By Vasif Huseynov,
Senior fellow at the Baku-based Center of Analysis of International Relations.He studied International Relations, Political Economy and Political Science in Baku, Kassel and Göttingen
No substantial positive change has ever occurred in global politics without the consent and support of great powers. This is probably why the international community continues to struggle to uphold multilateralism in the face of global threats and challenges.
Relying on their power advantage and refusing to bind themselves to legal and other multilateral institutions, great powers tend to prefer unilateralist pursuit of their national interests and security. For small and medium powers, quite the contrary, international law and organizations are guarantee of their stability or even their very existence.
The unilateralist trends in the international relations coupled with protectionist economic approaches gained a new momentum amidst the Covid-19 pandemic caused by the global spread of a new type of coronavirus. For example, the United States, number one economy of the world, demonstrated its traditional antipathy to multilateralism and even did not shy away from cutting its ties with the World Health Organization (WHO), when the global need for this institution reaches its highest.
This situation debilitated also the world body tasked with the maintenance of international peace and security, namely the United Nations and its Security Council, that failed to play an impactful role in the arguably worst crisis the world has experienced since the Second World War.
There have been, however, some initiatives in recent years to bolster international cooperation and neutralize the global threats posed by the rise of unilateralism. For instance, the Alliance of Multilateralism, an initiative of France and Germany, is a noteworthy example, though it has so far been neglected in the international media. On the easternmost flank of Europe, Azerbaijan, a South Caucasian republic with smaller geographic and economic size than that of France or Germany, has made initiatives which are no less important for the international solidarity and multilateral cooperation.
Azerbaijan’s ongoing chairmanship at two international institutions – the Turkic Council of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Uzbekistan as well as the Observer State Hungary, and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) of 120 member states – has entrusted its government with a momentous task to take up a leading position in the present troubled times and ensure international solidarity, cooperation and coordinated policies in the fight against the pandemic. The virtual summits of and a number of ministerial meetings within these two institutions organized at the initiative of Azerbaijan over the last few months are some of Baku’s efforts to fulfil its international responsibilities.
The virtual summit of the Turkic Council on the theme of “Solidarity and Cooperation in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic” on 10 April 2020, initiated by President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan and attended, among others, by Director-General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, played an essential role in coordinating the policies of Member States and minimizing the negative consequences of the pandemic.
In accordance with the agreement reached during the summit, the Ministers of Health of the Member States held a videoconference, on April 28, to exchange information, discuss national pandemic action plans, share expertise and treatment methods. A ministerial meeting in a similar format was also organized between the Ministers of Transport of the Member States on April 30. The cooperation within the Turkic Council, among others, helped the East – West transportation corridor to be functional amidst global crisis caused by the pandemic.
Azerbaijan has also made initiatives within the framework of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) to coordinate the cooperation amongst the member states, strengthen the values of multilateralism and international cooperation, and to revitalize the institution. At the initiative of the Azerbaijani government, for the first time in the history of the NAM, the institution held an extraordinary summit of Member States on May 4, 2020, attended by more than 45 Member States and international organizations. The President of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission and the Director-General of the World Health Organization were amongst the leaders addressed the summit and endorsing the initiative.
The Azerbaijani government, as the Chairman of the institution, declared a number of proposals at the summit such as the establishment of a unified database that will collect the humanitarian and medical needs of the participating countries related to the pandemic. President Aliyev declared that “These data will then be presented to donor countries and international humanitarian organizations for the provision of feasible assistance”.
Reiterating Azerbaijan’s commitment to international solidarity and underscoring the importance of providing assistance to the countries in need during the pandemic, he declared that “Azerbaijan will allocate an additional donation of $5 million to the World Health Organization (WHO) [in addition to $5 million granted already in March 2020]”, adding that “these funds are intended for those most in need of assistance from the regional groups of Africa, Asia and Latin America”.
Demonstrating its readiness and willingness to play a leading role in the global fight against national egoism, unilateralism and protectionism, Azerbaijan, as part of its proposals to the virtual summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), also called for the special session of the UN General Assembly. If successful, the initiative will be embedded in the history of the United Nations, as this will be the first virtual special session of heads of states and governments in the history of the world organization.
Reportedly, in line with the procedures of the United Nations, the initiative supported by all the members of the NAM and others, has been already submitted to the President of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly. This is not only a remarkable contribution to the coordination of the international policies in the fight against the pandemic, but also serves as a great opportunity to rejuvenate the United Nations and augments its relevance as a platform for international dialogue and an instrument to tackle global crises.
These developments in Azerbaijan’s foreign policy, aptly characterized by some external observers as “the rise of Azerbaijan’s diplomacy”, are of a wider international importance. Against the backdrop of the growing unilateralism in world politics, it is important that small and medium powers combine their resources to buttress the rules-based international order, as they will likely suffer more if this order fails.
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