee and climate crises, interna­tional terrorism, and exclusionary forms of nationalism?

How effectively the international community grapples with these questions may determine the fate, stability, and health—measured holis­tically beyond simple GDP growth to include literacy, life expectancy, inclusive governance, among other variables—of countries and their citizens for generations to come.

Even after some early successes in suppress­ing the spread of the disease, several countries are experiencing new waves of infections. Four times as many infections were registered world­wide in October 2020 than in April, a powerful reminder of the vulnerabilities of today’s hy­perconnected world. The coronavirus also si­phons off considerable attention and resources, hindering hard-won peacebuilding gains and putting populations in conflict-affected and fragile countries at greater risk. Furthermore, measures taken to fight the pandemic, even when effective in their immediate purpose, can put pressure on basic human rights and the rule of law.

Early on, the pandemic revealed failures and shortcomings in national and global respons­es, but also many instances of solidarity and cooperation. The World Health Organization (WHO), as the world’s apex global health body, came under fire from powerful actors, while many countries, at least initially, succumbed to unilateral impulses, closing borders and hoarding medical equipment. At the same time, public and private actors pulled together for joint fundraising drives and other initiatives, such as the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator and its vaccines pillar COVAX, run by the vaccine alliance Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and the WHO.

In the search for innovative tools to overcome the pandemic and emerge stronger in the face of future health crises and other global challenges, public-private partnerships loom large. Having become an increasingly popular governance instrument in recent times, their numbers have increased fourfold since 2000. In particular, they are well equipped to sup­port a medium-term recovery program by: i) promoting decent job and wealth creation op­portunities; ii) expanding digital connectivity for better collective problem-solving; and iii) exploiting the virtues of “networked gover­nance” to implement novel solutions in novel ways. In promoting job and wealth creation, for example, the World Bank’s International Financial Corporation has expanded its Joint Collaboration Framework Agreement to boost the availability of private sector resources for COVID-19 response. These partnerships do fall short in some key areas, such as enforce­able accountability for members’ actions, and are vulnerable to “forum shopping” behavior and opportunistic desertion or scaling-back of commitments. But, on balance, public-private partnerships represent a welcome addition, bringing new kinds of leadership, technical in­genuity, and financial resources to bear in glob­al problem-solving.

Beyond the immediate health crisis, the pan­demic has triggered an intense, multi-dimen­sional, global economic shock, throwing both advanced and developing economies into re­cession. The virus has further jeopardized progress on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, undermining steps to eliminate poverty, gender inequalities, and illiteracy. The United Nations, Bretton Woods institutions, Group of Twenty (G20), and regional organi­zations have mobilized resources and response plans intended to partly absorb the impact of the catastrophe. But a lack of coordination and effective medium-term (2–3 year) planning hin­dered the international community’s ability to manage the situation. Global and regional re­covery efforts remain inadequately funded too. For instance, between April and early November 2020, only 24 percent of the UN’s public appeal has been met for its U.S. $10.3 billion global humanitarian response plan and only 6 per­cent (U.S. $58 million) has been raised for an initial U.S. $1 billion COVID-19 Response and Recovery Trust Fund, even as donor countries pumped trillions of stimulus spending into their own economies.

A three-year (2021–23) global green recovery effort and complementary sequence of steps to renovate and upgrade our global and regional governance institutions have become impera­tive. Together, they represent a robust vision and strategy for building back better and green­er. The recovery effort should address itself to four critical dimensions of global-national-local interaction: i) public health, human rights, and social protection; ii) economies that are robust, efficient, fair, and opportunity-building, both for entrepreneurs and for youth; iii) economic recovery that doubles as effective climate ac­tion; and iv) greater and more inclusive digital connectivity, worldwide.

On institutional revitalization, the report high­lights one recommendation from recent, more detailed studies for each of the main pillars of UN global engagement. For the peace and secu­rity pillar, a much-enhanced UN post-conflict Civilian Response Capacity would facilitate rapid deployment of civilian specialist skills in conflict prevention and peacebuilding efforts worldwide. For the sustainable development pillar, better alignment of UN and G20 pri­orities and summitry (“G20+”) could acceler­ate recovery from COVID-19. For the human rights pillar, stronger working ties between the UN Human Rights Council, the International Criminal Court, and the UN Security Council could reinforce the effectiveness of each.

Culminating three years of work in the service of global pandemic recovery and revitalization of global institutions, a proposed World Summit on Inclusive Global Governance should be con­vened in September 2023, at the start of “UNGA High-Level Week” in New York.

The UN75 Declaration mandates the Secretary- General, in 2021, to recommend ways to ad­vance its twelve commitments across the United Nations agenda with an eye to “current and future challenges.” This creates the possi­bility for Member States, the UN Secretariat, and non-governmental partners to also ral­ly behind an ambitious global institutional revitalization effort—akin to how the 2000 Millennium Declaration laid the ground­work for the ambitious 2005 World Summit Outcome Document.

A unified global recovery and institutional re­vitalization roadmap represents a vision and identifies key elements of a strategy for build­ing back better and greener, in a manner that closes the leadership deficit in multilateral institutions and leverages global and regional cooperation for the benefit of all nations and peoples. Major milestones on the Road to a 2023 World Summit on Inclusive Global Governance could include:

  • Two G20 Summits, in April and September 2021, that could gener­ate political momentum for the 2023 World Summit, while promoting re­covery plans that coordinate macro­economic, social, and environmental policies and programs across coun­tries and regions.
  • The World Summit’s Preparatory Committees could be organized, in 2022 and early 2023, around the five thematic pillars of: i) peace and secu­rity and humanitarian action; ii) sus­tainable development and COVID-19 recovery; iii) human rights, the rule of law, and inclusive governance; and iv) climate crisis abatement; as well as, v) overarching topics to promote integrated, system-wide reforms.
  • The 2023 World Summit would seek to upgrade and equip the global gov­ernance system to address major issues facing the international com­munity, and to usher in a new com­pact with citizens to enhance and re­build confidence in their multilateral institutions.

With the recent news on the expected arrival of one or more effective vaccines, the road to recovery must avoid a return to the “old normal” of unsustainable practices as it relates to con­fronting a far greater challenge than the coro­navirus: climate change. Achieving early wins in either the global recovery or institutional re­vitalization track will build confidence among political leaders and the general public alike, creating a virtuous cycle that improves the po­litical conditions for pursuing more ambitious, complex, and costly goals, including a renewed global governance architecture for promoting a vision of justice and security for all.

About the Doha Forum

The Doha Forum is a global platform for dialogue, bringing together leaders in policy to build innovative and action driven networks. Established in 2000, the Doha Forum promotes the interchange of ideas, discourse, policy making, and action-oriented recommendations. In a world where borders are porous, our challenges and solutions are also interlinked.

About the Stimson Center

The Stimson Center is a nonpartisan policy research center working to protect people, preserve the planet, and promote security & prosperity. Stimson’s award-winning research serves as a roadmap to address borderless threats through concerted action. Our formula is simple: we gather the brightest people to think beyond soundbites, create solutions, and make those solutions reality. We follow the credo of one of history’s leading statesmen, Henry L. Stimson, in taking “pragmatic steps toward ideal objectives.” We are practical in our approach and independent in our analysis. Our innovative ideas change the world.

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