April 24 marks the International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace, established by a special resolution of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly in December 2018.
The establishment of this day is intended to highlight the fundamental importance of the purposes and principles enshrined in the UN Charter to advance the collective building of lasting and sustainable peace and the achievement of common goals. Recent trends in global political, social and economic processes clearly demonstrate the demand for multilateral diplomacy in the search for responses to key challenges of our time.
Obviously, the most recent such challenge, and probably the most serious one, is the coronavirus pandemic, which triggered not only a full-scale epidemiological crisis, but also an economic recession, the rise of protectionist and isolationist sentiments and a crisis of global governance in general.
In a number of countries, leading multilateral institutions have been called into question by certain political forces, as in the case of WHO. Moreover, there has been no serious progress in reforming the existing international financial institutions as well as in developing comprehensive approaches to tackle a wide range of non-traditional challenges and threats, including terrorism, drug trafficking, organized crime, cybercrime, illegal migration, climate change, etc.
Even the emergence of a new epidemic has not led to a rallying of the world’s leading powers and the pooling of their capacities in the interests of the speedy development of a vaccine and appropriate assistance to developing countries, but to the false politicization of the pandemic crisis and the dangerous phenomenon of “vaccine nationalism”.
In parallel, long-standing problems related to security issues in its traditional dimension became more acute: the loosening of the foundations of global strategic stability, the threat of a new arms race, and the risks of militarization of space.
The emergence of new and persistent challenges to international security and the stability and sustainable development of the planet requires a qualitative rethinking and resetting of the concept of ‘multilateralism’.
Despite the creation of the UN as a universal international organization responsible for the maintenance of peace and security and the development of economic and humanitarian interaction, the experience of the bipolar confrontation during the Cold War contributed to a very distorted perception of the very idea of multilateral cooperation mainly in the context of the formation of supranational structures based on rigid bloc discipline.
Unfortunately, this stereotype has persisted in the current era and has a large number of influential political supporters. With such a logic, the activity of any multilateral organisation, especially at the regional level, is viewed and analysed exclusively through the prism of its evolution into a deeply integrated politico-military or economic alliance.
Meanwhile, in today’s world there is a clearly visible trend of redistribution and alignment of the global balance of power through the establishment of new centres of economic development, especially in Asia.
Simultaneously, interconnectedness and interdependence among all participants of international relations are deepening.
Accordingly, there is a growing natural need to find common ground and achieve consensus on the whole range of issues on the global agenda. However, effective implementation of these tasks is only possible within the framework of flexible and open diplomatic communication, which excludes the development of principled solutions in a narrow elite circle and the imposition of any obligations on countries at the expense of their legitimate desire to develop a multi-vector policy.
One of the clearest examples of the structuring of this type of open interaction in the early twenty-first century was the creation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
The SCO has initially positioned itself as a new type of organization that constructively and meaningfully complements the multidimensional efforts of the United Nations at the regional level.
With a careful analysis of the SCO Charter one can easily notice the document’s full consonance with the UN Charter.
Its participating states confirmed their readiness to jointly ensure regional security, cooperate in prevention and peaceful resolution of international conflicts, promote comprehensive and balanced socio-economic development, and encourage mutually beneficial humanitarian cooperation based on principles of equality, peaceful settlement of disputes, mutual consideration of interests, respect for sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs of states.
The SCO’s nature of non-targeting against other states and international organizations is clearly declared.
This approach was subsequently reflected in the SCO Development Strategy to 2025 (adopted in 2015), which sets out a course for its development as a multidisciplinary regional organization that does not envisage the formation of a political-military union or an economic integration association with supranational governing institutions.
The democratic nature of the Organization’s internal architecture makes it an attractive platform for interaction between states representing different civilizational and cultural areas of Eurasia and possessing diverse military, political, economic and demographic potential.
The accession of India and Pakistan has finally turned the SCO into one of the most influential institutions of trans-regional partnership.
The organization is steadily moving towards becoming the leading multilateral platform in the vast Eurasian landmass for the integrated discussion of issues related to the joint promotion of regional security and stability and the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This prospect will become particularly prominent if we add the 10 SCO observer states and dialogue partners to the eight Member States of SCOsharing similar approaches on most issues.
On 15 June 2021, our Organization will celebrate its 20th anniversary. In view of this landmark event, I would like to briefly share some outlines of SCO’s further development in the context of promoting and strengthening the principle of multilateralism.
The Moscow Declaration of the SCO Council of Heads of State (approved on 10 November 2020) reaffirmed our shared commitment to strengthen the Organization’s role as a pillar of the emerging more representative and just world order, based on the rule of international law, equal partnership of states, respect for civilizational diversity and the independent choice of peoples’ political, social and economic development.
In the coming years, the world will continue to undergo dynamic changes due to the strengthening of the regional level of the global governance, the rise of developing countries and the growing interdependence of States as a result of globalization and technological progress.
The comprehensive and interpenetrating nature of global challenges and threats requires observance by all participants in international relations of the universal principles of equal and indivisible security which are equally applicable to the Euro-Atlantic, Eurasian and Asia-Pacific regions.
In that connection, we will continue to establish and strengthen the network of horizontal partnerships with other major regional groupings.
We attach priority importance to enhancing interaction with the CSTO, CIS, CICA and ASEAN in the interests of complementing and synchronizing our efforts, taking into account the main areas of activity of these organizations.
In addition, the SCO Secretariat has been very active in developing contacts with the OSCE and the League of Arab States, contributing to a mutually beneficial and substantive discussion of security and sustainable development problems throughout the Eurasian continent.
International interest in the activities of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure, which has established partnerships with such leading specialist bodies as the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), the Eurasian Group on Combating Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism, the African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism and others, is growing every year.
The SCO Development Strategy 2025 outlines the growing link between security and prosperity. The updated Action Plan provides for a list of activities aimed at deepening trade, economic and investment cooperation within the SCO, as well as increasing the humanitarian profile of the Organization, including in education, science, health and environmental protection.
In doing so, the member states intend to pay increased attention to the juxtaposition of joint integration initiatives focused on joint development and the achievement of common benefits. An example is the ongoing coordination of the Eurasian Economic Union with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
This format of interaction provides for the most flexible forms of involvement of individual countries in its work through their participation in joint trade, financial, infrastructure, humanitarian and cultural projects.
According to influential Western analysts, by 2030 China, India and Russia, as the powerhouses of the SCO, will account for up to 60 percent of global GDP, which certainly inspires deep optimism about the prospects for building effective economic mechanisms in our region.
It is gratifying that the multifaceted efforts of the SCO member states have been duly recognized at the highest international level. Thus, last November during the interactive meeting with the heads of regional organizations the UN Secretary General AntónioGuterres positively assessed the SCO’s approaches to combating the COVID-19 pandemic, peaceful settlement of regional conflicts, including those in Afghanistan, as well as strengthening of an open, inclusive and non-discriminatory multilateral trading system.
I am confident that the continued and unwavering adherence to the principles of the “Shanghai spirit” based on mutual trust and benefit, mutual consultation and movement towards joint development will further enhance the image of the SCO as one of the effective regional pillars of modern multilateral diplomacy.
The writer is the Secretary General of the SCO.