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UN’s birth­day falls flat

- RICK GLAD­STONE Hunger · Overpopulation · Military · U.S. News · Society · Middle East News · Politics · Social Issues · Warfare and Conflicts · World Politics · United Nations · United States of America · China · Ireland · Eleanor Roosevelt · Franklin D. Roosevelt · Syria · Yemen · Libya · United Kingdom · France · Russia · Russian Empire · Council · Myanmar · Venezuela · Michigan · Donald Trump · Jair Bolsonaro · Brazil · Viktor Orbán · Hungary · Rodrigo Duterte · Philippines · World Health Organization · United Nations Population Fund · International Telecommunication Union · Union · UN Security Council · Albion College · Albion, Michigan

World­wide con­ta­gion, the worst eco­nomic cri­sis since the Great De­pres­sion and a warm­ing planet — not to men­tion ris­ing hunger, grow­ing le­gions of refugees, xeno­pho­bic bom­bast from strong­men lead­ers and a new cold war be­tween the United States and China.

The United Na­tions is about to cel­e­brate the an­niver­sary of its birth in 1945 from the ru­ins of World War II, although “cel­e­brate” might seem an odd choice of word amid the long list of cur­rent global woes and the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s own chal­lenges.

So the birth­day will be muted, and not only be­cause world lead­ers will be un­able to gather in per­son to raise a glass. The pan­demic has re­duced the Gen­eral Assem­bly be­gin­ning this week to vir­tual meet­ings. As the world body turns 75, it also faces pro­found ques­tions about its own ef­fec­tive­ness and even its rel­e­vance.

“The UN is weaker than it should be,” said Mary Robin­son, a for­mer UN high com­mis­sioner for hu­man rights and the first woman to be­come pres­i­dent of Ire­land. When the United Na­tions was founded by the Al­lied vic­tors, the goal was to avert a de­scent into an­other global apoc­a­lypse. And for all its short­com­ings, the or­gan­i­sa­tion that Eleanor Roo­sevelt called “our great­est hope for fu­ture peace” has at least helped achieve that.

As he looked ahead to­wards con­ven­ing this year’s Gen­eral Assem­bly, Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res em­pha­sised the long view. The val­ues em­bed­ded in the UN Char­ter, he said, had pre­vented “the scourge of a Third World War many had feared”.

Still, the or­gan­i­sa­tion is strug­gling like per­haps never be­fore. While it is the lead­ing provider of hu­man­i­tar­ian aid, and UN peace­keep­ers op­er­ate in more than a dozen un­sta­ble ar­eas, the United Na­tions has been un­able to bring an end to pro­tracted wars in Syria, Ye­men or Libya. The Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict is nearly as old as the United Na­tions it­self.

UN sta­tis­tics show that the num­ber of peo­ple forcibly dis­placed world­wide has dou­bled over the past decade to 80 mil­lion. The num­ber suf­fer­ing acute hunger is ex­pected to nearly dou­ble by year’s end to more than 250 mil­lion, with the first famines of the coro­n­avirus era lurk­ing on the world’s doorstep.

Mr Guter­res’ en­treaty for a global cease­fire to help com­bat the coro­n­avirus has gone largely un­heeded. His plea for con­tri­bu­tions to a US$10 bil­lion (313.38 bil­lion baht) emer­gency coro­n­avirus re­sponse plan to help the need­i­est had, as of last week, been met with com­mit­ments to­talling just a quar­ter of the goal. That re­sponse “barely jus­ti­fies the de­scrip­tion of ‘tepid,’” said Mark Low­cock, the top UN re­lief of­fi­cial.

The United Na­tions, which has grown from 50 mem­bers 75 years ago to 193 mem­bers and a global staff of 44,000, was in­tended at its in­cep­tion to pro­vide a fo­rum in which coun­tries large and small be­lieved they had a mean­ing­ful voice.

But its ba­sic struc­ture gives lit­tle real power to the main body, the Gen­eral Assem­bly, and the most to the World War II vic­tors — Bri­tain, China, France, Rus­sia and the United States — with each wield­ing a veto on the 15-seat Se­cu­rity Coun­cil as per­ma­nent mem­bers. The coun­cil is em­pow­ered to im­pose eco­nomic sanc­tions and is the only UN en­tity per­mit­ted to de­ploy mil­i­tary force.

No per­ma­nent mem­ber seems will­ing to al­ter the power struc­ture and the out­come is chronic Se­cu­rity Coun­cil dead­locks on many is­sues, of­ten pit­ting the United States against not only China and Rus­sia but also against US al­lies.

It is not only on ques­tions of war and cease­fires where the United Na­tions is strug­gling for re­sults. The Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals — 17 UN ob­jec­tives aimed at elim­i­nat­ing in­equities that in­clude poverty, gen­der bias and il­lit­er­acy by 2030 — are im­per­illed. Bar­bara Adams, chair­woman of the Global Pol­icy Fo­rum, a UN mon­i­tor­ing group, told a con­fer­ence in July that the ob­jec­tives were “se­ri­ously off track” even be­fore the pan­demic, ac­cord­ing to PassBlue, a news site that cov­ers the United Na­tions.

UN veter­ans say mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism — solv­ing prob­lems to­gether, a tenet of the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s char­ter — in­creas­ingly col­lides with prin­ci­ples in the same char­ter em­pha­sis­ing na­tional sovereignt­y and non­in­ter­ven­tion in a coun­try’s in­ter­nal af­fairs.

The re­sult is of­ten de­lays of aid or de­nial of UN ac­cess to hu­man­i­tar­ian crises, whether in de­liv­er­ing sup­plies to dis­placed Syr­i­ans, in­ves­ti­gat­ing ev­i­dence of Ro­hingya mas­sacres in Myan­mar or help­ing sick chil­dren in Venezuela.

Car­rie Booth Walling, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Al­bion Col­lege, Michi­gan and an ex­pert on UN hu­man­i­tar­ian in­ter­ven­tions, said the turn­ing in­wards of many coun­tries af­flicted by the virus might bode badly for the United Na­tions and the di­plo­macy it em­bod­ies.

“What is re­ally fright­en­ing at this mo­ment,” Ms Walling said, is “the state of mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism in gen­eral, and whether the world’s gov­ern­ments and peo­ple will see the value of mul­ti­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion”.

The as­cen­dance of au­to­cratic-minded lead­ers has pre­sented fur­ther chal­lenges. US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has been a fre­quent UN critic, re­ject­ing no­tions of global gov­er­nance and com­plain­ing about what he sees as waste­ful spend­ing on a bud­get that to­tals roughly $9.5 bil­lion an­nu­ally, in­clud­ing $6.5 bil­lion for peace­keep­ing op­er­a­tions.

Pres­i­dent Jair Bol­sonaro of Brazil has called the UN’s Hu­man Rights Coun­cil a “com­mu­nist meet­ing place”. Prime Min­is­ter Vik­tor Or­ban of Hun­gary has railed against UN pol­icy protecting refugees. Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte of the Philip­pines has ex­pressed fury over a UN hu­man rights in­quiry into his war on drugs.

Un­der Mr Trump’s “Amer­ica First” ap­proach, the US in­tends to with­draw from the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion, with Mr Trump crit­i­cis­ing its coro­n­avirus re­sponse and call­ing it a mouth­piece for China. Mr Trump also has aban­doned or slashed sup­port for UN agen­cies, in­clud­ing the UN Pop­u­la­tion Fund, the Hu­man Rights Coun­cil and the agency that aids Pales­tini­ans clas­si­fied as refugees.

While the United States has been lash­ing out, China has ma­noeu­vred to as­sert more con­trol at the United Na­tions, tak­ing lead­er­ship po­si­tions in agen­cies that in­clude the Depart­ment of Eco­nomic and So­cial Af­fairs, the In­ter­na­tional Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Union and the Hu­man Rights Coun­cil.

 ??  ?? Po­lice pa­trolling Hong Kong af­ter a protest against China’s im­po­si­tion of a na­tional se­cu­rity law in early Septem­ber. As the US with­draws from bod­ies like the UN, an em­bold­ened China is as­sert­ing it­self on the world stage.
Po­lice pa­trolling Hong Kong af­ter a protest against China’s im­po­si­tion of a na­tional se­cu­rity law in early Septem­ber. As the US with­draws from bod­ies like the UN, an em­bold­ened China is as­sert­ing it­self on the world stage.

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