March 2021 marks a year since the World Health Organization announced that the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 had turned into a pandemic. Despite the highly negative socioeconomic consequences it had for the international community, the U.S.-led countries of the North did not alter their course to prevent the UN General Assembly from adopting resolutions (14 in total) aimed to ensure sustainable development and stable peace and to counter the use of unilateral financial measures, which remain intact and intended to curtail the international community’s efforts to guarantee the right to development and a decent life. Since resolutions are adopted by majority vote of all the UN member states (193), the efforts of the Global North prove futile, anyway. The article explores the stances of states when voting on the resolutions of the UN General Assembly pertinent to the issues discussed in this piece.
Promoting Sustainable Development and Stable Peace
In the context of global economic inequality, the North–South dichotomy is a conflict of interests between industrially developed and developing nations. The conflict has to do with the expanding gap in socioeconomic and cultural development between the “rich” countries of the North and the “poor” countries of the South. According to the UN, the number of people living in extreme poverty shrank from 36% in 1990 to 10% in 2015. However, owing to the coronavirus pandemic, the pace of the changes is slowing down and the world is running the risk of nullifying the decades-worth of progress in combating poverty.
The gap in capital distribution, income and quality of life brings about socioeconomic and political upheavals worldwide, which is a challenge to security and to the stability of the global economy.
Since the early 21st century, the international community has made serious efforts to counter the North–South dichotomy and eliminate the consequences of global inequality.
For instance, on September 8, 2000, the Millennium Summit adopted a Declaration that included a roadmap up to 2015. The document contained eight goals, 18 objectives, and 48 indicators for measuring the achievement of the so-called Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The UN Sustainable Development Summit of September 25–27, 2015 unanimously approved the Sustainable Development Agenda. The document‒called “Transforming our World: The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda” and unofficially dubbed “Sustainable Development Goals”, or the SDGs‒contains a set of goals (17 in total) for international cooperation in global development. Part of the implementation of the Global Agenda, it went into effect on January 1, 2016.
However, from 2016 onwards, the United States, the European Union and their satellites, including Ukraine, started voting against the adoption of the resolution “Sustainable Development: Implementation of Agenda 21, the Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21 and the outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development and of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development”—something previously adopted without voting. In 2019, most opponents, with the exception of the United States and Israel, “abstained.”
The vote on the fundamental resolution “The Right to Development” showed a certain split among the countries of the North. However, the backbone of the “rich” Western European nations and the United States (as well as Ukraine, which sided with them) invariably cast their vote “against” the motion. Voting on such resolutions as “Implementation of the Recommendations Contained in the Report of the Secretary-General on the Causes of Conflict and the Promotion of Durable Peace and Sustainable Development in Africa” and “New Partnership for Africa’s Development: Progress in Implementation and International Support” showed differences in opinions as well.
The European Union member states and Ukraine support the United States in voting against the resolution “Promotion of Peace as a Vital Requirement for the Full Enjoyment of All Human Rights by All,” which, among other things, stresses that the ever-increasing gap between the developed and the developing worlds poses a major threat to global prosperity, peace and security, and stability. A similar situation happened with the resolution “Eradicating Rural Poverty to Implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”
We should also note that the U.S. stance under the Trump Administration changed radically‒and this position was supported by Israel only, as well as by Libya in one instance‒when voting on the following UN General Assembly resolutions:
- “The Right to Food” (in 2009–2016, the resolution was adopted without voting; the United States and Israel have voted against it since 2017).
- “Global Health and Foreign Policy: Strengthening Health System Resilience through Affordable Health Care for All” (in 2008–2017, the resolution was adopted without voting; in 2018, the United States and Libya voted against it; in 2019, it was adopted without voting; in 2020, the United States alone voted against it).
- “International Financial System and Development” (in 2000–2016, the resolution was adopted without voting; in 2017, the United States and Israel voted against it; in 2018–2019, the United States alone voted against it).
- “International Trade and Development” (in 2011–2016, the resolution was adopted without voting; in 2017 and 2020, the United States and Israel voted against it; in 2018 and 2019, the United States alone voted against it).
- “Commodities” (in 2004–2015, the resolution was adopted without voting every two years; in 2017, the United States and Israel voted against it; in 2019, the United States alone voted against it).
