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International Law

Reimagining the contours of “Common Heritage of Mankind” vis-à-vis right to Health

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Authors: Manini Syali and Vinayak Jhamb*

In the recent meeting of G20, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for sharing medical research freely and openly between nation states for the development of mankind. This raises interesting questions with respect to re-assessing the existing contours of the Common Heritage Mankind principle (CHM), commonly applied in the context of natural resources. This become important especially in the present context when the entire mankind, as a single unit, is facing an unprecedented challenge in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought forth unprecedented challenges before the world community and not even a single nation state has remained out of reach of the damage and adverse impacts it can cause. Moreover, it would not be wrong to equate the magnitude of this contagious spread with the two World Wars which the world had the misfortune to witness.

It is also a well-established fact that due to historical as well as socio-economic reasons not all nation states are at an equal footing when it comes to infrastructural development. This in the present context becomes extremely important and places a burden on the developed states to share the health care resources they possess with the other less resourceful countries. It is pertinent to note that an appeal in this regard was also made by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at the recent G20 meeting, for utilizing and sharing medical research freely and equally between nation states for the benefit of the entire mankind.

Countries have started working in this direction and the United States has already announced financial assistance of 174 million USD to 64 countries, for effectively fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Out of this amount, 2.9 million USD is being offered to the Indian government for preparing laboratories, activating case findings and conducting event-based surveillance.

This call made to the World Community to operate as a unified whole for disease eradication is not new and also gets reflected in the goals and purposes for which the World Health Organization was established. Moreover, the nomenclature used for the organization clearly signifies that the focus was on looking at health as a global agenda which goes beyond artificially constructed sovereign borders. Despite existence of a specialized United Nations agency and acknowledgement of right to health as a primary human right by virtue of Article 12, International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, there remains a disparity between the world population when it comes to accessibility of health care facilities.

 Moreover, the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and public health is a good example which can substantiate the above discussed proposition. The Declaration attempted to reconcile the existing conflicts between Trade Law and Right to Health and also responded to the concerns of developing countries about the obstacles they faced when seeking to implement measures to promote access to affordable medicines in the interest of public health in general. This demonstrates that Health Related rights stand in conflict with parallelly operating legal regime, namely, International Trade Law. The focus of the Declaration remained on the following health related aspects of TRIPS: Compulsory Licensing, Parallel Imports and the Transition Period for Least Developed Countries. Despite existence of such an exhaustive legal regime, health care remains far from becoming universally available. The present article, thus, attempts to analyze whether the scope of health related rights need to be expanded beyond the already existing legal frameworks and whether international law doctrine of common heritage of mankind can encompass universal health care and related aspects.

Common Heritage of Mankind and Healthcare

The term “Common Heritage of Mankind” is a comprehensible term which needs to be explored completely. The fundamental premise of this concept entails the principle of equity in the real sense of the term. It states that all the resources available in different geographical set ups have to be adequately allocated amongst the world population with utmost precision and parity. However, the concept has never been followed strictusensu at the international forefront. It is absolutely unimaginable to think that all the nation-states sharing the global resources equitably. But, one of the major lacunas highlighted by the authors is the lack of considering “health resource” as an intrinsic part of Common Heritage of Mankind. The scholars across the globe have turned a blind eye to this issue since time immemorial. They claim that once this first generation human right enters into the domain of “common heritage of mankind”, it would essentially open up a Pandora box as the first generation human rights of “right to life” which has been enshrined in the International Convention on civil and political rights”. The sanctity of the binding nature of the Convention is beyond debate ,thus, formulating right to health as one of the unmoving legal principles at the international forefront is a herculean task.

