It’s time to reform the UN
US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — The Covid-19 pandemic revealed many institutional weaknesses, but above all, it showed that the UN urgently needs reform. In particular, the response of the World Health Organization (the UN Global Health Agency) to the epidemic of this virus revealed obvious shortcomings, which are explained by the lack of international consensus and cooperation, as well as by active protectionist measures on the part of the members of this organization.
Nowhere has the criticism of WHO been so loud and noticeable as in the United States, where the recent decision of President Donald Trump to freeze American funding for this organization was a nightmare for her, and exactly at that moment when she desperately needs support. Its role in the world after the pandemic will depend on what the UN will do next, and how it will be able to recover from the demonstrated inability to coordinate effectively during the Covid-19 crisis.
I consider myself the son of the UN and a loyal supporter of its values and principles. For over four decades, I have played various roles in this gigantic bureaucratic machine, starting in 1974, when I was appointed Qatar’s representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and ending in 2017, when I was not enough votes to become UNESCO Director-General.
For almost all of this time, the UN has consistently given hope for a better future. Its specialized agencies and organizations played a key role in preserving world peace, preventing international conflicts, eliminating colonialism, and protecting human rights.
However, recently the role of the UN has been steadily declining, and its influence on world events and governments has weakened. Once the main mediator and arbiter in the world, today it has become too limited by old concepts and doctrines that do not allow it to be that truly effective, full of the spirit of cooperation, the global governing body with which it appeared to its founders. The UN has ceased to inspire the governments of the world with a sense of respect for international legitimacy, for international law, for maintaining global peace and security – as it did, for example, after the Second World War and after the collapse of the USSR.
Simply put, the world has changed, and the UN is not keeping pace with these changes. The turbo-speed of political, economic, and cultural changes in the 21st century has led the once-powerful organization to become powerless, protected by only a few remaining friends.
However, this decline does not mean that the UN is doomed to end up in the dustbin of history. Judging by past experience, the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, which has become a catastrophic failure of global politics, is likely to usher in a period of significant change around the world. I am sure that we are moving towards a new, more diverse world order in which international governance will no longer be determined by any one country or one set of political values.
During the Covid-19 crisis, international solidarity did not work, and each country tried to defend only its own interests. When the pandemic is over, the world will engage in special investigations, prosecution, and the search for scapegoats. The UN will have to withstand this storm, but in the end, I think, it will help a revived willingness to value the collective community that we had so hard to create before.
This moment of truth will be difficult for the UN, because it will have to make difficult decisions. The organization will need to abandon the old mentality and begin to move in a direction that may be uncomfortable.
For example, bodies such as UNESCO will need to more clearly demonstrate their benefits to the world. Education, science and culture will be critical to recovering from a pandemic, so UNESCO leadership must ask deep questions: What are we doing to preserve cultural property? How can we protect human rights, including the right to education? How can we guide the scientific community and prevent a new pandemic? Should regional diversification be strengthened in order for the organization to serve all member countries, and how should this reflect on its leadership? Only by successfully solving such problems will UNESCO and other UN agencies be able to maintain their importance in the world after Covid-19.
The UN reform should begin at the highest level – with the Security Council, where five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA) continue to use the veto, inherited from a bygone era. The expansion of permanent membership in the Security Council at the expense of other countries (from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East) will help to balance the balance in global decision-making procedures.
Such a change is perfectly justified. For example, India already this decade could become the country with the largest population in the world, Japan has the third largest economy in the world, and South Africa and Nigeria have the largest economy on the continent with the highest population growth in the world.
In addition, UN agencies must ensure that citizens of the country in which they are based do not occupy senior positions in them. Too often, the organization’s leadership choices cast doubt on its legitimacy and independence. Just look at my region (Middle East) to see the dangerous consequences of such decisions.
For example, the Cairo-based League of Arab States was once considered a platform for Arab cooperation, but the constant appointment of ministers from the government of Egypt to the post of Secretary General of this organization signaled its death. Trying to make the League a branch of the Egyptian state, the leadership of this country achieved that this organization became politically obsolete and unnecessary, and its role was reduced to a platform for empty discussions.
The Covid-19 pandemic should serve as a start for UN reform. If this does not happen, then I’m afraid that the organization to which I have devoted a significant part of my professional career, and the principles of which I highly value, will not be able to find a reliable place for myself in the modern world, not to mention restoring former glory.
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