Miguel Angel Moratinos, the High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilisations (UNAOC) believes that in light of the current crisis we must practice an effective multilateralism that produces results and provides answers to the present challenges. Interview by Guillaume Weill-Raynal
What is the mission of the United Nations Alliance of Civilisations (UNAOC) ?
This Alliance of Civilisations – which I helped create when I was Foreign Minister in Spain – was launched in 2005. We were in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks that had struck Madrid in March 2004. This initiative responded to the need to create an international tool to fight terrorism. We were witnessing a drift towards confrontation between the Western world and the Arab-Muslim world. It was necessary to stop this perverse tendency, which was likely to lead to confrontation.
This initiative was taken up by Kofi Annan, who was then UN Secretary-General, who created a body directly attached to the United Nations. Today, this structure is no longer solely dedicated to the fight against terrorism, but deploys a whole series of initiatives in favour of mutual understanding, respect, acceptance and social cohesion, in order to mitigate the causes of religious and cultural confrontation that lead to crises and conflicts that are extremely damaging to all of humanity.
How well are you getting your message across?
Our work is more necessary than ever. Previously, we were already aware that discrimination, xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia were present in all societies. Since then, following on from different events and crises, we have seen a rise in such attacks and intolerant behaviour. This is why we have launched numerous initiatives, through the United Nations, to help combat this. A strong voice and proponent of our cause has been my good friend Adama Dieng, United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide.
During the current Covid-19 crisis, we have been hearing a new word come up, that of solidarity. Every night, millions of people, across different cities of the world clapping for nurses, doctors and carers. However, despite this global message of solidarity, of unity, this message appears lost on those leaders who continue to use arms to tear countries apart. Despite calls for a cease-fire during this period of crisis by the Secretary General, factions are still at war. Despite talk of solidarity and cooperation in face of a global disease that knows no borders, we have seen countries act selfishly when it comes to ventilators, masks and protective equipment. When the world should be coming together, we are seeing countries outbid and exclude others.
The purpose of the Alliance of Civilisations is precisely to combat these shortcomings, which undermine this notion of good understanding between nations and peoples.
How does one fight these negative tendencies?
Our motto is “Many cultures, One humanity”. One positive lesson from this crisis is the awakening it has provoked. It has impacted all of humanity and for the first time in history, everyone – all cultures, all religious groups –have been impacted one way or another. Everyone has realised that the only way to deal with this issue was to act together.
Unfortunately, in many respects, hitherto and very much in its early stages, the response to the crisis appeared divided, fragmented and countries acted unilaterally. When it necessitated a united response. This is the central mission of our work and our whole raison d’être. The fight I am waging on a daily basis, is to promote this collective approach.
How do you assess the magnitude of the shock the world has just endured? Doesn’t it risk accentuating existing fault lines?
Even before the Covid-19 crisis, all those who, like me, work in international relations, were well aware that we have been passing through a transition phase. Things were changing and had to change. The way the world was bring run belonged to an old order. Be it international organisations and also political systems. The call for reform is a fair one
The Covid-19 crisis has reinforced this message that it cannot be business as it was. No one knows what the future will hold but the post-covid one will be different. Policy makers will have to agree on how to design this next phase in global history.
How can we implement the necessary decisions in the face of this terrible shock? Faced with the risk of recession and the threats of poverty and hunger, peoples and societies could revolt tomorrow, perhaps even today.
We are faced with a world that is global, complex and uncertain. We have become accustomed to considering that the major actors capable of taking decisions were the governments of nation states. Admittedly, they are primarily responsible for managing daily life and driving the future. However, in recent years, I have clearly felt, during my various missions, a concern, a loss of confidence in them, on the part of what I will call global citizenship.
Civil societies aspire to participate in decision-making. New actors are emerging in global governance. Nation states are not going to disappear, but these new players will come and play their part alongside governments. Citizens will revolt and demand a change of course. I believe that an association between national players who are aware of these issues and this global citizenship that is going to mobilise could be drivers of this change. Who will lead this?
This new reality may require an organisation such as the United Nations to play a decisive role in this process of reflection and reform to help define the world of tomorrow and a new architecture of our current structures and institutions.
Do you believe in what is called deglobalisation? Are we witnessing the birth of a new model?
New models will appear, but globalisation exists, and it will not disappear. The virus is global! We are not going to fight national viruses. The challenges of hunger and climate change are global challenges. The fight against terrorism is a global challenge. But the approach to globalisation will change. Our current problems arose from a poorly managed globalisation of finance, and where the greater good of the people – which should be at the centre of any movement – had been ignored.
Today, a deep reflexion is taking place. It is not contradictory to establish national or regional strategies to face the crisis while preserving the framework of globalisation. Globalisation will perhaps become more human – that is what I wish, in any case – more attentive to the challenges of this world we live in and the new world that is being redefined.
We cannot artificially oppose globalisation and the national or regional approach. The model will be more sophisticated: there will be global issues, regional issues – which will be the prerogative of institutions such as the European Union or the African Union – national issues and local issues, which will require everyone to assume their own responsibilities. Municipalities will see their role increase in the management of daily life. All of this will involve different trade-offs. It is an exercise that will require work and commitment.
What will Africa’s place be in all this?
When I took office as the head of the Alliance a little over a year ago, I found that despite a discourse and narrative that included Africa in our global vision, there was a lack of concrete action vis-à-vis the continent. I indicated in my inauguration speech that Africa deserved special attention.
We primarily carry out prevention work that covers education, youth, media and communication, migration, women, etc. We have doubled down this work in conflict areas, where the religious and cultural crisis is deeper. For example, in the case of the Sahel, this dimension was too often overlooked or underestimated. This is why I created a working group to train mediators who can bring their knowledge to facilitate conflict resolution.
I intervened in the Central African Republic, in Burkina-Faso – where many places of worship had suffered particularly deadly attacks – and I also created, a Women’ Alliance for Peace, which assigns to African women a major role in conflict prevention and resolution.
Africa is a priority for me today. I had planned a trip to Addis Ababa in April to present my plan to the African Union, from where I was to travel to Sudan and the Central African Republic. Unfortunately, this trip was postponed due to the Covid-19 crisis.
Today we are experiencing a crisis of multilateralism and world leadership. What are your biggest concerns in this regard?
I strongly believe in the values of effective multilateralism, which produces results and which provides answers to the challenges we face today. And for that, we have to reform it. We can no longer be satisfied with a definition of multilateralism inherited from the aftermath of the Second World War. Seventy-five years after this conflict and the creation of the United Nations, we must review in the most honest and committed way how we can update the instruments at our disposal. We cannot criticise institutions like the WHO or the Security Council without thinking deeply about how to remedy their shortcomings or the factors that constrain them. We must do this work voluntarily, to share the challenges common to all of humanity.