10 Multilateral Events to Watch in 2015

Leaders of the Group of 20 at the G20 Summit in Brisbane, Australia, November 15, 2014. (UN Photo/Rick Bajornas)

What key multilateral events are likely to impact the international peace and security environment in 2015? Francesco Mancini, non-resident senior adviser and former senior director of Research at the International Peace Institute (IPI), has compiled a list of some of the events and multilateral processes he will be following this year.

1) Fit for Purpose: A Year of Reviews at the United Nations

A high-level panel of eminent experts has been tasked by the UN secretary-general to review both peacekeeping and political missions, with the aim of fitting the UN to the changing global context. Meanwhile, the UN peacebuilding architecture, created ten years ago with much fanfare, will also be under review. As many observers have been underwhelmed by the impact of the Peacebuilding Commission and the Peacebuilding Support Office so far, there is hope that a fresh look at their role will generate ideas to enhance their impact in the global effort to rebuild states and societies emerging from conflict.

All of this is promising, but comes with two major limitations. First, this piecemeal review approach risks talking at cross purposes and thus missing an opportunity to develop an overarching and unifying strategic vision that is much needed for the UN in the field of peace and security. Second, there are significant political challenges that undermine the performance of all these bodies and tools. It is unclear if high-level panels can overcome political challenges, especially in the current international context, in which the key stakeholders (permanent members of the Security Council and troop-contributing countries, which primarily come from the developing world, and host countries) lack consensus on the kind of mandates, the level and allocation of resources, and on key issues of policy and doctrine.

2) Women, Peace, and Security

The Security Council will convene another high-level panel to assess progress in implementing its Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, which focused on the disproportionate impact of conflict on women, and called for their engagement in conflict resolution and peacebuilding. Incidentally, gender/women, peace and security issues are also treated as a matter of priority in the above-mentioned high-level panel on peace operations, reinforcing the need for close cooperation between the various ongoing reviews.

3) Summit of the Americas

The 7th Summit of the Americas will be held in Panama on April 10-11. At the last Americas summit in 2012, the United States was under fire from its neighbors in Central and Latin America for its resistance to consider more creative approaches to the long-failed war on drugs, which many Latin American leaders blame for high levels of violence in their countries. Another source of tension was the US policy toward Cuba that prevented Raul Castro from attending the summit. Much has changed in only two years, with recent Obama administration shifts on drug policy and the rapprochement with Cuba. Discussions around drug policy will consider decriminalization and more public health approaches, rather than military ones. And one question lingers: Will Obama sit down for a chat with Raul Castro?

4) Toward an ASEAN Community

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on April 26-27, will be a historical milestone toward the formation of an ASEAN community, which aims to create a single market and production base by December 31. Even if some are skeptical that this deadline will be met, a roadmap will be drawn to drive the community-building process for the next ten years. Malaysia, the rotating chair for 2015, will shepherd the process. But, Malaysia will also chair the final negotiation for a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which will be the world’s largest free trade agreement involving the ten ASEAN countries, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, and New Zealand.

5) Tackling Nuclear Proliferation

In May, the 189 state signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) will gather in New York for the periodic review of the state of the treaty, which is held every five years. With the current tensions between Russia on one side, and the US and Europe on the other, not much progress should be expected on disarmament. However, there is a chance of progress with the nuclear negotiations with Iran. The first date to watch is March 1, the next deadline for a high-level political agreement, followed by the full technical details of the agreement by July 1. Still, a “long-term interim agreement” might be the next best deal, something that could move things toward a US-Iran rapprochement. Expect strong resistance in the US Congress and with their conservative Iranian counterparts, as well as in Saudi Arabia, where a deal between the US and Iran is perceived as a threat to its geopolitical turf. Meanwhile, there are no constraints on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, and nor are there likely to be in 2015.

6) The Next G8-1 Summit

Angela Merkel of Germany will host the annual G7 Summit in the Bavarian Alps on June 6-7. For the second time in a row, the eighth member of the club of the most industrialized countries of the world, Russia, will not be invited, after being suspended in March 2014 for annexing Crimea. On the agenda: macroeconomic coordination, energy security (read how to do without Russian gas), fighting global diseases like Ebola, and empowering women. Still, Merkel is seen as the person best placed to achieve a deal with Russia over Ukraine (she is the leader who has had more direct contact with Putin than anyone else since last year, thanks also to her command of the Russian language). For this reason, Russia will be very much part of the side talks, and the summit will be seen as a show of Western unity in turbulent times.

7) The Road to Dignity

At the UN summit in September, world leaders will have to agree on what is going to take the place of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expire at the end of the year. Preparatory work has been underway for two years and will continue over the next ten months, and a working draft of the new so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) includes 17 of them and 169 targets, ranging from the eradication of extreme poverty, to access to justice and the promotion of peaceful societies. If such an agenda passes the sifter of national interests and fiercely guarded sovereignty, it will officially link development to peace, security, and governance for the next 15 years and reshape the global dynamics of aid and development. Still, member states should avoid rhetorical goals that are hard to define, such as reducing inequality, and focus on achievable ones, such as sanitation and health.

8) Turkey Hosts the 10th G20 Summit

Turkey, which is holding the rotating chair, will host the 2015 G20 Summit on November 15-16. The Turkish government is planning an ambitious agenda, including climate change, energy, trade, development, and investment. Gone are the days in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis when the G20 seemed to supersede the G7 as relevant global forum. Indeed, China and the US prefer to keep a narrow G20 agenda, focusing on macroeconomic issues and financial regulation. Turkey is also suggesting the creation of a G20 foreign ministers’ track, alongside the current finance ministers’ meetings—an idea worth considering, as it would facilitate developed and emerging economies’ foreign policy dialogue.

9) Asia-Pacific Summit

The rise of Asia can also be seen in the growing geopolitical relevance of the heterogeneous, 21-member forum of Pacific economies, APEC. It has become an important venue for multilateral trade pacts and to temper China’s unilateral instincts in the region. In November, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit will be hosted by the Philippines in Manila. With the theme, “Building Inclusive Economies, Building a Better World,” the summit will focus on inclusive economic growth. Lingering in the background, there is a Filipino proposal to establish a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, which would include China, while the US prefers to push forward its Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that will exclude China for now. The summit could also be an opportunity for high-level side talks between China and the Philippines on their dispute in the South China Sea.

10) A Change of Climate in Paris?

In December, the international community has a great opportunity to deliver on one global public good, curbing greenhouse gas emissions, a target that has proven elusive so far. Six years after the failure of the Copenhagen summit, world leaders will seek an agreement in the next United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) summit in Paris. This time around, the world’s biggest emitters, China and the US, seem to be more serious, given the historic climate agreement they announced last November, joining the European Union in committing to new limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Even if scientists worry that the current commitments might not be sufficient to limit Earth’s warming to 2 degrees Celsius, there is some political momentum at the international level. The rest of the world will have to join in.