UN’s “hollow” Ring for SDGs Worldwide
Sep 5 2016 (The Sunday Times – Sri Lanka) – United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday spoke in Colombo under the auspices of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS) on the topic of “Sustaining Peace and Achieving Sustainable Development Goals.” He referred to the many Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN, but clearly went off track to compare what happened in Sri Lanka with what happened in Rwanda –which raised some eye-brows and asked the Government to reduce its military strength in the North ; something he would dare not ask the West to do in West Asia.
Only a few weeks earlier, the Norwegian Prime Minister delivering the Lakshman Kadirgamar 2016 memorial lecture spoke on the same SDG theme. Ms. Ema Solberg referred to the importance of the 17 SDGs as the UN’s plan of action for people, peace, prosperity, partnership and the planet – the five Ps. Though Mr. Ban made no reference to areas of the SDGs in which Sri Lanka has made vast strides, Ms. Solberg praised Sri Lanka for achieving at least some of these goals. For instance, accessibility to health and education for both males and females has long been achieved in Sri Lanka. Instead, the UNSG made the startling remark that Sri Lanka needed to regain its rightful place in the region and the international community. The local media wanted to grill him on this at a media conference he held later, but his media boys called the presser off after just four questions were asked.
SDG 5 on gender equality; SDG 7 on affordable and clean energy; SDG 13 on climate change; SDG 14 on conservation of the oceans: SDG 16 on peace and justice – these are some of the UN’s priorities for a better world. These SDGs are a bi-product of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that did not meet their full potential by their target date in 2015. The SDGs now target 2030 but the UN’s call for international co-operation in achieving these goals unfortunately fall flat when bigger nations simply ignore them for their “national interest.” For example, take the rape of the marine resources in the Palk Strait and the Gulf of Mannar by Indian fishermen. It’s a classic instance of the world community, including the UN maintaining a deafening silence when the big nations are in the wrong.
“The 17 SDGs are inter-connected and many of them require cooperation across international borders – that means we will fail or succeed together,” said the Norwegian PM, Co-chair of the UN SDGs advisory group. “In many areas, business as usual will not do,” she added for good measure and referred to her country cooperating in fisheries (SDG 14 deals with the sustainable use of marine resources).
But look at the sheer hypocrisy in international cooperation. The illegal, fishing practices (IUU) adopted by the Indians continue unabated, filling the Treasury coffers of the Tamil Nadu state Government and lining the pockets of the state’s businessmen or politicians with exports to the European Union (EU). In the meantime, the EU takes a holistic view on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) practices against Sri Lankan fishermen and red cards imports from Sri Lanka. It preaches and has its plate full at the same time.
This is why the UN’s otherwise noble goals are often unachievable and of mere academic interest to countries that need its help most. These SDGs refer to children needing schools and childbirth issues, poverty and health, when countries like Syria and much of West Asia, Yemen and parts of Africa are living hells due to wars triggered by the West’s agenda. Tax havens overseas, especially in the West, allow corrupt politicians and third-world tax dodgers who have creamed the fat off their land to stack their loot in their banks and bolster their economies. The UN has been widely blamed for ‘standing and watching’, doing little or nothing while talking of MDGs and SDGs.
While Sri Lanka’s public and private sector embrace the UN’s SDGs, even the UNSG Ban-Ki moon conceded how “hollow” the UN’s grandiloquence can be when the world is at war. And of course, so too, as long as double standards of the West dominate the world order.
Whither strategic studies
While the United Nations Secretary General was speaking in Colombo on peace and the UN’s goals for a better socio-economic-political world, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was delivering the keynote address in Singapore on the Global Power Transition in the Indian Ocean organized by several think-tanks across Asia (See ST2 cover page for his speech). This was an important event organized by think-tanks from the Asia-Pacific region, co-hosted by India and Singapore with the 2017 edition to be held in Colombo.
Sirima Bandaranaike’s proposal at the UN General Assembly in 1971 was for an Indian Ocean Zone of Peace. It was an idealist proposal – an illusion. Today, India is interested in revisiting this proposal given the burgeoning Chinese naval presence in these waters and the interest shown by many competing fleets, mainly the United States and Japan. But still, there are no takers.
PM Wickremesinghe took the opportunity to outline Sri Lanka’s pivotal position in this lively Ocean and its balancing line between India, China and Western interests. In his keynote address, he called for an “Indian Ocean Order” with accepted rules to guide interactions between states and having the primary responsibility of upholding the freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean. He said it should be built on a consensual agreement with no singular state dominating.
This week, the Colombo Defence Seminar was also significant. Though the credentials of some of the foreign speakers were questionable, the topic “Soft Power and Influence on Global issues” was relevant. Soft power is the persuasive approach to international relations through economic and cultural influence. This is in vogue in world affairs where there are no wars (hard power). In November, the Galle Dialogue, an initiative of the former Defence Secretary for fostering strategic maritime partnerships will be held.
These military-strategic studies are a sine quo non for a country like Sri Lanka given our geographic location, buffeted by the ‘soft power’ of competing world powers. How the country’s leaders handle the delicate winds of change will be of the essence.
The Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS) was strategized by the former Foreign Minister in whose name the former Institute of Strategic Studies was re-named after his assassination, for this very purpose. The LKIIRSS, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has however lost its way, falling way short of what was expected of it.
According to the Act that established the LKIIRSS, it was to be a multi-disciplinary research institute dedicated to the study of the strategic interests of Sri Lanka, providing information and data to the Government in relation to issues which may be required as a basis for the formulation and structuring of national policies. How much of the Prime Minister’s keynote address in Singapore had the input of the LKIIRSS? A safe guess would be, nil. Holding workshops and guest speakers or yanking foreign VIPs from the beach when on a private vacation and asking them to deliver memorial lectures is far from what the LKIIRSS is expected to do. In the meantime, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Defence have set up a parallel Institute of National Security Studies. The more think-tanks the merrier one should think, but merrier for whom is the question, if it is not for the benefit of the Government and the country.
This story was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka