UN Reform & multilateralism 2019-August 2021

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1 August
Can the ICAO Recover After Chinese Stewardship?
Brett D. Schaefer, Senior Research Fellow, International Regulatory Affairs and Danielle Pletka, Senior Fellow in Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute
(The Heritage Foundation) Colombia’s Juan Carlos Salazar will have his work cut out for him when he takes over as Secretary General of the International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO.
Liu mishandled a 2016 Chinese state-sponsored cyberattack on the ICAO itself and focused almost obsessively on denying Taiwan access to ICAO.
After years in which aviation safety has been sidelined and member government complaints have been ignored, ICAO is ready for an upgrade.
Under Liu, reform languished, and the Organization failed to promptly address growing threats to the safety and security of commercial aviation. Instead, she used her position to advance policies dictated by Beijing (including new air routes instituted in violation of ICAO procedures). She tolerated a hostile working environment for women and whistleblowers, and concealed security breaches that threatened the security of ICAO, its member states, and the aviation industry.

30 July
A targeted window of opportunity for U.S. multilateral leadership
John R. Allen and John McArthur
(Brookings) The context is the recently renovated UN Resident Coordinator (RC) system, which supports country-level coordination of the UN family of 34 distinct organizations­—ranging from the World Health Organization to UNICEF to the World Food Program—working with 162 countries, mostly emerging markets and developing economies. As the UN Development System’s most senior representatives in each country, reporting directly to the UN secretary-general, RCs are responsible for driving integrated UN support to local efforts tackling the interwoven economic, social, and environmental challenges of sustainable development.
When current UN Secretary-General António Guterres and Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed took office in 2017, one of their foremost priorities was to streamline efforts across the vast network of development-focused UN agencies, funds, and programs helping countries pursue the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Climate Agreement, and other key global accords. In 2018, UN member states agreed to a new strategy for integrating UN support in relevant countries, anchored in a pivotal update of the UN Resident Coordinator role. Previously, the RC function was managed by the United Nations Development Program, one of the larger UN entities. As of 2019, the RC role was repositioned to lead more independently between UN entities, under the auspices of the secretary-general and oversight of the deputy secretary-general.

12 July
UN rights boss urges ‘wide range’ of reparations over racism
(AP) — The U.N. human rights chief on Monday urged countries to “fully fund comprehensive processes” and take “a wide range of reparations measures” to address the legacies of slavery, colonial rule and racial discrimination.
Michelle Bachelet presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council a landmark report launched after the killing of George Floyd in the United States and released last month. A year in the making, it hopes to build on momentum around the intensified scrutiny worldwide of the blight of racism and its impact on people of African descent.
Bachelet told the council in Geneva that research “could not find a single example of a state that has comprehensively reckoned with its past or accounted for its impacts on the lives of people of African descent today,” despite some attempts at seeking out the truth through apologies, litigation and memorialization.

14 June
The Ban Ki-moon Interview
Mark Leon Goldberg
(UN Dispatch)  Ban Ki-moon served as the eighth secretary general of the United Nations from 2007 to 2016.  [His newly-published memoir] Resolved: Uniting Nations in a Divided World …gives his first-person account as the leader of the United Nations who navigates complex crises around the world, including Syria, Myanmar, Israel and Palestine, the West Africa ebola outbreak and much more.  He also offers his perspective and a behind-the-scenes account of some key UN successes during his tenure, including the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals.
We cover quite a bit of ground in this interview, including his perspective on what the Covid crisis revealed about the strengths and weaknesses of the United Nations, what can be done to bolster multilateralism today, his frustrations with the security council and advice he might offer to his successor Antonio Guterres. And of course, we spend a good deal of time talking climate change diplomacy, which was his signature issue as Secretary General.

On the Secret Campaign Trail to Lead the U.N.
Arora Akanksha, a financial auditor and a long-shot candidate in the notoriously opaque Secretary-General election, makes the rounds of ambassadors and diplomats, who’ll only meet clandestinely.
(The New Yorker) In 2015, the G.A. passed a resolution opening up the process; the following year, thirteen candidates competed in an election that officials celebrated as transparent, inclusive, and fair. This year, the incumbent Secretary-General, António Guterres, is the only candidate on the ballot, despite ten others having declared their intention to run.

2 April
Meet the Canadian millennial running to lead the United Nations
The UN today is not serving people the way it’s supposed to,’ said 34-year-old Arora Akanksha
(CBC) Canadian Arora Akanksha has set her sights on the biggest job at the United Nations – the chair of the Secretary General. The UN staffer is the youngest person to vie for the job, and although no country has backed her candidacy yet, she hopes to become the first woman to assume the post.
The 34-year-old UN auditor made headlines earlier this year when she declared her intentions to challenge incumbent UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Should she win, she would be the first woman and the first millennial to lead the international organization in its 75-year history.

11 January
John Trent: A Canadian’s advice for Joe Biden on foreign policy
(Ottawa Citizen) In a world where China and Russia are seeking ways of building new hegemonies, and a whole slew of nationalist-populist leaders strides about the international scene, it is more necessary than ever for a coalition of large, middle and small liberal powers to rebuild an effective multilateral system focused on the UN.
The building blocks are already in place. In 2019-2020, the first steps were taken to launch The Alliance for Multilateralism. It was initiated as a network of states cooperating on common objectives, pursuing shared goals based on agreed principles. Its foreign ministers met at the 74th and 75th UN General Assemblies. The momentum came from the Germans and French in the belief that a rules-based international order is the only reliable guarantee for international stability and peace. They were joined from the outset by Canada, Mexico, Chile, Singapore and Ghana. Many other states have acceded to the network and it is open to any country that shares the belief that common challenges can best be solved by common action. It would include cooperation to come to the aid of hard-pressed international institutions and advancing their reform. The Alliance wants to act through concrete initiatives in fields such as climate, health, digital technology, rethinking arms control and the Paris Peace Forum. It intends to reach out to non-state actors.
The Alliance can be the framework for a far-reaching movement but much flesh must be placed on the skeleton if it is to awaken into a smart coalition. The Alliance must be encouraged to become much more than a “network.” It should actively seek new member states and show some urgency in promoting the construction of an alliance of middle-power democracies in the Indo-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and Africa.

