The Covid crisis, the biggest global challenge this century, has focused attention on the weaknesses of global bodies mandated to deal with international crises. This should serve as a wake-up call for the world to begin the long-delayed process of reforming the UN and other multilateral bodies by placing technology and science at the centre of human progress, writes India Inc Founder and CEO Manoj Ladwa
Now that the WHO report on the origin of the Covid-19 virus has been made public, this alleged association will come under even more intense scrutiny.
The now increasingly infamous WHO report concluded that it was “probable the virus originated in a bat or pangolin before making the leap to people.” The report also says that it’s “extremely unlikely” the highly transmissible virus escaped from a laboratory in China. However, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s Director General, said this week that “all hypotheses remain on the table”, indicating the organisation’s investigation is ongoing. And the National Geographic in a recent article has questioned the methods used to gather physical evidence, as well as the way the report was written and compiled, stating that they “have also raised alarm bells, causing some experts to question its credibility and to urge for more transparency in future studies.”
The National Geographic is one of a growing number of highly respected voices that are raising more questions about the way WHO has been conducting itself. I believe the time has come for some serious introspection on the part of the people in charge of this vital multilateral organisation.
Indeed, many critics believe Beijing has given the WHO the run-around throughout the pandemic. There is credible evidence that China has been less than forthcoming with data on this global crisis.
Now, as the US re-enters the organisation under President Joe Biden, is a good time to take a close look at WHO's functioning to ensure that it lives up to its mandate and initiate reforms to ensure it does not fall prey to machinations of powerful countries.
Addressing a session on “Damaged goods: A relevance Crisis for Multilateral Institutions” at last year’s virtual India Global Week, Syed Akbaruddin, former Indian Ambassador to the UN, had said: “The Covid 19 crisis has put all of us under a magnifying glass. The human frailties of organisations and institutions are pretty evident, and sadly so in the case of international organisations. They do not appear to be fit for handling 21st century crises…. Multilateral organisations have been a collateral damage in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, but this was in the making for some time.”
He is right. The Covid crisis, which is arguably the most serious global security challenge we’ve faced in the 21st century, has seriously exposed the deficiencies in the architecture of the entire multilateral institutional edifice.
My good friend Ashok Malik, Policy Advisor at India’s Ministry of External Affairs had pointed this out at the same session, saying, “Some countries have sought to game multilateral agencies for their own advantage, while others have not responded to them as strategically…. The multilateral system also needs an upgrade…. Institutions that were set up in the middle of the 20th century are not appropriate to address 21st century issues in their current form.”
There is a crying need for the international high table to be expanded to seat more member states – in line with their relevance in the contemporary world, and not as the global order that prevailed in the middle of the 20th century when many of today’s big or emerging nations were either colonies of European nations or on the side of the vanquished.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and, indeed, also the leaders of countries such as Germany, Japan, Brazil and many others have called for a major overhaul of the entire multilateral system.
The institutional reforms have to start at the very roots of the system – with a new charter that accepts the central role of technology and science as an enabler and a disrupter. This has to be done transparently to give the world confidence that the institutions are, indeed, being strengthened; that they are being made so resilient that they cannot be bullied or hoodwinked by any or a group of nations for their own selfish needs.