Honor COVID-19 vic­tims with re­turn to mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism

Arab News - - Opinion -

The coro­n­avirus dis­ease (COVID-19) has shone a light on the acute vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties of a deeply in­ter­con­nected world. No coun­try, re­gard­less of its size, wealth or tech­no­log­i­cal so­phis­ti­ca­tion, can tackle this cri­sis alone. Ow­ing to the pan­demic, the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly is be­ing held un­der ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances, with heads of state par­tic­i­pat­ing “vir­tu­ally” rather than trav­el­ing to New York City. The unique na­ture of this year’s gath­er­ing should serve as a re­minder that the only way to over­come the threat of COVID-19 is through in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion, trans­parency and ad­her­ence to shared rules and reg­u­la­tions.

It is a poignant irony that the pan­demic has struck on the UN’s 75th an­niver­sary.

Born from the wreck­age of the Sec­ond World War — a wholly hu­man-made calamity — the world’s premier in­ter­na­tional fo­rum em­bod­ied the post­war lead­ers’ de­ter­mi­na­tion that fu­ture gen­er­a­tions must be spared the kind of suf­fer­ing they wit­nessed.

In the Mid­dle East and other con­flict-riven re­gions, the UN and its prin­ci­ples of mul­ti­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion re­main in­dis­pens­able for find­ing long-term, sus­tain­able so­lu­tions that will guar­an­tee peace, sta­bil­ity and pros­per­ity. We can see this clearly in the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict, which has lasted for al­most as long as the UN it­self. The best so­lu­tion will be two states — Is­rael and Pales­tine — for the two peo­ples, based on the in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized pre-1967 bor­ders and in ac­cor­dance with UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tions 242 and 2334, among oth­ers.

The re­cent es­tab­lish­ment of diplo­matic re­la­tions be­tween Is­rael and two Gulf coun­tries, the UAE and Bahrain, is a sig­nif­i­cant po­lit­i­cal devel­op­ment that I hope can help over­come decades of es­trange­ment and mistrust. But I still be­lieve that the only way to achieve true “nor­mal­iza­tion” be­tween

Is­rael and the Arab world is for all par­ties to work to­ward a durable two-state so­lu­tion that de­liv­ers peace, jus­tice, dig­nity and se­cu­rity to Pales­tini­ans and Is­raelis alike.

In 1945, many hoped that the world had fi­nally learned the lessons of two dis­as­trous world wars. The web of UN-cen­tered in­ter­na­tional covenants and in­sti­tu­tions that has been es­tab­lished since then is far from per­fect. Yet, for more than seven decades, it has de­ci­sively sup­ported the pur­suit of peace, se­cu­rity, hu­man rights and eco­nomic and so­cial im­prove­ments around the world.

Ban Ki-moon, Deputy Chair of The El­ders, is a former sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the United Na­tions and South Korean for­eign min­is­ter. ©Project Syn­di­cate

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To high­light this legacy, The El­ders re­cently re­leased a re­port on the de­fense of mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism. In it, we is­sued five calls to ac­tion for to­day’s lead­ers: Recom­mit to the val­ues of the UN Char­ter; em­power the UN to ful­fill its man­date for col­lec­tive ac­tion on peace and se­cu­rity; strengthen health sys­tems to tackle COVID-19 and pre­pare for fu­ture pan­demics; demon­strate greater am­bi­tion on cli­mate change to meet the Paris Agree­ment tar­gets; and mo­bi­lize sup­port for all of the Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goals.

All coun­tries must rec­og­nize that the only way to achieve these ob­jec­tives is through ef­fec­tive mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism, which is ul­ti­mately in ev­ery­one’s in­ter­est. More of­ten than not, the UN’s fail­ure to meet its stated goals has been the re­sult of mem­ber states — par­tic­u­larly but not ex­clu­sively the five per­ma­nent mem­bers of the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil (the US, UK, France, Rus­sia and China) — not meet­ing their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. When coun­tries place nar­row na­tional in­ter­ests above com­mon pri­or­i­ties, ev­ery­one loses out. To be sure, this past July, I wel­comed the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil’s unan­i­mous adop­tion of Res­o­lu­tion 2532, which called for a global cease-fire to avert fur­ther hu­man­i­tar­ian catas­tro­phes in the con­text of the pan­demic. I also strongly sup­ported this ini­tia­tive when UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res first pro­posed it in March. Yet I was dis­ap­pointed to see so many valu­able months wasted in ar­gu­ments over the de­tails of the text. Squab­bles over se­man­tics in the face of bloody con­flicts and an un­prece­dented pan­demic sent a ter­ri­ble mes­sage to the global public. Be­yond the di­rect health ef­fects, the eco­nomic fall­out from the cri­sis will be long-last­ing and se­vere, cre­at­ing rip­ple ef­fects that will be felt in many frag­ile and con­flict-af­fected parts of the world for some time to come. This was no time to play diplo­matic hard­ball.

Since then, the World Food Pro­gramme has warned that we may be headed for the worst hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis since the Sec­ond World War, with as many as 600,000 chil­dren likely to die from famine and mal­nu­tri­tion in hard-hit coun­tries like Ye­men, So­ma­lia, Nige­ria, and South Su­dan.

The COVID-19 cri­sis is a somber re­minder of our com­mon hu­man bonds and vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties. If we fail to re­spond to the pan­demic and other shared threats with a re­newed sense of sol­i­dar­ity and col­lec­tive ac­tion, we will have dis­hon­ored the vic­tims of the virus and be­trayed the hopes that the UN’s found­ing gen­er­a­tion had for us.

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