Concrete and Express Recognition of Right to Health

This does not mean that the international community has been absolutely oblivious of this issue. However, their efforts have only helped in unifying right to health as a directory measure at the international forefront. The lack of concrete steps in this regard still haunts the international legal regime. The authors under this piece are trying to put across a question in front of the world about the need of having a specific regulation reconsidering the right to health as a valuable resource. The domestic legal regimes very well have their set of standard operating procedures vis-à-vis this issue but the vacuum at the international level still persists.There have been times wherein the expanding contours of trade and commerce have sabotaged public health crisis which is akin to a quagmire of innumerable problems which have no definite solutions. Public health is one of those invaluable assets which have to percolate at every level of governance. So, adequate steps need to be taken in this regard and this can only be done with the co-jointed efforts of the international community members and the civil societies operating independent of any governmental control.

Unprecedented Times call for Unprecedented measures

The contemporary crisis which has taken a vice grip of everyone across the globe has opened up our narrow minds. The problem of Corona Virus which has become an intrinsic matter of discussion in every household across the world today is increasing exponentially. This emanated from a small town of China named as Wuhan and spread like a wildfire across the globe is highly uncalled for. The plight of Italy, Spain, USA and Iran cannot be attributed apt words. The entire globe is facing an existential crisis because the governments have always lived in delirium and never abided by the principle of “Prevention is better than cure”. India also is facing the brunt of this virus with more than 1200 positive cases registered by the Indian Council of Medical research in consonance with the Health Ministry of India. So, the problem which perpetuated in China is taking a toll on all of us out there. But, at this juncture, the authors want to pose a question to the world- All those medical equipments and technologies which the countries are intending to import, should they not be readily available without any charges in such times of need? Or will excessive imports by these needful countries not disturb their Balance of Payment fulcrum? These questions might have their roots embedded in the economic realms but have a specific legal tangent attached to them.

But, the authors just intend to highlight the immediate need of having health as a specific resource which can comfortably fall under the domain of “Common Heritage of Mankind”. If the news agencies are to be believed, China has promised to help the other countries in distress, but then a thought pops up about the existence of IPR issues while sharing the requisite vaccine? Or what shall be the opportunity cost which China shall ask for in this process? These questions are popping up time and again in our minds and the authors are absolutely not familiar with any concrete solution other than making public health a resource under the common heritage of mankind.

Conclusion

Though it has been rightly said by Robert Merton that “It is good to ask questions but it is always better to find solutions to those questions”, but such complex set of questions cannot be answered in one go. They need proper analysis of the problem and then only certain concrete measures could be thought of. The idea behind writing this piece was to ignite the spirit of research in establishing the inter-relationship between the commonly found concept of “common heritage of mankind” and right to health as a resource. It would be highly falsified on our parts if we bombard the readers with a special set of suggestions because the cost-benefit analysis of each of those suggestions is varied and comprehensive. Thus, the authors have left the door ajar so that the readers are able to familiarize with the given set of problems which are staring us and then accordingly ponder about the need of expanding the contours of “Common heritage of mankind”.

*Vinayak Jhamb is a Research Scholar at University School of Law and Legal Studies, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi

Manini Syali is a Research Scholar at University School of Law and Legal Studies, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi.

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Will COPUOS five-year mission produce a new “international governance instrument” for outer space resources?

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Introduction

During its 2022 session, the Legal Subcommittee (LSC) of the United Nation’s Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) created a Working Group on the Legal Aspects of Space Resource Activity and gave it a five-year mandate to gather information, study the current legal framework, and “assess the benefits of further development of a framework for such activities, including by way of additional international governance instruments.” (emphasis added). A survey was sent to the LSC’s member states and official observers, with a response due by December 30.

Fifteen member states and five non-governmental official observers responded to the surveys. The responses were recently posted online by the United Nations Office on Outer Space Activities (UNOOSA), the parent body of COPUOS. This article will look at eight of them: three from states representing the range of international opinion, and all five of the observers, who represent part of “civil society”.

