Doha Forum 2019: Global solutions for global problems

In our December 13th blog post, we provided a brief introduction to the Doha Forum 2019. This is the second year that RI President Peggy Mason has attended this event:

I cannot express how energizing it is to be at a forum where there are naysayers to be sure but where the majority of attendees, whether Foreign Ministers or their policy advisors or academics and NGOs, are firm believers in the UN, international law and the overriding obligation of all states to cooperate in finding global solutions to global problems.

The proceedings were informed by an excellent background report entitled Reimagining Governance in a Multipolar World.

That document sets out Ten Guiding Principles for Better Governance in a Multipolar World:

  • Peaceful conflict resolution
  • Inclusive, open and fair decision-making
  • Upholding international law
  • Respecting the sovereign equality of all states, large and small
  • Advancing human rights and a “global civic ethic”
  • Safeguarding the health and security of future generations
  • Embracing diversity and tolerating dissent
  • Investing significantly in human capital
  • Conserving and regenerating natural resources

The report also recommends that world leaders who will be attending the UN 75th Anniversary Summit in September 2020 should launch preparations for a UN Conference on Multipolar Governance, convened by April of 2023, for forging The United Nations We Need to keep pace with the growing global economic, political, technological and environmental challenges detailed in the Report and discussed at the Forum.

Please read the full report! It superbly summarizes our current global plight and what needs to be done to strengthen global governance institutions and mechanisms at this pivotal moment. – Peggy Mason, RI President.

Plenary sessions, concurrent panels, newsmaker interviews and more

Over two days of intensive plenaries, concurrent panels, and newsmaker interviews amidst a lot of quiet diplomacy and regular announcements of further Qatari political and financial support for various UN development undertakings, the participants engaged with a wide variety of political leaders and other policy makers, diplomats, academics and NGO experts. Click here for a full list of speakers.

Launching the event was His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Amir of Qatar, who elaborated on a theme highlighted at last year’s forum by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres himself: the paradox of the waning great power commitment to the UN and multilateralism at a time when it is needed more than ever. In the words of the Amir:

The common international vision that appeared to be clear at the beginning of the new millennium has blurred, whether from the perspective of international legitimacy, issues of poverty, environment and climate or from not holding war criminals accountable. However, the problems and challenges have remained … and the environment and climate problems are exacerbating, and the issue of chronic poverty in vast areas across the world has not been solved, likewise the issue of occupation and annexation of others’ land by force.

…These problems cannot be solved without coordinated international efforts and shared visions…. based on respecting international law and international legitimacy and contributing to solving conflicts peacefully through mediation and providing a space for dialogue….

He also highlighted the specific role of Qatar in promoting dialogue and contributing substantively to important UN programmes for humanitarian assistance, education and health projects in over 59 countries across all continents. In addition, in September at the General Assembly Qatar pledged $100 million dollars to small island states to help them cope with climate change.

His full text can be found here.

Malaysian Prime Minister given first ever Doha Forum Award

Before moving on to the plenary sessions, the first-ever Doha Forum Award was presented to His Excellency Dr. Mahathir Bin Mohamad, Prime Minister of Malaysia, as a “role model of good governance” in his country. With U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin looking on, Dr. Mahathir rejected the USA policy of “maximum pressure” against Iran, stating:

we don’t believe in sanctions to change governments or enforce ideologies; we do not support US sanctions against Iran, they violate the UN charter and international law.

He went on to say that, in an interconnected world, only multilateral diplomacy can work to achieve positive gains. As he put it, the goal should be to:

prosper [not beggar] thy neighbour.

China and the 5G conundrum

In the first plenary on Re-imagining Governance in a Multipolar World, a speaker not on the original agenda, Jane Harman, Director of the Wilson Centre, had perhaps the most interesting comment from a Canadian perspective:

China and Russia are strategic competitors – yes, but not enemies. The challenge is to make China a friendly competitor… with 5G together and not two competing systems.

It should be noted that this perspective is too rarely presented in the Canadian mainstream media.

Canadian media largely echo the American line that, despite the absence of one iota of evidence, Huawei’s 5G network (in which Canada plays a vital role, including the holding of scores of patents by Canadian universities) is a western national security risk. In this regard, note that Germany, not a member of the so-called Five Eyes intelligence sharing network (USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada) — and therefore not subject to threats of loss of access by the USA — has steadfastly refused to accept the USA “line” on 5G.

For a notable exception to the usual approach, see B.C. CBC reporter Jason Proctor’s excellent article on what 5G is all about and why it matters, see: Why Canada’s decisions on who builds 5G are so important (, 29 April 2019).