3 January
Brian Urquhart, Troubleshooter for the U.N., Dies at 101
He was best known for creating and directing the U.N.’s peacekeeping operations in conflict-filled areas around the world.
(NYT) Brian Urquhart, a troubleshooting British diplomat who joined the United Nations at its birth in 1945 and over the next four decades was a chief aide to five secretaries general while directing peacekeeping operations around the world, died on Saturday at his home in Tyringham, Mass. He was 101.
Resourceful, irreverent, unflappable, Mr. Urquhart blended the qualities of a globe-trotting adventurer and a determined international civil servant. In 1945, he worked for the commission that set up the United Nations Secretariat, arranged the General Assembly’s first meeting in London and settled on New York City as the United Nations’ permanent home.
By 1986, when Mr. Urquhart retired, he had directed 13 peacekeeping operations, recruited a force of 10,000 troops from 23 countries and established peacekeeping as one of the United Nations’ most visible and politically popular functions. In an editorial, The New York Times hailed him as a visionary soldier of peace.
“Mr. Urquhart persists in believing that the Soviet Union and the United States may yet find it in their interest to join in peacekeeping operations that can contain local conflicts,” the editorial said. “As Mr. Urquhart asks in reflecting upon his life’s service, ‘Why should not the lion sometimes lie down with the lion, instead of terrifying all the lambs by their mutual hostility?’”

23 December
What awaits Joe Biden at the United Nations
Rejoining agreements might not even be the easy part.
(Vox) “America is back. Multilateralism is back. Diplomacy is back,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for US ambassador to the United Nations said last month.
Biden has promised to rebuild America’s alliances and partnerships around the world. That includes a commitment to international institutions, the United Nations being the big one on that list.
But the shorthand for that — “America is back” — is likely going to be much harder to execute in practice. As Alynna Lyon, United Nations expert and professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, put it, this “isn’t like an Etch A Sketch that you can just shake and reset and clear the slate.”
President Donald Trump’s tenure, for better or worse, has irrevocably transformed America’s reputation and role in the world. His administration shunned a lot of multilateral cooperation, seeing it as holding America back. Trump withdrew from international pacts like the Paris climate accords and global bodies like the World Health Organization.
Biden is going to try to bring into these agreements, and reengage with these institutions. But the United Nations is no longer just America’s show, with China and some other countries having filled in the gaps left behind by America.
Challenges like the pandemic and climate change will require international cooperation, and how the administration approaches the United Nations, and the powerful players within it, might say a lot about Biden’s foreign policy over the next four years.

3 December
U.N. hosts the world’s weirdest summit on Covid-19
Lack of coordination, urgency and money is crippling the global Covid-19 response.
(Politico) The United Nations General Assembly took nine months to arrange a special two-day session on Covid-19 — which kicked off this morning — leaving nearly everyone scratching their heads and asking, “Why now?”
UNGA President Volkan Bozkir, who pressed for the summit, argued today that “the world is looking to the U.N. for leadership; this is a test for multilateralism.”
If that’s the case, multilateralism is likely to fail that test — if it hasn’t already.
There’s little enthusiasm among national diplomats for this event, and few big ideas. The one novel idea is European Council President Charles Michel’s suggestion for a global pandemic treaty, modeled after the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. His speech, which echoed a push he began at the G-20, cuts across several existing efforts to reform the U.N. system, including ongoing WHO reform talks, an Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response and a committee looking at changes to today’s relatively toothless International Health Regulations.

24 November
Jan Lundius: Does WFP Deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?
(IPS) On 10 December, representatives for the World Food Programme (WFP) will in Norway receive the Nobel Peace Prize at the Oslo City Hall. This is taking place while the COVID-19 pandemic is causing lock-downs and suffering all over world, limiting agricultural production and disrupting supply chains.
… the World Food Programme and its mandate have often been questioned. Some have even demanded the organisation´s demise, referring to a general debate about the net effectiveness of aid. Among other arguments it has been stated that some nations have become overly reliant on foreign aid and it thus has to cease. Politicians, journalists and even some aid workers have pointed out that food support to starving people may worsen an already catastrophic situation by prolonging conflicts, creating and stimulating corruption, strengthening predatory regimes, supporting warring fractions and fostering black markets. Furthermore, it has been indicated that an apparent inefficiency of huge, UN supported and global organizations like WFP, motivates their defunding.
The World Food Programme focuses on hunger and food security. It supports 100 million people in approximately 90 countries. Two-thirds of WFP´s activities are carried out in conflict zones, where the organization provides food assistance to people who otherwise would have been fatally affected by undernutrition and starvation.

18 October
Multilateralism in the National Interest
Editor’s Note: As the United Nations celebrates its 75th year, it is a good time to take stock of its success and failures. Critics, especially in the United States, have long criticized the U.N. for being bureaucratic, ineffective and expensive. The organization, however, has enjoyed many successes—some more visible than others. United Nations Foundation president Elizabeth Cousens and my Georgetown colleague Lise Morjé Howard take stock of the U.N.’s record and argue that the organization deserves credit for a range of achievements over its many years.
(Lawfare) As the United Nations rang in its 75th birthday, a familiar chorus of complaints accompanied the opening session of the General Assembly—from broadsides against multilateralism to mischaracterizations of the international organization as an “utter failure” on matters of peace and security. Many of the populist leaders who lined up to address the world body were predictably unilateral in outlook.
As two people who have spent their careers working in the United Nations and on international cooperation more broadly, we are no strangers to some of the well-founded critiques of the organization and its performance. We’ve leveled some of them ourselves. But at a time when a pandemic is raging, America’s coasts are burning and flooding, and geopolitical tensions among Security Council members are rising, let’s keep our eyes on the big picture. The world faces collective threats, and countries need collective action to solve them.