The Working Group Mandate: Address Unresolved Space Resource Issues

COPUOS-LSC gave its Working Group the following mandate (emphasis added):

The Working Group shall:

(a) Collect relevant information concerning activities in the exploration, exploitation and utilization of space resources, including with respect to scientific and technological developments and current practices, taking into account their innovative and evolving nature;

(b) Study the existing legal framework for such activities, in particular the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, and other applicable United Nations treaties, also taking into account other relevant instruments, as appropriate;

(c) Assess the benefits of further development of a framework for such activities, includingby way of additional international governance instruments;

(d) Develop a set of initial recommended principles for such activities, taking into account the need to ensure that they are carried out in accordance with international law and in a safe, sustainable, rational and peaceful manner, for the consideration of and consensus agreement by the Committee, followed by possible adoption by the General Assembly as a dedicated resolution or other action;

(e) Identify areas for further work of the Committee and recommend next steps, which may include the development of potential rules and/or norms, for activities in the exploration, exploitation and utilization of space resources, including with respect to related activities and benefit sharing.

The establishment of the Working Group and its mandate is significant. It represents a consensus acknowledgement that the Outer Space Treaty (OST) does not adequately address space resource activity and how the benefits of outer space are to be shared. It is also the first time since the 1970’s that member states of COPUOS have been willing to consider a new “international governance instrument” beyond non-binding principles and recommendations (e.g., the COPUOS long-term sustainability guidelines of 2019).

The Working Group has a five-year work plan. During initial setup in 2022, it was instructed to gather information from the members of the LSC to help establish the scope of its work. To that end, a survey was distributed to all member states and official observers, inviting a response to the following topics (emphasis added):

– The type of space resources that fall within the mandate and scope of the Working Group.

– The type of activities that fall within the mandate and scope of the Working Group.

– The type of information to be collected by the Working Group in accordance with its mandate.

– The views of States members regarding the existing legal framework for space resource activities.

– The current practices and challenges in the implementation of the existing legal framework for such activities.

– The benefits and challenges to the development of a framework for such activities.

– The relevant factors for the development of a set of initial recommended principles for such activities.

– The format, agenda, topics and other details of the dedicated conference (currently) scheduled for 2024.

Any other background or information paper, or any other views, that States members may wish to share.

Responses of Representative States: Luxembourg, Russia, and Australia

Luxembourg is a member of the European Space Agency and one of the first signers of the Artemis Accords. It is the second country (after the United States) to pass a national law authorizing its own nationals (including corporations headquartered there) to remove and take ownership of outer space resources. A sample from its response:

Luxembourg considers that the Artemis Accords, as well as the Building Blocks of the Hague Working Group, constitute a valuable contribution to the discussions in international fora, especially the UN COPUOS.

According to the Luxembourg legislator, space resources are now commonly defined as abiotic resources that are in situ in outer space and can be extracted. This notion includes, for example, mineral resources and water, but not orbital positions or frequencies.

Luxembourg ratified the Outer Space Treaty, the Liability Convention and the Registration Convention and is in the process of accessing the Rescue Agreement. Luxembourg has not signed the Moon Agreement. The international space treaties have not yet been tested with regard to the rights over resources found in space. Most of carried missions have taken place for scientific purposes. However, for the sustainability of future deep space exploration, for commercial space projects and space mining to be viable, future explorers and investors will need certainty regarding their rights to the materials they find.

It seems essential that the Working Group, especially when formulating the set of initial recommended principles, is driven by adaptive governance principle and focuses on the most pressing issues. The highest priority is the recognition of individual rights over space resources, mechanisms for avoiding harmful interference and for the establishment of safety zones.

Russia is a fully “spacefaring” country, with the capacity to launch payloads and humans into outer space and send probes to the Moon and planets. It has not signed the Artemis Accords nor passed a national law authorizing private ownership of space resources. From their response:

Space resources include celestial bodies, spaces and territories of celestial bodies, mineral resources, liquids and gases located on them, various types of radiation, orbital-frequency resource, and other objects. . . . Due to the fact that the necessary legal framework for research and study of certain types of space resources, such as solar energy and the orbital frequency resource is available or not required, it is advisable to exclude these types of resources from the scope of the Working Group while referring to them in the classification system.

