“The problem is much wider than President Donald Trump but his poor leadership is aggravating the problem.” That was the concern expressed by the Chair of The Elders, Mary Robinson, as the group highlighted their concerns around the erosion of multilateralism during a visit to the United Nations (UN).
Robinson, who was joined by Liberia’s former President Ellen John Sirleaf, warned against isolationism and populism that seeks to undermine efforts around Climate Change, non-proliferation and the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies.
Sirleaf joined the international group of Elder Statesmen earlier this year; first conceived by former President Nelson Mandela in 2007. After a meeting with the UN Secretary General she warned of serious impediments that seek to undermine the global consensus.
Sirleaf says, “In the area of multilateralism, the populism that’s spreading around and what this is doing to partnerships and to support for countries for the mutually of benefit that has resulted from those partnerships now seem to be weakening because countries are withdrawing and becoming isolationist in some of their policies. This once again is something that everyone ought to see the value of continuing with the global partnerships that have brought all the countries, poor and rich to the place where we have common standards, we have common objectives and agendas.”
Robinson, herself a former President of Ireland and the first woman to hold that position talked about their role in defending multilateralism in the face of increased populist, isolationist and nationalistic postures from some.
She says, “People are more fearful of change, there’s no doubt, they’re fearful of change because of automation, job loss, there’s a sense that globalization contributed to this and how did that happen, and so that is an issue and all of this has led to a bumpy period that goes beyond President Trump but he certainly has made his negative contribution to that and I think part of it is the habit of tweeting, it’s destabilizing.”
The United States’ withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal, the Paris Climate Change Agreement, the Arms Trade Treaty, its decision on Jerusalem and refugees among others has left its mark on the international rules-based system.
Robinson says, “The problem is much wider than President Trump, there’s no doubt about that but his poor leadership is aggravating the problem. The problem is populism, it is a sense of countries putting the country first in an isolationist, nationalistic way, it’s happening in Europe, especially eastern Europe, it’s happening in Latin America – Brazil and other countries, it’s a much more global phenomenon. But when you had the United States strongly supporting multilateralism, strongly supporting the way in which the global issues would be dealt with in a partnership-sharing solidarity way, that made a huge difference.”
They called for nuclear proliferation to receive the same level of global attention as Climate Change, warning that the world was closer to the doomsday clock than ever before, and the role of the youth identified as key.
Johnson-Sirleaf says, “As much as one knows that the great powers have the big say and the big push, but I think that the dynamics for leadership is really coming at the bottom now with the young people and the young engaged activists all over the world.”
The Elders are an independent group of global leaders working together for peace, justice and human rights and counts among its member, as deputy Chair, former South African and Mozambican First Lady Graca Machel.