9 October
Nobel Peace Prize: UN World Food Programme wins for efforts to combat hunger
The Norwegian Nobel Committee said the WFP was declared winner of the prestigious award “for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict”.
Chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen said that with this year’s award the committee wanted to “turn the eyes of the world to the millions of people who suffer from or face the threat of hunger”.
“The World Food Programme plays a key role in multilateral co-operation in making food security an instrument of peace,” she told a news conference in Oslo.

27 September
UN failures on coronavirus underscore the need for reforms
(AP) — The coronavirus that has claimed nearly 1 million lives has underscored the failure of the United Nations to bring countries together to defeat it, prompting renewed calls to reform the world body so that it can meet challenges far different — and more daunting — than those it faced at its birth.
As U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week, “The pandemic is a clear test of international cooperation – a test we have essentially failed.” 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 U.N.’s 193 member nations to agree on major issues — let alone unite on reforms.

Leaders to UN: If virus doesn’t kill us, climate change will
(AP) — In a year of cataclysm, some world leaders at this week’s annual United Nations meeting are taking the long view, warning: If COVID-19 doesn’t kill us, climate change will.
With Siberia seeing its warmest temperature on record this year and enormous chunks of ice caps in Greenland and Canada sliding into the sea, countries are acutely aware there’s no vaccine for global warming.
… the coronavirus has diverted resources and attention from what could have been the marquee issue at this U.N. gathering. Meanwhile, the U.N. global climate summit has been postponed to late 2021.
That hasn’t stopped countries, from slowly sinking island nations to parched African ones, from speaking out.
“In another 75 years, many … members may no longer hold seats at the United Nations if the world continues on its present course,” the Alliance of Small Island States and the Least Developed Countries Group said.

21 September
UN general assembly goes virtual: a former ambassador on what that means for diplomacy
(The Conversation) The UN general assembly traditionally fulfills a number of functions. First, it is a platform for set-piece presentations by leaders, often geared more to domestic rather than international audiences, for whom being seen to be there is important.
Second, it provides an opportunity to demonstrate the global community’s concern about the particular problems of the day by holding large public meetings involving activists, public figures and politicians. Third, there are the ad hoc bilateral or multilateral meetings between leaders behind closed doors, often to resolve specific crises or problems.
World leaders of course come for all three. Diplomats come for the third, which is where the heavy lifting is done.
… The problem comes with the third. The UN general assembly is the prime venue for diplomatic speed dating – seeing as many fellow leaders as possible in as short a time – and for hammering out difficult decisions in private conversations.
It’s rare for this to result in something announced at the time. But it helps build momentum or expand contacts that can lead to a deal later. The efforts don’t always bear fruit, as I have seen myself many times on issues like Syria, Yemen, Libya and South Sudan. But sometimes they have worked – on Lebanon in the past, on Sudan and Somalia.
In principle, all these conversations can be had, if less securely, by video conference. But will they? And will the quality of interaction really be the same as getting the key heads of state or foreign ministers into the same room?

15 September
A ‘Crossroads’ for Humanity: Earth’s Biodiversity Is Still Collapsing
Countries have made insufficient progress on international goals designed to halt a catastrophic slide, a new report found.
The world is failing to address a catastrophic biodiversity collapse that not only threatens to wipe out beloved species and invaluable genetic diversity, but endangers humanity’s food supply, health and security, according to a sweeping United Nations report issued on Tuesday.

12 September
UN adopts resolution recognising COVID-19 as one of greatest challenges in its history
The UN General Assembly said in a new resolution the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic represents one of the greatest challenges since the establishment of the United Nations.

25 August
UN framework on countering violent extremism online is the need of the hour
(Observer Research Foundation) The dire repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy, social relationships and the politics of countries around the world can be seen as normal when compared to the devastating effects of natural disasters, epidemics and wars throughout history in terms of the loss of human lives, the economic aftershocks, and the depletion of health and medical resources. For this reason, the material effects of COVID-19 remain relatively limited, albeit with some variance amongst countries[1].
Nonetheless, one should be aware that the psychological, moral and symbolic transformations—which have accelerated since the emergence of the pandemic at the beginning of 2020—have left marked scars on human existence, and deep cracks in individual and social relational networks. Indeed, human behaviour has undergone transformations because of the pandemic’s tremendous shock for both individuals and the structure of social relationships.

27 July
Meeting the Challenge of Security Cooperation in a COVID-19 World
Jennifer Welsh, Canada 150 research chair in global governance and security at McGill University.
(CIGI) While some might argue that the Security Council’s inability to address COVID-19 is little cause for concern given that other bodies of the UN system (particularly the WHO) are explicitly tasked with global public health emergencies, Council members fell spectacularly short even in their ‘core business’ areas. In late March, Secretary General Antonio Guterres told Member States that the virus was“the gravest threat” to the UN since “the founding of this organization” and called for a global ceasefire to enable organizations working in conflict-zones to redirect their attention to fighting COVID-19. Council members could not negotiate a resolution in support. There was a stand-off between China and the US over whether to mention the WHO in the text of the resolution and Russia insisted that a ceasefire could not apply to vital ‘counter-terrorism’ operations (most notably in Syria). Similarly, the appeal from the Secretary-General and his human rights Commissioner Michele Bachelet for the Security Council to ease its sanctions regimes on countries such as Iran – to facilitate access to medical equipment and supplies to fight the spread of the coronavirus – saw very little take-up from Council members.
Finally, in early July 2020, Security Council members continued their tense stand-off over the renewal of arrangements to maintain cross-border humanitarian aid flows into Syria. The failure to agree at the eleventh hour (as the current arrangements were expiring) risked cutting off humanitarian access to over a million Syrians in the area north of Aleppo. But it also represents just one more incidence of Council disunity – symbolized by the regular casting of vetoes by permanent members — in the face of a decade-long civil war that has generated both widespread civilian suffering and mass migration.
Past evidence suggests that when the Council is united and sends a message of its resolve, as it did, for example, over chemical weapons in Syria in 2012 or in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, it can have a profound impact on the behaviour of actors in conflict-situations. Indeed, many believe that if Security Council members had acted more decisively to support Guterres’ global ceasefire initiative, it could have made a significant difference.