An important task of the Working Group is also to develop a monitoring mechanism for activities related to the exploration and utilization of space resources, which may include:

– issues of establishing responsibility when implementing the said activities;

– monitoring compliance with established international standards regulating the extraction of space resources, as well as control over the lawfulness of such operations;

– control over the organization of licensing of activities related to the exploration, exploitation and utilization of space resources;

– an algorithm for resolving conflicts and disputes between actors engaged in the extraction and utilization of space resources, an algorithm for international consultations between states;

– a mechanism for informing the international community (including the obligation to inform the UN Secretary-General) of the nature, progress, locations, and results of such activities;

– consideration of the feasibility of establishing a special international body responsible for securing the regime of the utilization of space resources (by analogy with the ITU, the International Seabed Authority).

A space resource, even after its extraction (removal), does not lose its unique natural extraterrestrial origin, unlike a resource mined on Earth. The transformation of space resources, in particular their extraction and, as a result, the acquisition of a natural-anthropogenic nature, does not give rise to ownership of these resources. However, the national legislative initiatives of certain States vest their non-governmental persons, citizens and entities with the right to mine, appropriate, own, transport and sell the mineral resources of celestial bodies, including asteroids. But the national law of any State cannot extend to territories outside its jurisdiction.

Thus, it is necessary for the Working Group to determine a mechanism for prioritizing missions and the number of admissible missions in the light of the physical characteristics of the celestial body and to consider the issues of the avoidance of the depletion of extraterrestrial resources and conservation of the space environment, among other issues.

Australia is unique among the world’s space powers: it has ratified the Moon Agreement and signed the Artemis Accords. Steven Freeland of Australia has been named vice-chair of the Working Group (Andrzej Misztal of Poland is the chair). Here is part of its response as it tries to straddle two worlds:

Australia considers that the type of space resources and activities that fall within the mandate and scope of the Working Group may include:

– Activities contemplated by the five United Nations (UN) treaties on outer space;

– Activities and definitions contemplated by the Hague International Space Resources Governance Working Group on the Building Blocks for the Development of an International Framework on Space Resource Activities, including definitions for the terms ‘space resource’ and ‘space resource activities’;

– Activities contemplated by national agencies, including the Artemis program;

– Activities contemplated through States Members’ policies, including NASA’s Lunar Landing and Operations Policy Analysis and the European Space Agency’s Space Resources Strategy.

Australia is party to the five UN treaties on outer space and is committed to meeting its international obligations. Australia is also committed to contributing to the development of norms that ensure the long-term safety, stability and sustainability of the outer space environment. The activities of States in outer space are also guided by a number of non-binding instruments. Despite not holding the status of law, Australia recognises that these non-binding instruments indicate the intentions of signatory States as to their conduct in outer space.

Australia does not consider that Article II of the Outer Space Treaty prohibits ownership of resources extracted or removed from the Moon or other celestial bodies. However, ensuring compliance with Articles I and II of the Outer Space Treaty requires some understanding of the elements of those obligations or ways of satisfying them in the context of space resource activities, and the Working Group may like to give consideration to this issue.

In Australia’s view, the establishment of an international regime governing exploitation of the Moon’s natural resources consistently with Article 11(5) [of the Moon Agreement] would permit and facilitate space resource exploitation in a rational, safe and equitable manner, providing a means by which the exploration and use of outer space can be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries.

Response from Observers (“Civil Society”)

Six Observers responded to the survey. One of those, the European Space Agency, is an inter-governmental organization. The other five are non-profits, part of “civil society” (“any non-profit, voluntary citizens’ group which is organized on a local, national or international level”) that gives voice to stakeholders. Here is a sample of their responses, in alphabetical order:

For All Moonkind is focused almost exclusively on the preservation of historic/cultural landing sites from the early years of lunar exploration. Their position is that any resource agreement must include protection of such sites:

Culture is who we are, where we have been and where we are going. It is what shapes our identity as humans. In short, development cannot be sustainable without culture. Moreover, cultural heritage protection is a mainstay of intergenerational equity. The protection and preservation of human heritage recognizes those who came before us, protects the gains of our civilization and allows future generations to learn from both their processes and results.

