• by David M. Malone
  • RECTOR, UNITED NATIONS UNIVERSITY, UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL, THE UNITED NATIONS

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For 75 years, the United Nations has been the principal international forum for inclusive discussion of global challenges.

But we cannot be sure that the U.N. will endure another 75 years — or even another 25. Worryingly, several great powers are behaving in increasingly reckless ways.

Japan’s long-term prosperity hinges on continued global stability. Indeed, without stable international relations, we are all at risk. Nationalism, military adventurism, and clashing geostrategic visions undermine our security and sense of well-being, causing us to worry about the future of younger generations more than we did 30 years ago when the Cold War ended.

The U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which many in Japan identify with, offer hope for the future. But too often, the SDGs are used as a mere branding opportunity, without enough practical steps toward their core objective to “leave no one behind” and combat climate change. What the world needs is concrete action.

As a reminder of Japan’s valuable global initiatives of the past, let us recall the immediate post-Cold War period when new ways of spreading security and prosperity were being crafted. The Nordic countries, the U.K., and Canada (my own country), among others, developed a concept of “human security” centered on individuals rather than states.

Japan supported this concept through international advocacy by the late and much-missed Sadako Ogata — and the international commission she co-chaired with the great Indian economist Amartya Sen — emphasizing that global economic development must lift populations well beyond the basics of survival.

Looking forward, Japan can intensify its support for global development by sharing insights from its own admirable universal health care system, which has done so much to keep Japan’s residents among the healthiest and longest-lived in the world, including during the coronavirus pandemic. Do inhabitants of less prosperous countries deserve less? And what are we, individually and collectively, specifically doing to support such progress?

These exciting, though uncomfortable, questions force us to acknowledge the dismal living conditions endured by billions. A high level of national comfort and security is admirable. Still, in the face of growing global challenges to security, development, and environmental sustainability unmet by adequate responses from the world’s nations, such national privilege can become disturbing, and ultimately abhorrent.

All governments should recommit themselves to the global solutions that will keep us safer as we emerge — hopefully soon — from the pandemic. And Japan, with its strong international credibility, can set an excellent example.

In the absence of commitment at the level of nations, the U.N. may well lose its core purpose and operational drive, leaving little for the public to identify with.

Download the PDF of this United Nations Day Special 2020

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