23 July
What is the future of the UN in the age of impunity?
As the laws of war become optional and crimes in Syria and Libya go unpunished, there are fears the body has no teeth
(The Guardian) Even at the best of times, there is a wide scope for misunderstanding in modern international relations, says António Guterres, the UN secretary general. “When two diplomats meet”, he says, “there are at least six perceptions to manage: how the two perceive themselves, how they perceive each other – and how they think the other perceives them”.
Four months into the coronavirus epidemic and it is the worst of times – and the opportunities for misperception have multiplied. The virus has left the UN members talking past one another, and advocates of multilateralism increasingly looking anywhere but the security council to promote liberal democracy, seek compromise or campaign for accountability.
[Guterres] tried, for instance, to make the UN relevant back in late March by calling for a worldwide ceasefire to give the doctors space and time to save lives. It was unashamedly idealistic, but some militias in Cameroon, Thailand and the Philippines, agreed to time out.
But then arguments between China and the US over Covid-19 held up the resolution for months. The US objected to any positive reference to the UN World Health Organization in the text. The only body to be demobilised, Guterres discovered, was the UN itself.
… Roméo Dallaire, the Canadian former general and senator who served as force commander for UNAMIR, the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda, between 1993-1994, said: ‘I think we are in a revolutionary time … The under-25s are going to start to be very active and they are going to start demanding that humanity is treated as one.
They are a generation without borders. This generation will have the means through the incredible weapons of social media. They have the power to push aside the leaders that hold them back.’

20 July
Counterterrorism and the UN: The rise and hapless fall of American leadership
(Brookings) President Trump’s recent decision to withdraw from the World Health Organization — like his persistent threats against NATO, or his imposition of sanctions on the International Criminal Court — have faced sharp criticism internationally. This administration has inflicted considerable damage to the international rules-based system that was designed after World War II to address complex global challenges, a system that America helped create and has clearly benefited from.
Less visible, but also harmful, are instances where there has been a lack of principled U.S. leadership and engagement. The United States in recent years has withdrawn from the U.N. Human Rights Council; reduced funding for (and thus influence in) U.N. peacekeeping and U.N. agencies dealing with human rightsPalestinian refugeespopulation controlsustainable development, and global warming; and made erratic decisions in the anti-ISIS coalition, for instance. This has created a vacuum that has too often been filled by authoritarian and other undemocratic regimes eager to leverage the multilateral system in ways that legitimize their own behavior and/or promote their priorities that are often at odds with those of democratic countries.
This was on full display during the U.N.’s virtual counterterrorism week recently, which focused on the “strategic and practical challenges of countering terrorism in a global pandemic era.” The United States is prioritizing building global support outside of the U.N. to counter Iranian-sponsored terrorism and is apparently no longer interested in playing a leading role in shaping and driving the U.N. counterterrorism system — a role it has played for two decades.

26 June
1945 U.N. Charter signed
(This Day in History) In the Herbst Theater auditorium in San Francisco, delegates from 50 nations sign the United Nations Charter, establishing the world body as a means of saving “succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” The Charter was ratified on October 24, and the first U.N. General Assembly met in London on January 10, 1946.
Despite the failure of the League of Nations in arbitrating the conflicts that led up to World War II, the Allies as early as 1941 proposed establishing a new international body to maintain peace in the postwar world. The idea of the United Nations began to be articulated in August 1941, when U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill signed the Atlantic Charter, which proposed a set of principles for international collaboration in maintaining peace and security. Later that year, Roosevelt coined “United Nations” to describe the nations allied against the Axis powers–Germany, Italy, and Japan. The term was first officially used on January 1, 1942, when representatives of 26 Allied nations met in Washington, D.C., and signed the Declaration by the United Nations, which endorsed the Atlantic Charter and presented the united war aims of the Allies.
As we celebrate 75 years of UN Charter, a look at 2020 & elasticity of the world order
While we prepare to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the UN, reaffirming its collective commitment to multilateralism, the year 2020 seems to be adamant on challenging the elasticity of the world order by compressing its principles of one family. The year began with COVID-19, and within a fortnight, humanity was dismayed by the so called aspirational world order in which no one is left behind.
Collaborative agreements of all kinds lost their relevance, and inward looking governments sealed their borders and dedicated all available resources to protect their own people. This inward approach percolated to municipal, and even household levels. Soon, social distancing also meant “emotional distancing”. Since early March, international institutions, set up with the purpose of multilateralism and oneness, turned “deaf and dumb”, and left countries at their own fate, irrespective of their capability to deal with pitiful realities. Leave aside helping with resources, there hasn’t been even cooperation in terms of sharing quality information and learnings, which has resulted in chaotic decision-making and loss of livelihood for billion+ people worldwide.
It is a foregone conclusion that humanity is experiencing its biggest economic depression, and it may get worse than 1930s. At a time when the world leadership should have put its act together to combat this crisis, we have been observing an unaspiring, indifferent, inward, and isolated approach, which is focused at addressing local, and at best, national interest. Moreover, powerful economies have chosen to strengthen their supremacy by triggering conflict and unrest in different parts of the world.
The ideas that shaped the past 75 years have all but evaporated. A world order based on humanitarian approach has showed its theatrical character and fragility. The year 2020 has put elasticity of the world order to test by stretching and compressing its shape. The global response to COVID-19 has posed fundamental questions about the genuineness of a progressive world order and exposed its hypocritical intent of “oneness”.
Hopefully, the future will witness an all-new progressive world order that can restore trust and values of peace, inclusivity and sustainability. Maybe the crisis will give rise to charismatic leadership and statesmanship, which will help the world regain its large-hearted shape.

