As part of our academic research on how to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we are examining the extent to which U.N. member states adhere to the U.N. Charter and U.N.-backed goals such as the SDGs.
Towards this end, we have created a preliminary “Multilateralism Index” and welcome feedback and suggestions. The ranking of 74 countries according to the Multilateralism Index is shown below.
Barbados ranks highest, the U.N. member most aligned with the U.N. Charter. Though Barbados is a very small country, with just 280,000 people, its peaceful multilateralism gives it a big voice.
Barbados’ globally respected Prime Minister Mia Mottley, recently teamed up with French President Emmanuel Macron to co-host the Summit for a New Global Financing Pact for People and Planet, in Paris this past June.
This summit built on Barbados’ Bridgetown Initiative — named after the Barbados’ capital city — to reform the Global Financial Architecture to enable vulnerable countries cope with climate change.
At the very bottom of the ranking of 74 countries is the United States, with Israel being the second from the bottom. Both countries are frequently at odds with the U.N. multilateral system, as is so evident these days.
Regime Change & War
The U.S. fails to adhere to the U.N. Charter in several ways. The starkest is the many wars and regime change operations that the U.S. has led, without any U.N. mandate and often against the will of the U.N. Security Council.
In 2003, the U.S. tried to get the U.N. Security Council to vote for a war against Iraq. When the Security Council opposed the U.S., the U.S. launched the war anyway. As events later proved, the U.S. ostensible reason for launching the war, Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, did not even exist.
The U.S. has engaged in dozens of covert and overt regime-change operations that violate the letter and spirit of the U.N. Charter. One important study finds 64 covert regime change operations by the U.S. during the Cold War, 1947-1989. There have been many well-known U.S. covert operations since then.
The U.S. also goes it alone on issues of sustainable development. In 2015, all 193 U.N. member states adopted the SDGs to guide national policies and international development cooperation during the period 2016-2030.
Every U.N. member state is supposed to present its national SDG plans, challenges and achievements to the other nations, in a presentation called the Voluntary National Review, or VNR.
So far, 188 of the 193 U.N. member states have presented VNRs, sometimes more than once. Barbados, for instance, presented two VNRs in 2020 and 2023. Yet five countries have never presented a single VNR: Haiti, Myanmar, South Sudan, Yemen, and yes, the United States of America. South Sudan and Yemen are now on the list of countries to present a VNR in 2024, but not the U.S.
At this stage, the Multilateralism Index covers 74 of the 193 U.N. member states, the group for which we have collected extensive data on the governments’ efforts to achieve the SDGs. The Multilateralism Index is positively correlated with those SDG efforts, that is, countries abiding by U.N. processes (according to the Index) also demonstrate a strong commitment to the SDGs.
The Multilateralism Index is based on five indicators.
The first is the proportion of U.N. treaties between 1946 and 2022 that each country has ratified. As an example, Barbados has ratified more than 80 percent of major U.N. treaties, while the U.S. has ratified less than 60 percent.
The second is each country’s deployment of unilateral economic sanctions (sometimes called “unilateral coercive measures”) not approved by the U.N..
The U.N. General Assembly proclaimed in 1974 that “no State may use or encourage the use of economic, political or any other type of measures to coerce another State in order to obtain from it the subordination of the exercise of its sovereign rights.”
The third measures each country’s membership in major U.N. organizations.
The fourth measures each country’s militarization and inclination to resort to war. The indicator draws on the excellent work of the Global Peace Index.
The fifth measures each high-income country’s economic solidarity with poorer nations, according to its Official Development Assistance (ODA) as a percent of the Gross National Income (GNI).
According to a resolution of the U.N. General Assembly in October 1970, high-income countries are supposed to devote at least 0.7 percent of GNI to ODA. The U.S., by contrast, devoted just 0.22 percent in 2022.
We combine these five indicators to produce the Multilateralism Index.
Our index, which is based on data up through 2022, has shown its predictive power. In recent weeks, in vote after vote, we have witnessed America’s self-isolation within the U.N.. To be multilateral within the U.N. system, after all, means to abide by U.N. precepts and the voice of the global community.
US Veto of Ceasefire in Gaza
On Oct. 18, the U.S. stood alone in the U.N. Security Council, when it deployed its veto to stop a resolution calling for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. The vote was 12 voting yes, two abstentions and the U.S. alone vetoing the measure.
Similarly, on Nov. 2, the U.N. General Assembly adopted Resolution A/78/L.5, which calls on the United States to end its long-standing economic, financial, and commercial embargo on Cuba. To put it mildly, this was not a close vote: 187 countries voted in favor of the resolution, while only the United States and Israel voted against.
Ukraine abstained, and three countries did not vote. Thus, the vote was 187 saying yes, two no, and one abstention. This year’s resolution follows 30 similar resolutions, dating back to 1993. The United States has ignored every single one of those U.N. General Assembly resolutions.
In a deeply interconnected and interdependent world, facing unprecedented and complex crises ranging from pandemics to wars to climate change, the need for multilateralism under the U.N. Charter is more urgent than ever.
No government can do it alone. Barbados sets the highest standard for others to achieve. The U.S. needs to recognize that the U.N. system, operating under the U.N. Charter, is the true “rule-based international order.”
Jeffrey D. Sachs is a university professor and Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, where he directed The Earth Institute from 2002 until 2016. He is also president of the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network and a commissioner of the U.N. Broadband Commission for Development.
Guillaume Lafortune is vice president and head of the Paris office at the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) — the largest global network of scientists and practitioners mobilized for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
This article is from Common Dreams.