Oct 24 marked the 74th anniversary of the United Nations. It was founded in 1945 following World War 2 with a principal goal of preventing further conflict.
When it began, the UN had 51 member states. Now, there are 193. Malaysia joined in 1957, the year when we achieved our independence from the British.
The goals of the UN are simple and straightforward.
Namely, to keep world peace; to help countries get along; to improve living conditions for people all over the world; and, to make the world a better place.
At last week’s function celebrating UN Day in Kuala Lumpur, Stefan Priesner, UN resident coordinator for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei pointed out the strong record of cooperation between Malaysia and the UN. In the past two years, there have been a surge in partnerships with the government, civil society, private sector, academia, communities and individuals.
To be sure, Malaysia’s contribution to the world body began a long time ago. In 1960, it became the 16th country to send troops to serve under the banner of the UN and served with distinction in international efforts to maintain peace in Congo (now Zaire), then struggling for its independence.
Malaysia has participated in over 30 UN-related operations worldwide, deploying 29,000 peacekeepers from the armed forces and police.
In the South-South Cooperation or the Global Partnership for Development, as outlined in the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #17, Malaysia has been active in sharing its expertise on development planning and implementation through the Malaysian Technical Cooperation Programme (MTCP) under the Foreign Ministry. Since its inception in 1980, more than 33,000 participants from 144 countries have benefited from the various programmes offered under MTCP.
The Malaysian government is also generous in hosting the Global Service Centres of the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Development Programme and several agencies, the UN Humanitarian Response Depot and the UN University’s International Institute for Global Health (UNU-IIGH).
UNU-IIGH, founded in May 2006, is the 14th research and training centre established by the UN University to carry out research, capacity development, and to facilitate the dissemination of scientific knowledge and information on key issues of global health, with special focus on the needs of developing countries. These are significant ways, through which Malaysia contributes to facilitate UN’s delivery of its mandate globally and regionally.
Of course, since the 2015 UN Development Summit, the SDGs have been a top priority of the UN. As Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made clear, “inclusive and sustainable development are fundamental to conflict prevention”.
Since January, says Priesner, the UN Malaysia office has been working to boost the government’s efforts to incorporate SDGs into its development planning and budgeting of the 12th Malaysia Plan. And a growing number of Malaysian companies are integrating the SDGs into their business operations and investment patterns.
Priesner listed four areas of collaboration with Malaysia based on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: “Leave no one behind” (inclusivity and wellbeing for all); environmental sustainability, governance and human rights, and gender equality.
Deputy Foreign Minister Datuk Marzuki Yahya, who officiated the event, spoke on the importance of multilateral cooperation through institutions like the UN, especially in a time where unilateral national politics is on the rise.
“Less developed countries are reeling from the rise of unilateralism and the trade war between the two biggest economies in the world,” he said.
He said together with populism, the digital revolution and the poor state of economies in some countries, unilateralism is divisive and destructive.
“Now, powerful countries are imposing discriminating policies for their own benefit. They (the powerful countries) pull out from multilaterally negotiated treaties and conventions.”
He also said it was time to reform the UN before its 75th anniversary next year in line with the theme “The Future We Want, the UN We Need: Reaffirming Our Collective Commitment to Multilateralism”.
He added that the world today was different from 1945 when the UN was first established.
“Gone are the days of a bipolar or unipolar world. Today, we are living in much more dangerous times. The world is more polarised. There are many more powerful countries.
“Issues are much more complex. Threats are more abundant from climate change and natural disasters, which are increasingly frequent, to terrorism, irregular migration and cybercrimes.
“The biggest challenge that worries me is the rise of unilateralism. We must take this seriously.”
Malaysia has been consistent in calling for reform of the UN Security Council. Hence, there is a need to expand the membership of the council to reflect present realities and ensure equitable geographical representation for it to retain its legitimacy.
The veto system should also be abolished.
The writer is a former director of the UN University’s Institute of Advanced Studies in Tokyo and one of the three recipients of this year UN Malaysia Awards
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times