As the Working Group considers the legal aspects of space resource activities, it must address the impact those activities will have on cultural heritage and use the universality of heritage to achieve consensus.

Zones could be established to manage, and hopefully prevent, conflict, starting with proposed heritage protection zones. For All Moonkind also suggests that the first Coordination Zones can be implemented immediately, to recognize and protect human heritage on other celestial bodies. We believe that international community will be more willing to reach agreement regarding the protection of a site of universal value, as opposed to the operative site of a State or private company.

The Moon Village Association is an umbrella organization that facilitates the work of many groups and individuals. Its response* highlights sharing the benefits of outer space exploration and development. Although it stopped short of calling for mandatory benefit sharing, it did call for consideration of benefit sharing at every level of decision-making:

It is the sense of this Working Group that benefit sharing as a desirable feature in the context of international and space law, is in the process of maturing into a more consequential working theme, whose consideration should be deemed mandatory at relevant legal and operational levels, in the same vein as all relevant factors reviewed in this recommendation should be considered mandatory.

This said, it is also the sense of this Working Group that no benefit sharing first principles and specific mechanisms may manifest unless access issues have been resolved in close concertation with key operators and strongly invested stakeholders.

Specific mechanisms need to be considered simultaneously to legal and operational clarification, in the context of space resources utilisation, of non-exclusionary forms of priority and property rights intended to enable investment and operations to proceed.

While remaining aware of the fact that without economic sustainability there is neither sustainability nor access to and sharing of benefits, it is nonetheless the sense of this Working Group that, without a broad and inclusive debate on measures to mitigate future inequalities that may result from lack of sufficient consideration of access and benefit sharing issues, it would become considerably more difficult to assert international legitimacy in defining above specific legal and operational mechanisms.

The National Space Society was formed in 1987 by a merger of the National Space Institute with the L-5 Society. It generally supports the private sector and discourages regulation:

Notably, there are four factors most relevant to the development of a set of initial recommended principles: 1) the mitigation of harmful impacts and interference; 2) the need for economic incentives and clarity in benefit-sharing; 3) recognition of resource rights regardless of domestic or international implementation; and 4) the dissemination of data.

First, the mitigation of harmful impacts and interference speaks to the impacts of ISRU [In Situ (in place) Resource Utilization] activities and external interference upon ISRU activities. The protection of international cultural heritage sites in outer space should be paramount regarding ISRU impacts. . . . As humanity transcends into the solar system, the protection of how we progressed is important historically, culturally, and inspirationally.

Second, the current void of governance has contributed to a lack of investment in ISRU because of uncertainty within the legal field and the calls for monetary benefit-sharing. The recommended principles should incentivize investment by clarifying that benefit-sharing ought not to be compulsory monetary benefit-sharing but rather encouragement of enabling and promoting the development of technology, capabilities, and education; particularly in developing countries. Benefit-sharing could also take the form of an international fund to assist in the above-mentioned actions and bolstering the ever-necessary UN SDGs [sustainable development guidelines]. Clarity with the intentions of benefit-sharing is likely to incentivize economic activity to develop ISRU further.

This leads into the third and fourth factors of resource rights and data dissemination. In order for ISRU to further the human experience to outer space, the right to utilization is necessary. Thus, legitimate resource rights provided through legal processes should be recognized regardless of their domestic or international implementation. This would also incentivize economic investment. Lastly, the dissemination of data related to the type and amount of resources discovered and/or extracted should be considered. This is significant because as data becomes available regarding the amount of resources in varying places, it can create clearer methods of governance.

The Open Lunar Foundation is “committed to enabling peaceful, cooperative lunar settlement for the benefit of all life.”

The recovery, exchange and use of natural resources have always been foundational to the development and maintenance of any human society. Yet history also shows that uncoordinated access can create conflict and unfettered development can grow to the detriment of people, places and intentions. As humanity seeks to establish new roots in the vastness of space, the technical, economical and legal ability to make use of available natural resources will thereby play a crucial role in determining our failure or success.

