posted on Wed 23 Sep 2020 10:02 AM
Security Council Summit on Post-COVID-19 Global Governance

On Thursday (24 September), the Security Council will hold a summit-level debate on “global governance after COVID-19” via videoconference. Niger’s president, Mahamadou Issoufou, will chair the meeting. Secretary-General António Guterres and AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat will brief at the session. This meeting, which is one of Niger’s signature events during its presidency, is being held during the General Assembly high-level week.

Niger’s concept note describes how the COVID-19 pandemic “has exposed the weaknesses” of the multilateral system in dealing with peace and security threats from the crisis, and its socioeconomic and political impacts. Among the other challenges the global system is struggling to cope with are terrorism, transnational organised crime, the illicit arms trade, climate change, and cybercrime, according to the note. In this regard, the purpose of the meeting is “to discuss the need for global governance reform to strengthen convergence towards global sustainable peace and security”. It further links the meeting with the 75th anniversary of the UN, and the need to re-evaluate the effectiveness of the global security architecture to respond to these newer challenges.

Reflecting on the COVID-19 pandemic, the concept note suggests that the crisis may trigger further instability, particularly in conflict-affected or post-conflict countries, exacerbate security, social and economic crises, and in turn heighten socio-political unrest. In the Council’s four meetings on the pandemic since April, discussion has often centred on the pandemic’s aggravation of political and human rights drivers of conflict and the risks posed by its socio-economic disruption.

The Council’s last meeting on the pandemic was a 9 September VTC on the implementation of resolution 2532, which demanded a cessation of hostilities in all situations on its agenda to support the Secretary-General’s global ceasefire appeal to combat COVID-19. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo recalled these wide-ranging impacts of COVID-19, which she said “highlight the magnitude of the challenge of conflict prevention that lies before us”. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock similarly stressed that the “indirect consequences of the pandemic in the most fragile countries are dwarfing the impact of the virus itself”, noting that these indirect consequences are “chiefly economic”. He highlighted the importance of the IMF, the World Bank and similar institutions cushioning people from the worst effects of the global economic contraction to reduce the risks of instability and fragility. “To speak plainly, woefully inadequate economic and political action will lead to greater instability and conflicts in the coming years. More crises will be on this Council’s agenda”, he said.

With no country left unaffected by the crisis, Niger’s note says that the pandemic “reinforces the notion that collective action is vital” and that after the crisis there will be a need for a “renewed commitment to true and inclusive multilateralism” to address global problems. Addressing the General Assembly yesterday, Secretary-General Guterres echoed this sentiment, underscoring that current challenges and fragilities require more international cooperation while appealing  “for a stepped-up international effort—led by the Security Council” to achieve a global ceasefire by the end of the year. Guterres may reiterate these ideas tomorrow.

The concept note for the meeting includes a series of guiding questions:

  • How should the Council respond to the potential changes in the international security environment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects, particularly given the uncertainty as to the precise nature of these changes?
  • Is the current structure of the Council adequately equipped to maintain international peace and security in the face of these new threats?
  • What new measures and mechanisms could the Council adopt in order to mobilise global resources more effectively and to put in place effective safeguards to deal with non-traditional security threats such as pandemics?
  • How can moments of crisis be seized to reform and reinvigorate global governance and the UN system?
  • How can multilateral mechanisms be put in place that facilitate the kind of cooperation that will be needed to mitigate the worst impacts of future global crises such as pandemics?

While members may also call for a recommitment to multilateralism, in the last six months it appears that some states are turning inward instead. This period has also been characterised by heightened China-US tensions, amid US criticism and pronouncements blaming China for the pandemic as the US faces a major outbreak of COVID-19.  At the same time, the US also announced its withdrawal from the World Health Organisation (WHO). At the 9 September VTC, the US statement was particularly pointed, focusing on China’s responsibility and on holding those responsible “accountable for their actions”, and criticising the WHO’s “failures” including its lack of independence, transparency and accountability.

Niger initially floated the idea of a presidential statement as an outcome for this meeting. However, it withdrew the proposal after consultations with several Council members made clear that current divisions would make it very difficult to get agreement on a statement about global governance reform. Niger will prepare a summary of the various interventions and recommendations resulting from the debate.