The importance of developing “resilient governance” in a complex, changing world

The “data” challenge

Day two began with a Special Session entitled Resilience, Governance and Public Policy for the 21st Century, featuring the Administrator of the UN Development Programme, H.E. Achim Steiner, and 3 academic experts from institutions in Doha, Singapore and Iceland.

The panel focused on how to help governments become more responsible and responsive to citizen’s needs. In the area of political economy for example, nothing is less resilient than today’s glaring inequality within nations, which, in turn, leads to alienation and polarization of their citizenry.

What we need are governments and societies able to manage the huge social transformations that are necessary to effectively tackle climate change, migration, inequality and more.

Only resilient governance can do this. In turn that means policy makers who understand the importance of strategic foresight and evidence-based planning, and who can handle the huge amounts of high quality data requiring filtering and prioritizing.

(2) Meeting multiple types of “stakeholders” on their own terms

The second key feature of resilient governance is the ability of policy makers to bring together the multiplicity of “stakeholders on their own platforms and in their own language.”

Governments must be able to talk to “yellow vesters” not just policy experts. – panelist

(3) Breaking down the silos

The third essential element is the ability of governments to address not only the multiplicity of actors but the multilevel and multisectoral nature of today’s challenges — especially climate change but also sustainable development. This requires responses across various “silos” of development, governance, security and economics.

This is not just a challenge for developing countries but for all governments. Can we really say that Canada has this level of resilient governance? –

UN created to forge cooperation in the face of disharmony

So often we hear the UN dismissed as irrelevant in the face of increasing great power competition and general disarray in the international community.

But this misses a very fundamental point — that the UN was created at the end of World War II not because the world was united but because it was the exact opposite of harmonious.

This is precisely why we need multilateral institutions — to help bridge the differences and find common ground on which to cooperate and find solutions that work for all. In short, multilateralism is not a zero sum game but a win-win proposition. – several panelists

Afghanistan Peace Process

Day Two also featured a newsmaker interview with Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation for the U.S. Department of State. He was decidedly upbeat about the prospects for reaching an agreement with the Taliban, including measures for monitoring and verification. He emphasized the need for an “internal Afghan agreement” and a “non-violent path for resolving disputes on values” — one clear example being the role of women in Afghan society.

Peggy Mason adds:

As someone who worked in vain to get the Harper government to take an interest in peace negotiations in Afghanistan, it is encouraging that the American government seems to have finally come around, albeit at a very late stage.

However, to build a sustainable peace it will be essential for the internal Afghan peace negotiation to be complemented by a regional component to address security concerns of neighbours like Pakistan and India. This will undoubtedly require expert third party facilitation, ideally by a UN special envoy with UN Security Council backing.

Throughout the two days, special panels focused on the range of ongoing conflicts, including Syria, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.

Iran and their HOPE proposal

His Excellency Dr. Javad Zarif, Foreign Minister of Iran, made an appearance at the Doha Forum again this year and argued passionately for HOPE — the Hormuz Peace Endeavour — a vision that would see Iran working with its regional neighbours  to jointly secure the Hormuz Strait for the benefit of all:

HOPE is based on the responsibility of every nation in the region to ensure peace, prosperity and stability in our neighbourhood.

Commenting later on Iran’s proposal, the respected Arab Digest (paywalled) opined that sceptics might well point to the actions of Iran in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen and the strikes on oil tankers and Saudi Aramco as evidence that Iran “may talk multipolarity but practice something quite different”.

But should we not ask ourselves whether Iran might behave differently in circumstances where genuine efforts were made by regional neighbours like Saudi Arabia and global great powers like the USA to co-exist with, instead of trying to foment “regime change” in, Iran?

Whither Canada?

We call on the Government of Canada to seek a much greater engagement in the Doha Forum multilateral dialogue process, as an important endeavour in its own right, but also to help balance our increasingly problematic focus on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Photo credit: (Prime Minister of Somalia)

Tags: Afghanistan peace talks, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Amir of Qatar, Arab Digest, Doha Forum 2019, Doha Forum Award, Dr. Javad Zarif, Foreign Minister of Iran, His Excellency Dr. Mahathir Bin Mohamad, His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Hormuz Peace Endeavour (HOPE), Huawei and 5G, international law, international legitimacy, Iran, multilateral dialogue, multilateralism, multipolar world, multipolarity, Prime Minister of Malaysia, Qatar, resilient governance, Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation for the U.S. Department of State, UN 75th Anniversary Summit, UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Secretary-General António Guterres, UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner