By Bani Dugal
With an ever widening array of compounding and cascading challenges, humanity is being called to rethink its approaches to solving global problems. COVID-19, as with other crises, has exposed the precarious nature of relationships within and between nations, relationships that are foundational to a stable global order. It has revealed the fragility of our current systems as well as the many barriers to collective approaches. Yet, in an increasingly interconnected world, collective solutions are critical. There are certain prerequisites for success in any collective endeavor and paramount among them is trust.
Individuals and communities yearn for institutions which will dispense justice, dispel oppression, and foster enduring unity between disparate elements of society. Any clear path forward that is both constructive and enduring requires a focus on trust and trustworthiness. The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, identified “growing global mistrust”1 as endangering and imperiling 21st century progress and possibilities, jeopardizing every aspect of our shared future.
The Independent Commission on Multilateralism previously highlighted the deficit of trust as an obstacle facing the international community:
Repeatedly, the Commission heard reports of a deep lack of trust. There is a lack of trust both among states and between states and the UN Secretariat. There is a lack of trust between governments and their citizens…. And there is a lack of trust within the UN itself among the various departments, agencies, funds and programs.2
Without both trust and trustworthiness, the stability of every endeavor is compromised.
Trust at any level of society must be earned. To this end, demonstrating trustworthiness is vital. Trust must be built and nurtured through both commitments and corresponding actions characterized by a genuine will to work towards what is most valued. It requires time and sacrifice. It is demonstrated through honesty, accountability, transparency, and dependability—even generosity and humility. At the international level, it also requires a commitment to realizing those values representative of humanity’s highest aspirations.
On the other hand, mistrust is both a root cause and a symptom of a profoundly distressed global order. It demonstrates just how great the need is to fundamentally reimagine the attitudes and habits which inform our relationships at all levels and in all spheres. Trust then becomes essential in building good relationships that are at the heart of collective solutions.
In a very real sense, protests and revolutions, disinformation campaigns, and even a lack of respect for the UN itself can be traced back to issues of trust and trustworthiness. Many institutions, once turned to as beacons of progress, have become discredited resulting from sources of mistrust such as endemic corruption and lack of alignment between words and deeds. This occurs in tandem with feelings of apathy, alienation, and disillusionment among citizens. The implications of such a breakdown are profound, for trust is at the heart of every relationship that binds society. Without it, suspicion grows and collaboration and partnership become impossible.
To a large extent, the commitments necessary for global progress have been made in the UN Charter itself, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Millennium Declaration, and the 2030 Agenda—all enshrining values that are common to humanity. The hard work, however, lies beyond putting words on a page. It comes through genuine and concerted effort to realize such commitments. And since cooperation is vital to solving global challenges, trust is a necessary prerequisite. Trust therefore becomes both a cause and a result of fulfilling international agreements.
In thinking about the future of multilateralism as we approach the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, we have an urgent need to assess our approach to global governance and, fundamentally, the nature of the relationships that sustain our global order. As we collectively work towards translating international commitments into action, promoting qualities of integrity and rectitude while prioritizing the interests of those most vulnerable, we can begin to lay the foundation for trust so essential to navigating the many challenges before humanity.
Bani Dugal is the Principal Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations