Jordan and multilateralism

Antonio Guterrez (Nasser)
UN Secretary-General António Guterres speaks during a plenary session at the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on November 11, 2021. (Photo: AFP)
Last week, quite remarkably, over a hundred world leaders and somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 people flocked to Glasgow to participate in COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference. Climate change, in addition to many of the challenges facing humanity today, cannot be addressed without these kinds of multilateral solutions and mobilizations, and by the same token, partnerships with multilateral institutions.اضافة اعلان

Multilateralism can singlehandedly be credited with forging a more constructive economic and international order in the previous century by providing crucial global public goods, facilitating the development of global trade, and by ensuring that the power of the law does not succumb to the law of the mighty. Multilateralism has been severely criticized over the past decade or so, prompting UN Secretary General António Guterres to describe on a number of occasions that it was under attack, under siege, or in crisis and prompting others to declare it a crossroad or even dead. Multilateralism also barely survived the populist backlash of the Trump period, which professor Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum aptly referred to as the “post-truth world”.

Despite this close call, multilateral frameworks and institutions seem to have returned to business as usual without addressing any of the root causes that had generated such a backlash against them in the first place. This includes some universally recognized grievances such as the painstakingly slow process of decision-making, inefficiencies, waste, lack of transparency, and the lack of diversity in multilateral institutions. 

Since its establishment, and due to its proximity to regional conflicts and crises, Jordan has been heavily dependent on the assistance and support of the multilateral system and has a vested interest in the discussion on the future of multilateral institutions. The Jordanian government and people alike have been tremendously grateful for the assistance and benefits they have received through the multilateral system and could not imagine how the country would have shouldered these crises without them.

Jordan also views itself as an internationalist player and takes prides in its international profile and is eager to join multilateral initiatives to further this impression. Yet Jordanian stakeholders also hold a number of grievances with the way that multilateral institutions conduct their business in the country; grievances that seldom surface so as to not create any sensitivities or tensions, or tarnish our tradition for cooperation.

Take for instance the international community’s tendency to support and encourage Jordanian institutions to develop plans and strategies. Most Jordanians are in agreement that these plans tend to be too aspirational for our organizational and administrative capacities and ultimately, un-implementable. Jordanians stakeholders rightly take offense when their institutions are subsequently blamed for a lack of implementation due to the absence of political will or even downright laziness.

A common perception is that multilateral institutions are lacking humility when working with national stakeholders, prompting some Jordanians to interpret this air of superiority as being a serious lack of empathy, or worse, a developmental version of white man’s burden. In all fairness, it is probably neither: the liberal interventions of multilateral institutions are well-intentioned, it’s the model of international development that is broken and prime for disruption or revision.

The cookie-cutter modular approach to problem solving done through costly consultants and contractors that are parachuted and whisked in and out of the country needs to come to an end. The failure of the international community in Afghanistan should be a major wakeup call for advocates of multilateralism.
It is also time for Jordanian stakeholders to have an honest and open discussion with their multilateral counterparts about the need to redress their way of doing business and not worry so excessively about rocking the boat.

This way, both sides can be held more accountable and be more impactful in their approach to developmental issues. The UN Secretary General has correctly pleaded that multilateralism is under fire precisely when it was needed the most. Let’s not take for granted that international populism has gone away; lack of progress only fuels its comeback.

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