The new world disorder
The Economist look[s] at the state of the world, 75 years after the creation of the United Nations. The UN, and the system of global norms and institutions it represents, is struggling to cope with the rise of China, and the neglect—antipathy even—of the country that was its chief architect and sponsor, the United States.
“SEVENTY-FIVE years ago in San Francisco 50 countries signed the charter that created the United Nations—they left a blank space for Poland, which became the 51st founding member a few months later. In some ways the UN has exceeded expectations. Unlike the League of Nations, set up after the first world war, it has survived. Thanks largely to decolonisation, its membership has grown to 193. There has been no third world war.
And yet the UN is struggling, as are many of the structures, like the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), designed to help create order out of chaos. This system, with the UN at its apex, is beset by internal problems, by the global struggle to cope with the rise of China, and most of all by the neglect—antipathy even—of the country that was its chief architect and sponsor, the United States.
The UN is bureaucratic and infuriating. Its agencies fall prey to showboating and hypocrisy, as when despots on its Human Rights Council censure Israel yet again. The Security Council gives vetoes to Britain and France, much diminished powers since 1945, but no permanent membership to Japan, India, Brazil, Germany or any African country. Alas, it looks virtually unreformable.”

15 June
The lengths countries go to for a seat at UN top table
(BBC) It likely won’t come down to the gift bags or the parties but that doesn’t mean Canada, Norway and Ireland are leaving it to chance.
The small tokens for delegations ahead of the 17 June vote come after lengthy campaigns by the three nations for one of two coveted non-permanent seats up for grabs on the security council, which is tasked with ensuring global peace and security.
… Member states get three things in return for a seat, says Adam Chapnick, a professor of defence studies at the Royal Military College of Canada.
Those are access, relevance and influence.
“For two years, day in and day out, a country that is not a great power will have direct access to the five permanent members in addition to whomever else might be on the council at that time,” he says.
He adds: “With that access comes relevance.”
… To win a seat, a country needs to secure the support of at least two thirds of the General Assembly delegations that are voting.
In the past, countries thought they had secured a seat only to find once the secret ballots are cast, promises of support never materialised.

22 April
China must not shape the future of human rights at the UN
Kyle Matthews & Margaret McCuaig-Johnston
In 2014, President Xi Jinping began encouraging Chinese officials to move into leadership positions in international organizations and standards bodies to ensure that China’s objectives and policies were given full influence. We can see now this policy is having an impact as China exhorts these multilateral institutions to expel Taiwan from membership and adopt Chinese priorities. Now human rights have been added to China’s sphere of influence.
(The Conversation) While most of the world is occupied trying to manage the spread of the coronavirus, another frightening development is taking place at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.
China, a known human rights abuser, is being given the power to influence the investigation of human rights issues around the world.
The non-governmental organization UN Watch recently revealed that the People’s Republic of China had been selected to join a special panel tasked with selecting the next group of special rapporteurs. This panel is responsible for assigning at least 17 positions over the next year that will oversee a whole slew of important human rights issues.
If China joins the panel, it will immediately have the power to appoint or nix global investigators on freedom of speech, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and health.
“Allowing China’s oppressive and inhumane regime to choose the world investigators on freedom of speech, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances is like making a pyromaniac the town fire chief.” – Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch
NB: Fang Liu is the current Secretary General of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Prior to joining ICAO, Liu served the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC), where over the course of twenty years she eventually became responsible for China’s international air transport policy and regulations, bilateral and multilateral relations with international and regional organizations. (see: UN aviation agency fails to share virus information with Taiwan.)

19 April
US and Russia blocking UN plans for a global ceasefire amid crisis
Resolution strongly supported by dozens of countries, human rights groups and charities
(The Guardian) The UN secretary-general, António Guterres, called for an immediate end to fighting involving governments and armed groups in all conflict areas almost one month ago. “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” he said.
Yet despite strong support for a universal truce from dozens of countries, including leading US allies such as Britain, France and Germany, as well as human rights groups, charities and the pope, the Trump administration is refusing to be bound by the measure.
In an attempt to break the impasse, Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has proposed a draft security council resolution which attempts to overcome US and Russian objections by, in effect, making it impossible to enforce.

14 April
The United Nations Has a Bad Case of COVID-19
Through neglect and lack of leadership among Western democracies, authoritarian China has accumulated undue influence at the UN, writes J. Michael Cole, Taipei-based senior fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa.
(Macdonald-Laurier Institute) Facing mounting criticism over his organization’s initial handling of the COVID-19 epidemic, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last week launched an unprecedented attack against Taiwan – a country the WHO has repeatedly ignored – accusing it of orchestrating a “racist” attack campaign against him and black communities over the past three months.
Accustomed to China’s political warfare tactics, it didn’t take long for Taiwan to discover that China’s cyber army had been behind a campaign to discredit Taiwan, to further alienate it from the WHO, and to draw attention away from Taiwan’s success in handling the COVID-19 outbreak and generous medical assistance to international partners.
Thus, at a time when Taiwan was doing what WHO officials have been urging – international cooperation – Tedros was targeting the island-nation with potentially damaging disinformation provided by Beijing. And the latter lost no time to amplify message, calling the alleged attacks by Taiwanese “venomous.”
As with other UN agencies, the WHO often appears to have become an extension of Beijing’s foreign policy; its top officials “owe” Beijing, which used its growing influence behind the scene either to have its own people (e.g., the International Civil Aviation Organization, Interpol) or representatives from other countries whom it believes it can bend to its will, elected. Thus, for all his shortcomings, Tedros is only the tip of the iceberg.
Over the past decade, we have allowed China, one of the world’s most egregious human rights violators, what with its assault on civil society, dissidents, religion, and freedom of expression, and erection of concentration camps in Xinjiang, to tighten its grip on the UN system. Through that influence, it has been rewriting the very principles that have underpinned the global body since its creation following the turmoil of World War II. Beijing has done so not because it fundamentally believes in international institutions, but rather, in a manner quite reminiscent of the USSR before its collapse, because the world body serves as a conduit to advance its own geopolitical ambitions.
Through neglect and lack of leadership among Western democracies, authoritarian China has accumulated undue influence at the UN Human Rights Council, the Economic and Social Council and the UN General Assembly, where it has used “bloc voting” among member states to further its antidemocratic agenda.