In polycentricity, a shared set of goals and institutions empowers local management by semi-autonomous decision makers. Polycentricity leverages localized synergies and deep system knowledge for high social-ecological and governance congruence. Through subsidiarity and diversity, polycentric governance enables institutional experimentation and exchange in uncertain and complex environments. In a polycentric lunar governance system, the different lunar resource systems can be managed locally and individually while conforming to universal norms and principles such as transparency, sustainability, peace, cooperation, and justice.

Create a Catalog of Scarce Resources: Not all space resources are equally accessible or exist in large quantities. Specific resources or regions may be affected by inherent conditions of scarcity, such as the “peaks of eternal light” at the lunar poles or the “radio quiet zone” on the far side of the Moon. To ensure appropriate management regimes, we recommend developing and updating a living list of resources and regions involving conditions of scarcity. States, operators and other interested stakeholders should involve themselves in this definitional process and publicly commit to recognizing and respecting the list.

Scaffolding Towards Shared Frameworks: Wishing to ensure that emerging lunar regulations truly enable a plurality of societies, parties and activities, while not over-specifying institutional structures based on past approaches, a foundational document could be adopted which focuses on guiding principles and shared agreements rather than specific resource management and coordination approaches. Such a document could emphasize commitment to peace, cooperation and accessibility while protecting the ability for adaptive learning and evolution.

The Space Generation Advisory Council submitted itsE.A.G.L.E. report from May 2021 in lieu of a specific survey response. The particulars of “Effective and Adaptive Governance for a Lunar Ecosystem” are too long to summarize (see list below). In general, it calls for a new international “charter”:

The regulatory tools devised in UNCOPUOS seemingly follow a life span of roughly 20 years. Treaties, principles, and guidelines each characterised two decades of international space diplomacy by providing a reference narrative for the community. After long reflection, we realised that the narrative of the next two decades could be captured by charters. With this term we refer to a legal document enacted to define the essential features and boundaries of a legal framework through the solemn commitment of its signatories. Examples of famous charters used in this sense include the Magna Carta Libertatum, the Charter of the United Nations and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

Suggested Topics for a Lunar Governance Charter

– Fundamental Principles of Space Law

– Guiding Principles for a Lunar Governance Charter

– Inclusiveness

– Interoperability

– Human Life Protection

– Heritage Preservation

– Science / Business Balance

– The Use of Lunar Resources

– Safety Zones

– Liability & Registration

– Minimum Coordination

– Conflict Resolution

At the E.A.G.L.E. Team, we value the ability to unite and converge above everything else. When we set foot to initiate the development of this document, our main goal was to provide a contribution that could simultaneously increase the value of all others by providing them with meaningful opportunities to be expressed. We wanted to inspire global actors and catalyse international discussions on the exploration and use of the Moon. With this purpose in mind, we birthed the idea of a Lunar Governance Charter as a shared narrative that could frame the global debate on lunar governance within pragmatic but also idealistic terms. Structured in the way presented in Section 3, we believe that a Lunar Governance Charter could constitute a useful reference framework for the evolution of adaptive governance.

Conclusion

The responses from member states and observers show a wide spectrum of opinion concerning “additional international governance instruments”. Some do not want any additional rules unless they confirm private property rights and protect space resource activities. Others would require any space resource activity to be approved by an international authority, like the International Seabed Authority in the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas. In between are those who do not want a new authority but do want a new international agreement that will protect essential public policies while providing legal support for private activity. That agreement might be a stand-alone treaty, like the other UN space treaties, or it might be part of the Moon Agreement as an Article 11 resource agreement.

There is also a spectrum concerning what public policies should be protected. Most would agree on protecting heritage sites, but does that include every track mark by every rover? To what extent do we share information and technology? As for protecting activities, how can safety zones or priority rights be structured so that they are not prohibited exclusive claims? In general, how can we maximize sharing the benefits of outer space while still establishing mechanisms that promote economic sustainability?

The next five years may well produce a new international agreement that will guide the nations of Earth as we begin to leave the home world. Without one, we might repeat the mistakes of the Age of Imperialism, when powerful countries battled for control of distant resources, causing centuries of war, suffering, and neglect. Humanity has a chance to start over, and the new COPUOS working group might be the best vehicle for doing so. For this year’s meeting dates and other information about COPUOS and the Legal Subcommittee, click here.

* MVA’s response was primarily written by Suyan Christina Malhadas and the Space Law and Policy Research Group of the Catholic University of Santos, Brazil, with contributions from members of MVA’s Adaptive Governance Working Group, including this author.

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Shaping a 21st-century world order amounts to a patchwork

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What do Moroccan arms sales to Ukraine, a transnational Russian Iranian transit corridor, and US assistance in developing a Saudi national strategy have in common?

Together with this week’s Russian-Iranian financial messaging agreement and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s December visit to Saudi Arabia, they are smaller and bigger fragments of a 21st-century world order in the making that is likely to be bi-polar and populated by multiple middle powers with significant agency and enhanced hedging capabilities.

So is the competition between rival US and Chinese technologies for which the jury is still out.

For the two likely dominant powers, the United States and China, the building blocks are efforts to line up their ducks in a bipolar world.

For Russia, they involve hanging on to its pre-Ukraine war status, in part by deploying its Wagner Group mercenaries to the Sahel; devising ways to circumvent sanctions; and hoping that time will work in its favour in what was supposed to be a blitzkrieg but has turned into a drawn-out slugging match.

For middle powers, the name of the game is carving out their own space, leveraging their enhanced influence, and seeking advantage where they can.

The result is that weaving the 21st century’s tapestry amounts to a patchwork in which some fragments will have long-term effects while others may not even register as a blip on the radar.

Take, for example, Morocco’s decision to give Ukraine some 20 refurbished Russian-made T-72B battle tanks. The deal made Morocco the first African, if not the first Global South nation, to militarily aid Ukraine.

The move, almost a year into the Ukraine war, is likely to have been motivated by short-term considerations, including Russia’s close ties to Morocco’s arch-rival Algeria and US recognition of Morocco’s claim to the formerly Spanish Western Sahara, rather than long-term 21st-century world order considerations.

Even so, Morocco’s breaking ranks with much of the Global South serves the US goal of sustaining the current world order in which it is the top dog, even if its power diminishes.

It doesn’t fundamentally affect China’s goal of rebalancing power in the existing order to ensure that it is bi- rather than unipolar.

The loser in the deal is Russia, which, like Iran, wants to see a new world order in which the United States is cut down to size.

The tank deal may not be a significant loss for Russia, but it does suggest that horse trading is a critical element in weaving the fabric of a new order.

So is mutual interest.

Like the arms sale, the agreement between Russia and Iran to create a financial messaging system that would allow their banks to transfer funds between one another and evade sanctions that block their access to the global SWIFT system is unlikely to have a major impact on the structure of the new world order.

Russian and Iranian efforts to link Europe with the Indian Ocean, centred on 3,000 kilometres of rail and sea and river shipping, are potentially far more significant.

The transport corridor would help reshape trade and supply networks in a world that seems set to divvy up into rival blocs. Moreover, it could shield Russia and Iran from US and European sanctions as they forge closer economic ties with fast-growing economies in Asia.

Russia and Iran are not just looking at India, which sits at one extreme of the corridor.

They also expect to capitalise on their links to China. All three are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), and China and Iran are close to becoming members of the Russia-dominated Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) free trade zone.

Of a similar potential impact on a future world order is US assistance in Saudi Arabia’s development of a first-time-ever long-term vision for the kingdom’s national security, an essential building block in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s effort to modernize his military.

Saudi Arabia expects to disclose its strategy later this year. It would codify “the kingdom’s strategic vision for national security and regional security,” according to Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, the top commander of US forces in the Middle East, who is advising his Saudi counterparts.

