Failures on coronavirus stress 75-year-old UN’s need for reforms


Seventy-five years after its founding, the United Nations failed to bring countries together to defeat the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed nearly 1 million lives, prompting renewed calls to reform the world body.

“The pandemic is a clear test of international cooperation – a test we have essentially failed,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week.

There is a “disconnect between leadership and power,” he said, warning that in the 21st century’s interconnected world, “solidarity is self-interest,” and “if we fail to grasp that fact, everyone loses”.

The first-ever virtual meeting of world leaders at the General Assembly, highlighted increasing tensions among major powers, the growing inequality between rich and poor countries, and the escalating difficulty of getting the UN’s 193 member nations to agree on major issues — let alone unite on reforms

Born out of the ashes of World War II with 50 members, the United Nations has since expanded dramatically. The founding nations signed the UN Charter in San Francisco and vowed “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” conflicts continue to rage around a world beset by inequality, hunger and a massive climate crisis.

“We could criticize the UN for this — but who are we really talking about, when we blame `the UN?’” Switzerland President Simonetta Sommaruga asked. “We are in fact talking about ourselves, because the UN is its member states. And it is often member states that stand in the way of the UN’s work.”

Tensions were on display at a Security Council meeting when the United States and China — two of the council’s five veto-wielding permanent members — accused each other of mishandling and politicizing the coronavirus.

Russia backed Beijing, a close ally, as it has in recent years, leaving the UN’s most powerful body charged with maintaining international peace and security more deeply divided and unable to address major issues, including conflicts like the one in Syria.

The UN has had “such a hard time agreeing on so little” that it “ran the risk of impotence,” President Emmanuel Macron of France said.

“Our societies have never been so interdependent,” he added. “And at the very moment when all this is happening, never have we been so out of tune, so out of alignment.”

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta noted that “at 75, the United Nations is older than most of its member states, and more importantly older than over 96% of our global population.”

“A clear majority of the global population today cannot relate to the circumstances of its founding,” he said, and posed the question: “What does it bring to the world today?”

For many leaders, the UN’s most important role is its convening power — bringing all nations together to talk — but there are many frustrations about its rules, including requiring all 193 countries to agree on key documents such as the declaration commemorating the 75th anniversary, which took months of negotiations.

The most contentious debate, which began in 1979 and has gone on for 40 years with no end in sight, is over reforming the Security Council, whose five permanent members reflect the international power structure at the end of World War II: the US, China, Russia, France and Britain. The council’s 10 other seats rotate among members who serve two-year terms.

While there is widespread support for revamping the 15-member council to reflect current global realities, efforts have remained mired in national and regional rivalries. (Source: Independent UK)