6-8 April
Andrew Caddell: The role of the WHO in this crisis has been tarnished by politics
A poisonous cocktail of money and internal and global politics has left the WHO damaged by aligning with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s mendaciousness of the perils and spread of COVID-19.
(The Hill Times) The first [factor] is money. While the WHO’s budget has increased over the years, its ability to compete with other UN organizations for donor funds has not. The dues Canada and other countries pay, called “assessed contributions,” support just one-quarter of the WHO’s more than US$4-billion budget. It needs voluntary contributions from its member-states to survive. Enter China, its third-largest assessed contributor, with money to support WHO headquarters operations, and the potential for more in the future.
The second is global politics. The role of Taiwan in this crisis is a burr under the saddle of the Chinese, as their democracy has proven more effective than communist China in eradicating the virus. Taiwan has long sought membership to the WHO, which has been vehemently opposed by China’s Xi. …
The third is internal politics. Dr. Tedros’ election as head of the WHO can be traced directly to China’s campaign for him in 2017. The “G-77” group of 134 developing countries is a powerful UN voting bloc, and China holds sway over many of them. Dr. Tedros will seek re-election in 2022, and he needs China’s support. Its influence is not something new: his predecessor, Dr. Margaret Chan, a Canadian citizen, was put forth as the Chinese candidate.
This poisonous cocktail has left the WHO damaged, by aligning with Xi’s mendaciousness of the perils and spread of COVID-19. An online petition is calling for the removal of Dr. Tedros, and demands Taiwan’s inclusion at the WHO are increasing. But despite its merits and its proven expertise in the field, Taiwan will be opposed by China and the G-77.
As a former WHO staffer, I have the utmost respect for the professionalism of my former colleagues, the best physicians in the world. But I am saddened their work is being tarnished by politics. I am afraid the reputation of the WHO will be in tatters when the crisis is over, thanks to the incompetence and political intrigue of Dr. Tedros. He has to go.
WHO head dismisses suggestions he’s too close to China
(Reuters) – World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus dismissed suggestions that his agency was too close to China after criticism by U.S. President Donald Trump.
“We are close to every nation, we are colour-blind,” Tedros told a virtual news briefing on Wednesday, urging critics to “please quarantine COVID politics” and thanking the United States for its generous support that he expected to continue.
WHO rejects ‘China-centric’ charge after Trump criticism
(Reuters) World Health Organization officials on Wednesday denied that the body was “China-centric” and said that the acute phase of a pandemic was not the time to cut funding, after U.S. President Donald Trump said he may put contributions on hold…. Trump told a news conference on Tuesday that the United States was “going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO,” however, he appeared to backtrack later when in response to questions he said: “We’re going to look at it.”
It was not immediately clear how Trump could “block” funding for the organization. Under U.S. law, Congress, not the president, decides how federal funds are spent.

Multilateral paradigm needed for UN reform
(China Daily) United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who called the novel coronavirus pandemic the greatest test since World War II, has stressed that developed countries should assist less-developed nations, and he called for “an immediate, coordinated health response to suppress transmission and end the pandemic”.
As the UN turns 75 this year, the global body continues to be the most representative international organization. Peace and security, human rights, and international law and development are still the main issues of its mission.
Western countries are paralyzed by dilemmas created by their obsolete government systems.
Consequently, the inefficiency of multilateral organizations becomes clear.
The attempts to reform the UN have been many. In numerous proposals, it was suggested to change the hermetic structure of the Security Council. It is legitimate to demand a more representative structure that reflects the surge of new, dynamic countries and regions.
Since 1979, more than 10 countries have proposed expanding the council. Three of them are worth mentioning: the proposal led by Brazil, the one led by the African Union and one called Uniting for Consensus.

COVID-19: Populism not dead but multilateralism gaining ground
Populists tendencies shaking; right-wingers seeking help from transnational organisations
(Gulf news) Like Trump who began his term in 2017 by closing United States borders, starting to build a wall on the border with Mexico, ordering sweeping protectionist trade policies, including heavy tariffs on imports from China and Europe, and renegotiating the NAFTA trade pact with Canada and Mexico, Europe’s populists looked inwards and put their countries’ international commitments into doubt. International cooperation and multilateral approach in international relations seemed to be on the defensive, and isolationism and unilateral polices were on the rise.
As the coronavirus struck the world, the populists tendencies started to shake. Governments that were a few months ago empowered by the anti-foreigner policies and slogans began asking for help. International organisations, such as the United Nations and World Health Organisation (WHO) that were ridiculed by President Trump and other populist governments, are gaining prominence.
Henry Kissinger, the former US Secretary of State, this week said that the coronavirus outbreak would change our world forever. “The reality is the world will never be the same after the coronavirus,” he wrote in an article on The Wall Street Journal. The 91-year-old is a widely respected political theorist, who has never been an admirer of multilateralism in international relations. [However] He stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic does not know borders. The key to combat the virus, he wrote, is not a purely national effort but greater international cooperation. …
The coronavirus may not knock out populism outright. These right-wing parties will not embrace internationalism today. But, surely, multilateralism is gaining important ground as more governments subscribe to the increasingly recognised belief that the right response to the pandemic is an international one.

Project Syndicate interview with Kemal Derviş, former Turkish Economy Minister and UNDP Administrator and current Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. (paywall)
Project Syndicate: “Precisely at a time when rules-based multilateralism is in retreat,” you and Sebastián Strauss recently wrote, “perhaps the fear and losses arising from COVID-19 will encourage efforts to bring about a better model of globalization.” But how likely is that? As you acknowledge in your most recent PS commentary, “Solidarity across borders will be the most difficult challenge posed by the pandemic catastrophe.” Could the COVID-19 pandemic thus result in uncontrolled deglobalization? How might such an outcome be avoided, or at least mitigated?
Unfortunately, the responses to particular disasters have tended to focus on preventing that exact kind of disaster from recurring, rather than mitigating risks more broadly. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US, for example, robustness was built into airport security – and not much else.
Each area of risk will require specific policies. More ambitious climate action, for one thing, is essential. But the sheer magnitude of the COVID-19 crisis should result in a broader shift toward greater systemic robustness.
This will require enhanced international cooperation, including global early-warning mechanisms, shared circuit-breakers and shock absorbers, a pool of resources ready to be deployed immediately when a crisis strikes, pre-agreed burden-sharing formulas, and automatic exchanges of critical information.

