David Miliband laments the West’s divisive approach to tackling global crises
NEXT WEEK Britain and France will convene major international conferences. The first, in London, will seek to drum up support for Ukraine. The second, in Paris, will focus on international financing for countries and communities affected by extreme poverty and climate change. The risk is that far from bringing the world together, the conferences will further divide it. The war in Ukraine has united the West for a vast effort: economic, military and humanitarian aid to the country so far exceeds $150bnthe majority of which has come from Americaand this does not count the support for 8m Ukrainian refugees in Europe. There are good reasons for this effort. The invasion by Russia is a gross violation of international law, as is its targeting of civilian infrastructure. It is no exaggeration to say that the future of the international order is on the line in the outcome of this conflict. But the scale of the Western response in Ukraine serves to accentuate the failure to step up in the face of other global crises. The danger is that this gap grows, and the deficit of trust between the West and rest grows too. Worse still, it would grow at a time of increasing global challenges, exemplified by the 20% jump in the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide in 2022, to an all-time high of 110m, as just announced by UNHCR. Even before covid-19, the world was massively off track in achieving the UNs Sustainable Development Goals. In 2018 four out of five fragile and conflict-ridden states were failing on SDG measures. Since then, as a result of protracted conflicts, the climate crisis and the pandemic, matters have only worsened. The UN reports that 340m people today are in humanitarian need, compared with 81m ten years ago. The global economic consequences of covid and the war in Ukrainemost notably higher interest rates to curb inflationwill exacerbate existing problems. According to the UN Development Programme, 25 developing countries are spending over 20% of government revenues on debt-servicing. These growing needs, and the failure adequately to address them, are the context for global division over Ukraine. Few countries defend the invasion, but many believe the West is not a reliable friend. Nearly two-thirds of the worlds population live in countries that are officially neutral or supportive of Russia. These include several notable democracies, such as Brazil, India, Indonesia and South Africa. This trust deficit has roots in the failure to manage globalisation in a way that is fair. Three sets of issues need to be addressed. First, there is a desperate need for more equity in managing global risks. Pandemics are a good example, because unequal access to covid vaccines was emblematic of the Wests empty promises. So is support for refugees, most of whom are in poor countries. In both cases, crises are leading to greater inequality, as richer countries look after themselves and poorer countries bear the greatest burden. It is the climate crisis that presents the greatest test of the sincerity of Western solidarity with the rest of the world. Rich countries need to spend trillions of dollars to decarbonise their economies, but they should also do much more to support low-carbon development and climate-change adaptation in poor countries. For example, Somalia is receiving less than $1 per person per year on climate adaptation, despite being on the frontline of climate change. International financial institutions have a vital role to play. There is a finance gap: for example, only 5% of World Bank climate finance has gone to the ten most climate-vulnerable countries. There is also a delivery gap. In fragile and conflict-plagued states, the usual model of grants and loans to governments needs to be supplemented by new arrangements that allow for communities in which government is absent, or mired in conflict, to access international finance. As the major shareholders in multilateral institutions, Western countries need to work harder to advance these reforms. The second set of issues concerns the lack of influence that developing countries have over international institutions. Many countries rightly resent the unbalanced nature of global power in the main institutions. One egregious example is that the European Union enjoys observer status at the G20, but the African Union, representing over a billion people, does not. Harder to fix is the balance of power within the UN Security Council, and between the Security Council and the UN General Assembly. Finally, narrative matters. The preferred Western framing of the war in Ukraineas an emblem of the contest between democracy and autocracyhas not been an effective recruiting sergeant. Although it is true that Ukrainians are fighting for their democracy as well as their sovereignty, for the rest of the world the invasion primarily represents a fundamental transgression of international law. While democracy is under assault in numerous parts of the free world, the greatest danger is impunity running rampant across the international system. Western governments should reframe the Ukraine conflict as one between rule of law and impunity, or between law and anarchy, rather than one that pits democracy against autocracy. Doing this would correctly place the Ukraine war among a range of other global issues where imbalance of power is leading to impunity. It would broaden the potential coalition of support. And it would test China at its weakest point, because China claims to support a rules-based international system. Framing global challenges in terms of impunity versus accountability captures far more accurately than the democracy-autocracy dualism the multi-dimensional nature of the abuse of power in the international system. The global order is changing, and checks on the abuse of powerso-called countervailing powerneed to be strengthened in a range of contexts, democratic and autocratic. The war in Europe matters a lot. But the transatlantic alliance needs to show that it understands that the war is just one of a series of global challenges, and it must step up to the others too. _______________ David Miliband is the president and chief executive of the International Rescue Committee. He was the British foreign secretary from 2007 to 2010.