Shaping Saudi strategy as well as military modernization may be the United States’ best bet to imbue at least some of its values and complicate the establishment of similar defense ties with China or Russia. Moreover, it would enhance the kingdom’s ability to absorb and utilize US weapons systems.

“The Saudis, under MBS’s (Mohammed bin Salman’s) leadership, now recognize (their) deficiencies and seem, for the first time, determined to address them in partnership with the United States and to a degree with the United Kingdom,” said political-military analyst and former Pentagon official Bilal Y. Saab.

That will undoubtedly register on the geopolitical chessboard, even if small moves also count for something.

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Undemocratic United Nations and Global Peace

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War is not the solution to any problem rather war is a problem itself. Many countries believe in diplomacy and peaceful means of problem-solving and conflict resolution. But, unfortunately, many nations still seek solutions of problems and continuity of politics in wars.

If we look at any newspaper, we find too many armed conflicts going on around the globe. To name a few would include a catastrophic war between Russian Federation and Ukraine which has caused tens of thousands of casualties, with millions displaced. Decades-long civil wars and subsequent US-led NATO intervention and withdrawal has brought Afghanistan to the brink of famine and hunger. The whole Middle Eastern region is unstable and striving with civil wars for long. The Arab -Israel conflict and Kashmir Dispute have been there for more than seven decades.

Above-mentioned and many others examples of armed conflicts prove that there is no durable peace in the world. Here one thing that needs to be noted is that conflict is always inevitable among individuals, societies and nations, because the interests of individuals, societies and nations do not always converge. When there is divergence of interests, conflict arises.

What is needed to be done is the resolution of these conflicts. There are two ways to resolve conflicts: one is violent way (use of force) and the other is peaceful way (diplomacy and negotiations). More than seven decades ago, after World War 2, nations realized that war is not solution to any problem and they established United Nations Organization (UNO). Primary objective of UN was and is the maintenance of peace and security in the world.

But, if we look at history, it seems the UN has failed to achieve international peace and security. UN may have had role in preventing the outbreak of another world war, but it could not stop a series of conflicts from Korea, Vietnam to Afghanistan (during Cold War), and from Africa, Middle East to ongoing Russian-Ukraine conflict.

This is a question mark on the credibility of UN, that why the UN despite being guardian of international peace and security cannot stop wars.

UN has six principal organs and many Specialized Agencies and Funds for different tasks.  Among them Security Council is the most powerful Organ and is mandated with enforcing international peace and security. UNSC uses two tools to enforce its decisions, one is applications of sanctions and the other is use of force (intervention).

However the concentration of power in the hands of five permanent states of Security Council, namely the United States, United Kingdom, France, China and Russia have been problematic. These five countries use veto power whenever they perceive any resolution to be against their national interest or against the interests of their allies. Throughout the Cold War, US and USSR had paralyzed UN by vetoing resolutions. Same happened with any other conflict including when US drafted a resolution to stop the war in Ukraine.

So, it is crystal clear that if UN (specifically Security Council) is not reformed, UN can not achieve its primary goal i.e. maintenance of peace and security. UN members and experts have talked about reform in Security Council. Experts have also given suggestions and proposals to make UN more democratic and representative. One of those proposals is abandoning veto and doubling the size of SC members. This can make UN more democratic and representative to some extent. But this is not an easy job. Firstly, because P5 are reluctant to abandon this privileged position (veto power). Secondly, countries hoping for permanent membership are opposed by other countries. For example, many European countries object Germany’s membership. Pakistan objects to India’s membership.

 Experts believe the solutions could be the democratization of UN system (particularly UNSC). This is done by involving General Assembly in the decision making regarding international peace and security. General Assembly is a symbol of democracy, representing almost all the states on the globe. Simple or two-third majority must be mandatory to make any decision regarding international peace and security. This could stop any powerful state to use UN as a tool for its own vested national interest , and the decision of majority will prevail. All the states, big and small, powerful and weak will have equal say in the UN. Otherwise the possibility of wars, violence, genocide and injustice will further increase.

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