Stretching the international order to its breaking point
(Brookings) As a number of astute observers have noted, COVID-19 could end globalization as we know it, particularly if the pandemic is prolonged. Gérard Araud, formerly France’s ambassador to the United States, told me that when a crisis occurs, one should ask whether it breaks a trend or confirms it. “There is,” he said, “an assault on globalization” from multiple sources — the financial crisis, U.S.-China competition, climate-change activists pushing for people to buy local. COVID-19 piles on the pressure. Countries will be wary of outsourcing crucial medical supplies and pharmaceuticals to other countries. Supply chains more generally will be disrupted and will be hard to repair. Governments will play a much larger role in the economy and will use that role to rebuild a national economy instead of a global one — their priority will be domestic industry.

27 January
UN aviation agency blocks critics of Taiwan policy on Twitter
(Axios) The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has blocked numerous Twitter accounts — including ones belonging to Capitol Hill staffers and D.C.-based analysts — after facing online criticism for excluding Taiwan from membership.
Why it matters: Taipei is an international transit hub, and Taiwan’s exclusion means it can’t take part in information sharing and logistical planning as the coronavirus spreads.
Note:The Republic of China (Taiwan) was a founding member of ICAO, but was replaced by the People’s Republic of China as the legal representative of China in 1971 and as such, did not take part in the organization. In 2013, Taiwan was for the first time invited to attend the ICAO Assembly, at its 38th session, as a guest under the name of Chinese Taipei. As of September 2019, it has not been invited to participate again, due to renewed PRC pressure. Host government Canada supports Taiwan’s inclusion in ICAO. Support also comes from Canada’s commercial sector with the president of the Air Transport Association of Canada saying in 2019 that “It’s about safety in aviation so from a strictly operational and non-political point of view, I believe Taiwan should be there.” Wikipedia

25 January
Why multilateralism is in such a mess and how we can fix it
(World Economic Forum) Ups and downs in the lives of individual international institutions are not new, but the malaise that now afflicts multilateralism is unprecedented in range and depth. It transcends issue-areas, and occurs at a time when the need for sensible rules of international cooperation has greater urgency than ever before.
Even as trade wars rage outside, the Dispute Settlement Body of the World Trade Organization (WTO) finds itself paralysed due to the blocked appointments/re-appointments of judges in its Appellate Body. Public awareness of climate change as a global emergency may have increased, but the United States has at the same time delivered a serious blow to the mitigation regime by moving to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.
In his remarkable interview with The Economist in November this year, French President Macron declared the “brain-death” of the NATO and pointed to the fragility of Europe. Impending Brexit is one thorn in the side of the European project; the rise of the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) party in Germany is another. Multilateralism, in both its universal and non-universal versions, and across economic and security issues, is under severe strain.


13 December
Former UN Human Rights Chief says we must be bolder in calling out world leaders
‘Demagogues and political fantasists — to them, I must be a sort of nightmare’: Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein
This is a 2-part conversation: Listen to The Unconventional Diplomat: Standing Up For Principles
In 2016, on a stage in The Hague, Netherlands, and shaking with rage, UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein decided to break with diplomatic convention.
In a speech he personally wrote, he called out political leaders, whom he says were abetting the violation of human rights.
“To Mr. Geert Wilders, his acolytes, indeed to all those like him — the populists, demagogues and political fantasists — to them, I must be a sort of nightmare,” he said in a speech that’s now legendary in diplomatic circles.
Then he revealed a list of other leaders who were undermining human rights — an action that defied diplomatic protocol by naming names.
“What Mr. Wilders shares in common with Mr. Trump, Mr. Orban, Mr. Zeman, Mr. Hofer, Mr. Fico, Madame Le Pen, Mr. Farage, he also shares with Da’esh,” he told the audience.
Al Hussein stresses that he does not equate “nationalist demagogues with those of Da’esh, which are monstrous, sickening.” But he does maintain that the use of “half-truths and oversimplification” is used both by populists in their rhetoric and by Da’esh in their propaganda.

7 December
A new battleground: In the UN, China uses threats and cajolery to promote its worldview
(The Economist) Since Mr Xi took office in 2012 the country has dramatically increased its spending at the UN. It is now the second-largest contributor, after America, to both the general budget and the peacekeeping one. It has also secured leading roles for its diplomats in several UN bodies, including the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (beating a candidate backed by America, to many people’s surprise). Next year the country will join the three-member Board of Auditors, which keeps an eye on the UN’s accounts.
The senior jobs being taken by China’s diplomats are mostly boring ones in institutions that few countries care much about. But each post gives China control of tiny levers of bureaucratic power as well as the ability to dispense favours.
When votes are taken on matters China regards as important, its diplomats often use a blunt transactional approach—offering financing for projects, or threatening to turn off the tap. This buys China clout, if not affection, other diplomats say.
… More than merely language is involved. In 2017 China sought successfully to cut funding for a job intended to ensure that all of the UN’S agencies and programmes promote human rights.

1 November
Official at UN aviation agency signed off on $240K in contracts for his PhD supervisor at Concordia
James Wan says International Civil Aviation Organization now investigating alleged ethical breaches
(CBC) A high-level director at the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) awarded $240,000 worth of consulting contracts to his Concordia University doctoral supervisor while still his student, CBC News has learned.
A confidential internal email obtained by CBC News alleges that James Wan, ICAO’s deputy director of information management and administration, was in a conflict of interest and abused his office for personal gain.
According to Wan himself, an investigation into those allegations was launched in September and is ongoing. However, another email obtained by CBC shows that the agency’s ethics officer asked ICAO Secretary General Fang Liu to investigate two years ago, which Liu initially declined to do.
As CBC reported in February, Liu was criticized for failing to investigate Wan and four of his staff for an attempt to cover up their mishandling of a 2016 cyberattack — the largest computer security breach in ICAO’s history.
Asked for ICAO’s response to the allegations against Wan, chief of communications Anthony Philbin said in a written statement that the organization would not disclose information on “any allegations made against individuals or on an ongoing investigation.”
“ICAO has procedures in place to address staff conduct should someone be found to be in breach of their obligations,” Philbin said.