Use of Unilateral Financial and Economic Measures
Global economic inequality along the provisional “North–South” confrontation axis was particularly evident during the pandemic, when the effect of sanctions acquired the scale of an emergency (Venezuela, Iran).
In order to help the international community overcome the consequences of the coronavirus, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres addressed the heads of the G20 member states at the very outset of the pandemic (March 25, 2020), calling for them to lift their sanctions so that states would have access to food, essential goods and medical aid in combating COVID-19. Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for easing sanctions against states combating COVID-19. Restrictive measures can hinder the effective response to the pandemic, which will inevitably have a negative impact on other states. The United Nations and the international community have placed overcoming the pandemic and its consequences at the top of their agenda.
At an extraordinary G20 Summit on March 26, 2020, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin proposed introducing green corridors free from trade wars and sanctions and open primarily for essential goods, food, medicines, personal protection equipment needed precisely to combat the pandemic. On the same day, the eight states currently under restrictive measures, specifically Russia, Venezuela, Iran, China, North Korea, Cuba, Nicaragua and Syria, sent a letter to Antonio Guterres on the negative impact the sanctions were having on the human rights agenda and economic growth.
On April 3, 2020, Alena Douhan, UN Special Rapporteur on the Negative Impact of the Unilateral Coercive Measures on the Enjoyment of Human Rights, called for lifting or at least suspending sanctions amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In her opinion, unilateral measures adopted in circumvention of the UN Security Council affect economic, social and civil rights and, most importantly, the right to development. The pandemic has obviously resulted in unemployment, bankruptcy of some economic sectors and falling incomes, thus exacerbating the negative effect of unilateral economic restrictions. The sanctions policy hinders the recovery of markets and the global economy, which has a knock-on effect on the development of emerging markets.
Despite calls from the United Nations, the countries of the North do not deem it necessary to change their sanctions policies. In December 2020, the United States, the European Union and the few states that joined their ranks, including Ukraine, voted against the Human Rights and Unilateral Coercive Measures resolution that calls, among other things, for ceasing the use of essential goods as a tool of political coercion, especially in the context of global healthcare problems, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the same time, the United States and the European Union typically vote differently on the resolution “Unilateral Economic Measures as a Means of Political and Economic Coercion against Developing Countries” since 2001, the EU countries have abstained from voting, while the United States and Israel have voted against it. However, when voting on the resolution “Toward a New International Economic Order” (a supplement to the existing resolution on the “International Financial System and Development”), where the General Assembly calls for an international order based on the principles of “sovereign equality, interdependence, common interest, cooperation, and solidarity among all States” and also recommends that states “refrain from promulgating and applying any unilateral economic, financial or trade measures,” the EU and their satellite states, including Ukraine, support the United States and vote against such motions.
Russia and the Sustainable Development Goals
Russia supports the adoption of the above-listed resolutions of the UN General Assembly and actively promotes development goals, both by incorporating them in its national projects and strategic development planning and by giving other countries access to financial resources. Over the last two years, Russia has provided humanitarian aid to 21 states in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa, over USD 25 million worth in total. Interest in providing international aid has only increased amid the pandemic: Russia provided anti-coronavirus aid in the form of medical equipment and products, personal protection equipment and medical ventilators to more than 20 states.
On March 17, 2020, the Government of the Russian Federation approved the Priority Action Plan for Ensuring Sustainable Economic Development in Conditions Exacerbated by the Spread of COVID-19, which is aimed at achieving the SDGs nationally. The anti-crisis plan provides for the following measures: provision of essential goods; support for economic sectors in the risk zone; support for small- and medium-sized enterprises; and general system-wide measures (establishing a guarantee fund for restructuring loans to companies affected by the worsening situation as a result of the spread of COVID‑19; compiling a list of backbone enterprises in the Russian economy; and operational monitoring of the financial and economic state of backbone organizations).
Currently, the SDGs in Russia are integrated into national projects and other strategic and program documents, such as the Food Security Doctrine of the Russian Federation, as well as state programmes, such as “Development of Education,” “Accessible Environment,” “Promoting Employment” and “Comprehensive Development of Rural Territories.” In 2020, twelve national projects as well as the Comprehensive Plan for Modernization and Expansion of the Trunk Infrastructure cover 107 out of 169 objectives set forth by the UN.
From our partner RIAC