Speech by Ghulam M. Isaczai, UN Resident Coordinator in Azerbaijan, at the webinar on “Fate of multilateralism during COVID-19 crisis”

Multilateralism is more needed now with the COVID-19 pandemic than ever before.


Distinguished participants,

I am pleased to address you today at the webinar on “Fate of multilateralism during the COVID-19 crisis” and would like to thank the Center of Analysis of International Relations for  bringing together members of the international community in Azerbaijan around this very important topic.

Multilateralism has a long history, but it is principally associated with the era after World War II, after which a number of multilateral organizations and agreements led primarily by the United States came into play.

The one organization most strongly embodies the principle of multilateralism is the United Nations founded in 1945 and WHO soon after which is now at the centre of efforts to contain the pandemic.

Other prominent multilateral institutions established for regional cooperation and to regulate finance, trade, and security were the Bretton Institutions, the World Trade Organization [WTO]) and the  North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO]).

In addition, numerous multilateral treaties, conventions and protocols emerged to establish norms, standards and foster international cooperation towards peace, security and prosperity around the world.  

Just in the last decades, three important multilateral treaties and agreements were signed under the auspices of the UN, namely, treaty on prohibition of nuclear agreement, Paris climate agreement and the Agenda 2030 produced the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

While we could point to many successes of international cooperation since world war II particularly in reducing poverty and hunger, improvement in health, education, science and technology, multilateralism is increasingly under pressure and is gradually giving way to isolationism, protectionism, populism and fragmented responses to our collective problems.

The UN Secretary-General Guterres recalled at the 7th Global Baku Forum that “our world faces a paradox: challenges are increasingly interconnected, yet responses are fragmented. From environmental threats and armed conflicts to rising inequality and intolerance, multilateralism is needed more than ever.”

This is more needed now with the COVID-19 Pandemic than ever before.

COVID-19  is confronting us with the biggest international challenge since World War II, and it has turned out to be a real test for the principle of international cooperation on which the United Nations was founded 75 years ago.

Covid-19 is a stark reminder of the need for cooperation across borders, sectors and generations. Our response will determine how fast the world recovers, whether we achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and how well we handle pressing challenges: from the climate crisis to pandemics, inequalities, new forms of violence, and rapid changes in technology and in our population.

But just when we need collective action more than ever, support for global cooperation has been flagging. In many countries, public trust in traditional institutions is in decline and relations between countries have been under strain. Will this pandemic bring the world closer together? Or will it lead to greater mistrust? Global dialogue – and action – is now more urgent than ever.

Disease control is not the only area where global cooperation is vital today. The case for global cooperation and institutions extends to many urgent concerns, including the control of human­-induced climate change; the conservation of biodiversity; the control and reversal of the massive pollution of the air, soils, and oceans; the proper uses and governance of the internet; the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons; the avoidance of mass forced migrations; and the ever-­present challenge of avoiding or ending violent conflicts. All of these challenges must be confronted in a world that is too often divided, distrustful, and distracted, and now, preoccupied with a new zoonosis that has suddenly become a new pandemic.

Will we see global cooperation as we withness during HIV/AIDs epidmice, infecting 75 million people and killing 32 million, global cooperation led to establishment of the Global fund.

As they responded to the immediate effects of the virus, governments around the world imposed drastic measures at a scale we have not witnessed in our lifetime. More than half of humanity went into confinement and borders closed. The virus, however, knew no borders and recognised no sovereignty: every nation on earth has been affected and is now dealing with its devastating socioeconomic impact of the pandemic.

The UN has just launched a global initiative inviting governments to recover from this crisis by building back better, ensuring that use it as opportunity to set our countries back on the path for equality and well-being. For this to happen international solidarity has never been more important.

Yet, what we currently see is a dangerous pattern of isolationism and fragmentation, the latest of which has been the US’s unfortunate decision to withdraw from the World Health Organisation. 

No one can forecast the exact long-term consequences of the pandemic on our societies. We can, and must, however, work together to make them the least painful for all. We need to bring our skills and resources together to produce a V-shaped recovery; quick, efficient, and leading to path of long-term prosperity.

Let our cooperation be networked: reaching out to multilateral organisations at the global and regional levels. Let is also be inclusive, promoting interaction with civil society and the private sector. And let it finally be valuable, opening a space for governments to tap into international expert advice and best practices.

As you know this year marks the 75th anniversary of the UN, which we are taking as an opportunity to start envisioning the future of this organisation, and of multilateralism more generally, in a world where it is increasingly undermined and attacked by nationalistic and populist figures.

We are holding a conversation on how we can make international cooperation maintain its relevance and achieve its goals. To understand concerns and hear suggestions, the Secretary-General launched the UN75 initiative which is gathering public perspectives on global challenges, and solutions on how to tackle them. It is a one-minute survey available in 53 languages including Azerbaijani, which I encourage you all to take. The results will be used to start generating a global vision for the year 2045, the 100th anniversary of the creation of the UN.

Let us look forward to a 100th anniversary at which we will be celebrating the values of unity and peace that we enshrined in the founding texts of this organisations, back in 1945.

Thank you.

Speech by
Ghulam M. Isaczai
UN Resident Coordinator
UN entities involved in this initiative
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
International Labor Organization
International Organization for Migration
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations
United Nations Development Programme
United Nations Population Fund
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
United Nations Children’s Fund
World Health Organization