2 October
U.S. withholds U.N. aviation dues, calls for immediate whistleblower protections
(Reuters) The United States is withholding its dues to the U.N.’s aviation agency, arguing the body needs to move quickly with reforms like expanding public access to documents and giving greater protections to whistleblowers, U.S. government and aviation sources told Reuters this week.
ICAO spokesman Anthony Philbin said by email on Tuesday that other countries have recently commended the agency for its progress in taking steps to become as “transparent, accountable and efficient as possible.”
Philbin questioned the agency’s ability to carry out the safety and security initiatives raised recently in Montreal by U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, given “this subsequent move by the representative of the United States threatening to defund ICAO.”
It is the latest instance of Washington clashing with a United Nations body under the Trump administration, which has questioned the value of multilateralism and management practices at the international organization.

13 June
U.N. Head: Climate Change Can Prove the Value of Collective Action
UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in an interview for TIME Magazine, said “Climate change is not a problem for multilateralism, climate change is a problem for us all. But I think climate change offers an opportunity for multilateralism to prove its value.”
As populist leaders around the globe have sowed doubts about multilateral institutions like the U.N., Guterres says that climate change, perhaps the biggest collective action problem, offers an opportunity like no other issue for the system to “prove its value.”
“We are involved in the prevention of conflicts, and we are involved in trying to solve Libya, Yemen, Syria, South Sudan. But those are areas in which what we can do is limited,” he said in a May 22 interview at the U.N. headquarters in New York. “Climate change is for me, clearly an area where the U.N. has the obligation to assume global leadership.

2 May
Trump’s Nominee for U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft Has Billion-Dollar Ties to Coal
(New York) The president, not known for his interest in multilateral alliances, has taken his time nominating an ambassador to the United Nations since Nikki Haley left the position at the end of 2018. His prior, unofficial nominee, former Fox News host Heather Nauert, faced criticism for her lack of foreign-policy experience, diplomatic exposure, and understanding of U.S. alliances: Nauert caught serious flack for citing D-Day as an example of America’s “strong relationship” with Germany. Nauert withdrew from consideration in February after reports emerged that she once employed a nanny who was not authorized to work in the United States.
On Wednesday, Trump announced that Kelly Craft would be his first official nominee for the U.N. ambassadorship since Haley’s departure. Craft certainly has more experience than the past candidate: She’s currently serving as U.S. ambassador to Canada, was part of the U.S. delegation to the U.N. during the Bush administration, and played a role in the redraft of NAFTA now known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
Still, Democrats in the Senate will contest her nomination, and not without merit. Craft is married to Joseph W. Craft III, a billionaire coal executive who has made several efforts to cancel the Obama administration’s push to regulate his industry’s emissions, including a proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan and the postponement of a rule that would end the practice of coal plants dumping toxic metals into rivers.

27 March
Meng Hongwei: China to prosecute former Interpol chief
Mr Meng’s disappearance in September prompted international concern.
(BBC) Meng Hongwei, the former Chinese head of Interpol, will be prosecuted in his home country for allegedly taking bribes, China’s Communist Party says.
He has also been expelled from the party and stripped of all government positions, according to the party’s watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).
He was elected Interpol president in November 2016, the first Chinese person to take up the post, and was scheduled to serve until 2020. His job was largely ceremonial and did not require him to return to China often.
He was one of six vice-ministers in China’s public security ministry and had 40 years of experience in China’s criminal justice system, so he has much knowledge about senior Communist Party officials.
In November Interpol elected South Korean Kim Jong-yang as its new president, rejecting a Russian candidate who had been tipped to succeed Mr Meng.

23 January
The Importance of Multilateralism and the Role of the UN General Assembly in the Maintenance of International Peace and Security
Statement by H.E. Mrs. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly

6 January
Audit finds flimsy accounting for travel, booze at Canadian UN mission
Audit identifies long list of problems at International Civil Aviation Organization office in Montreal

1 January
U.S. and Israel officially withdraw from UNESCO
(PBS Newshour) The United States and Israel officially quit the U.N.’s educational, scientific and cultural agency at the stroke of midnight, the culmination of a process triggered more than a year ago amid concerns that the organization fosters anti-Israel bias.
The withdrawal is mainly procedural yet serves a new blow to UNESCO, co-founded by the U.S. after World War II to foster peace.
The Trump administration filed its notice to withdraw in October 2017 and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu followed suit.
The U.S. has demanded “fundamental reform” in the agency that is best known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions. UNESCO also works to improve education for girls, promote understanding of the Holocaust’s horrors, and to defend media freedom.
UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay took up her post just after Trump announced the pullout. Azoulay, who has Jewish and Moroccan heritage, has presided over the launch of a Holocaust education website and the U.N.’s first educational guidelines on fighting anti-Semitism — initiatives that might be seen as responding to U.S. and Israeli concerns.
Officials say that many of the reasons the U.S. cited for withdrawal do not apply anymore, noting that since then, all 12 texts on the Middle East passed at UNESCO have been consensual among Israel and Arab member states.
In April of this year, Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO said the mood was “like a wedding” after member nations signed off on a rare compromise resolution on “Occupied Palestine,” and UNESCO diplomats hailed a possible breakthrough on longstanding Israeli-Arab tensions.
The document was still quite critical of Israel, however, and the efforts weren’t enough to encourage the U.S. and Israel to reconsider their decision to quit.


Nikki Haley announces resignation as UN ambassador

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