Reimagining governance in a multipolar world: DOHA Forum 2019

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Adopted on 14 June 2019, UN General Assembly Resolution 73/299 initiates preparations for a political declaration under the banner “The future we want, the United Nations we need: reaffirming our collective commitment to multilateralism” for the United Nations 75th Anniversary Leaders Summit, planned for 21 September 2020 in New York. Under the related theme of “Reimagining Governance in a Multipolar World”, the nineteenth edition of the Doha Forum, planned for 14-15 December 2019, aims to contribute to this significant conversation and policy dialogue on the future of global governance.

The present era’s shift from unipolarity to multipolarity is characterized, first and foremost, by a diffusion of power, challenges to the international legal order, changing notions of sovereignty and identity, and the urgent need to harness better state and non-state capabilities for collective action. When no one state (or small grouping of states) is capable to deal with present and emerging global challenges—from the climate and refugee crises and the effects of automation on the future of work to averting deadly conflicts, cultural threats, cyber-attacks, and cross-border economic shocks—new risks and opportunities abound.

To reimagine and better prepare our system of governance to keep pace with fast changing trends, we must comprehend its many facets in today’s multipolar world. Among its most important dimensions are:

  • Global and Regional Governance Dimensions (the crisis of multilateralism; challenges to the international legal order; and the growing reach of regional organizations)

  • Population Movements and Social Dimensions (refugees and migration; and human capital and global inequality)

  • Gender and Youth Dimensions (assessing women’s progress; “youth peace and security” and inclusive multilateralism; and inclusive governance in a multipolar world)

  • Political and Security Dimensions (diffusion of power globally; new interpretations of sovereignty and identity; changing nature of conflict; and cyber and other emerging technologies)

  • Economic and Technological Dimensions (cross-border economic shocks; illicit financial flows; and technology, cybersecurity, and blockchain in the hyperconnected global economy)

  • Environmental Dimensions (the climate crisis intensifies; and the looming threat of water scarcity)

Learning from the hard-fought successes and failures to address these dimensions of multipolar governance, the following ten principles—expanded upon in this report—aim to strengthen governance and collective action across borders:

1. Resolve Conflicts Peacefully through Dialogue: Conflicts between two or more parties internationally should, first and foremost, be resolved through discussion and compromise. The lawful use of force should only be entertained when all peaceful measures have been exhausted.

2. Ensure Inclusive, Open, and Fair Decision-Making: Decision-making at all levels of governance should be inclusive of all relevant stakeholders and reflect a common understanding of the universality of human dignity and equality.

3. Uphold International Law: All states have an interest in upholding the international legal order and developing it further in order to resolve differences and to address the global challenges of our time.

4. Respect the Sovereign Equality of All States: In a multipolar world, emerging centers of power must respect the sovereign rights of smaller countries and work together with them in a spirit of solidarity and cooperation.

5. Strengthen International Institutions: States should invest in the capabilities, accountability, and overall effectiveness of international institutions to deliver global public goods, in partnership with global civil society and the business community.

6. Advance Human Rights and a Global Civic Ethic: States and their partners in global civil society and the business community should work to promote basic human rights and develop a more universal sense of ownership of these rights, including by forging a common global civic ethic.

7. Safeguard Inter-Generational Rights and Responsibilities: The highest moral and ethical considerations should factor into political, economic, social, environmental, and other kinds of decision-making that may impact the health, security, and livelihoods of future generations.

8. Embrace Diversity and Tolerate Dissent: States should work to foster a culture of respect for cultural, ethnic, religious, and regional diversity and strive for the broadest possible representativeness including for women within global institutions, while also affirming other core international values.

9. Invest in Human Capital: In order to truly boost people-centered and humane global governance, both the public and private sectors need to invest significantly in human capital.

10. Conserve and Regenerate Natural Resources: Through multilateral and multi-stakeholder cooperation that engages states, international organizations, global civil society, and the business community, humanity needs to redouble its efforts to manage natural resources responsibly and move to a sustainable economic model.

The upcoming UN 75th Anniversary Leaders Summit, planned for September 2020 in New York, provides a unique opportunity to improve multipolar and multi-stakeholder governance by both recommitting to these principles and better harnessing the ideas, networks, and capabilities of governments, international organizations, and myriad transnational actors from the business community and civil society. Though every effort should be made to focus this historic gathering on strengthening the international system, given the limited time remaining and need to engage diverse voices worldwide, next year’s world leaders forum may serve better as more of a launch pad—than a landing pad—for a broader conversation on the future of governance in a multipolar world. Specifically, it could build support for and initiate a preparatory process toward a proposed UN Conference on Multipolar Governance and Global Institutions, convened by April of 2023, for forging “The United Nations We Need” to keep pace with the growing global economic, political, technological, and environmental challenges detailed in this report.