Secretary-General Highlights ‘Essential’ Failure of International Cooperation, in Address to Security Council Meeting on Post-Coronavirus Global Governance
Citing Anti-COVID-19 Contributions, United States Shames Members, as China Accuses Washington of Creating Enough Troubles for World
Countries have largely failed to cooperate in efforts to prevent the global spread of coronavirus, the top United Nations official warned the Security Council during a 24 September videoconference meeting, calling for a rethink of global governance and multilateralism.
“The pandemic is a clear test of international cooperation — a test we have essentially failed,” Secretary-General António Guterres said, attributing the spread of the outbreak and excessive casualties to “a lack of global preparedness, cooperation, unity and solidarity”.
Noting that 2020 marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations founding, he recalled that fragmentation and polarization, without effective mechanisms of multilateral governance 100 years ago, led to the First World War, followed by the second. “Our world is no longer bipolar or unipolar; it is moving towards multipolarity,” he said, further cautioning that conflict, human rights abuses, humanitarian crises and stalled progress on development reinforce each other, while global response is more and more fragmented. The primary responsibility for making global governance work lies with Member States, including those on this Council, he added.
Describing post-pandemic global governance, he emphasized that will entail the establishment of a networked multilateralism based on strong links and cooperation between global and regional organizations, international financial institutions and other global alliances. Citing the strategic partnership between the United Nations and the African Union, he said it is a model to be replicated elsewhere. A new paradigm must also address cross-border challenges, from the climate crisis to rising inequality to cybercrime, involving interest groups, businesses, organizations and entire sectors that are outside traditional concepts of global governance, he said, emphasizing that it must also integrate women, the largest group left out in the cold.
The General Assembly Declaration on the Seventy-fifth Anniversary of the United Nations adopted earlier this week has created space for reflection on the future of multilateral cooperation on the post-COVID world, he said, adding that he will report back with analysis and recommendations. “In a world of interconnected threats, solidarity is self-interest,” he stressed.
Also briefing the Council was Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chair of the African Union Commission, who said humanity’s brief experience with COVID-19 has called into question its intuitive ability to respond to such a threat. Underlining that the health of the human person is an issue of international peace and security, he noted that protecting it will require the Council to shoulder its responsibilities under the Charter of the United Nations. He went on to outline the deep devastation wrought by the pandemic, noting that, despite the innovative use of new technology international diplomacy has been thrown off track amid recent travel restrictions.
Some conflicts have worsened, and certain peace processes have become moribund, he pointed out, adding that in many countries — including in Africa — resources that should have been channelled to the health response are still tied up in addressing conflict. Armed groups in the Sahel region have exploited the pandemic to accelerate their aims, while violence has also escalated in parts of the Lake Chad Basin, Somalia and Mozambique, he said. Meanwhile, the pandemic has exacerbated existing economic inequalities and gender-based violence for women and girls around the globe.
Further, he recalled, in adopting resolution 2532 (2020) in July, the Council recognized the unprecedented challenges posed to international peace and security by the COVID-19 pandemic. Against that backdrop, all countries should stand firmly behind the World Health Organization (WHO) in its efforts to develop and distribute a vaccine. The African Union has committed to unprecedented levels of mobilization, which will “give teeth” to the continent’s pandemic response, he said. Among a range of actions, it established an African Special Fund for the COVID-19 Response, ramped up its training of health‑care professionals, deployed new special envoys and is working to suspend, reduce or cancel debt. Nevertheless, he noted, the pandemic has revealed the roadblocks standing in the way of effective multilateralism, as well as the many “artificial borders that have been erected between members of the human family”. He declared: “People of the world are hungry for effective global governance,” calling upon all States to recommit to a collaborative approach.
Mahamadou Issoufou, President of Niger and Council President for September, spoke in his national capacity, and recalled that, during the seventy-fourth General Assembly session, his country supported reform initiatives to put together a multilateral governance system. Emphasizing that the Council, General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council must meet the needs of today’s world, he said Africa must be proportionately represented in the Security Council. The right of veto must be removed or given to a new permanent member, he added, stressing the need for a balancing of power in the 15-member organ. Like the oil shocks that deepened the gap between rich and poor, COVID-19 could expand inequality, a trend that poses a great threat to the international community, he noted. Turning to climate change, he said a post-pandemic paradigm must include implementation of the Paris Agreement. Noting that the paradigm existing since the Second World War cannot adequately ensure peaceful coexistence among countries, he said COVID-19 should put an end to that era, with the international community working together to create a new order towards peace, prosperity, justice and freedom.
Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa, said the international community has a collective expectation that the Security Council plays a key role in ensuring that the pandemic does not undermine peace and security in any country. African States must coordinate efforts and strengthen multilateralism if they are to contain COVID-19 and its adverse impacts, he emphasized. Expressing support for the Secretary-General’s call for the scaling up of humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable populations, he called for waiving unilateral punitive measures, such as sanctions, to secure much-need supplies. What is needed is a Security Council that reflects the reality of today’s world, he said, adding that, looking to the post-COVID era, it will also be necessary to address economic and social, humanitarian and environmental needs of countries and achieve sustainable development. “Let us choose cooperation above unilateralism, solidarity over isolation, and human dignity above narrow interests,” he said, adding that the world can emerge from the present crisis even stronger and more united.
Kersti Kaljulaid, President of Estonia, said the COVID-19 pandemic “has changed our world”. Spotlighting the essential role of technology, she noted that educational systems, communications and the service economy have all changed in recent months. “We need to adapt our global governance model to what we are seeing in the real world,” she stressed, calling attention to the opportunities now presented by the pandemic, especially for countries seeking to leapfrog ahead in their development trajectories. Indeed, for those including women and people with disabilities who have historically found it hard to participate, “this is a golden opportunity”. Emphasizing that children must be given the skills needed to participate in this new world — which must also include strong cybersecurity — she called for a new governance structure that goes beyond solidarity at the national or regional levels, and which is truly global in nature.
Kais Saïed, President of Tunisia, said today’s theme reflects the common conviction that the Council must play a vital role in addressing COVID-19’s repercussions on global peace and security, as well as in other areas. The pandemic’s effects on peace and security are evident not only in conflict zones, but elsewhere, as well. Calling for a new approach to international security based on enhanced cooperation and synergies among States, he stressed that no single nation — no matter how powerful — can tackle the pandemic alone. “We all have the same fate — our collective peace and safety depend on the peace and safety of every individual without exception,” he said, recalling that Tunisia and France introduced the draft unanimously adopted as Council resolution 2532 (2020) in July. Agreement on that text necessitated four months of arduous negotiations, revealing the deep divisions among Council members, he recalled. More common action is urgently needed, especially with the global economy now expected to contract by more than 5 per cent and an impending financial crisis likely to push millions of people — especially in developing countries — into poverty.
Wang Yi, State Councillor and Minister for Foreign Affairs of China, spoke as Special Representative of President Xi Jinping, emphasizing the importance of heeding the growing voices of developing countries. Calling for stronger synergy or pooling of global resources and governance for all and by all, he said States must jointly tackle non-traditional threats to international peace and security, including financial crises, terrorist attacks and health emergencies, like COVID‑19. Major countries must set good examples, he added, calling for greater cooperation and coordination among them. “Major countries are more duty-bound,” he emphasized, urging States to abandon the cold war mentality. He went on to stress the need to uphold international law while expressing his country’s opposition to unilateral sanctions. As the world’s most representative body, the United Nations is best positioned on issues of global governance, he said, stressing that the Council is part and parcel of the global governance system, and under new conditions, it must fulfil its duties and bring hope of good global governance.
Sergey V. Lavrov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, said his country has drawn attention to the interconnectedness and interdependence of countries, as well as the cross-border nature of threats, including terrorism, proliferation of weapons and cybercrime. “Our repeated appeals for joint responses are even more relevant” as the COVID-19 pandemic impacted all, he added. Noting that several countries are looking abroad for their domestic problems, he stressed the need do away with unilateral sanctions, saying they limit the delivery of health care and humanitarian assistance. Some States remain indifferent to the vital needs of people in all corners of the world, he noted, describing as unfair attacks against United Nations entities such as WHO, which acted professionally to address COVID-19 in close contact with Member States. The Russian Federation is the first to register a corona vaccine, he continued, pointing out that President Vladimir Putin is offering free vaccinations for United Nations staff. Accuse others or come out of this crisis together?, he asked, adding that the choice is obvious.
Louis Straker, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Commerce of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, declared that, after the pandemic, “our world will never be the same again”. Global governance must be adapted to humanity’s new reality, he added. Noting that COVID-19 weighs most heavily on the most vulnerable — including refugees and displaced people, women and children, as well as countries struggling through armed conflict — he said the pandemic has reaffirmed that crises cannot be addressed by military means nor by siloed efforts. Indeed, the uneven development of economies, health-care systems and institutions has led to vulnerabilities that affect us all, he noted. In that vein, he called for systems that better protect the most vulnerable as a blueprint for a more peaceful and stable world. That must include reliable and predictable development financing, he stressed, reiterating his call upon developed nations to honour their commitments. States must also reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions, he said, describing any failure to do so by a major emitter as “an act of hostility”.
Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France, said the watchword of today’s world is “interdependent”. States must close ranks and turn the intertwined nature of their current challenges to their advantage, he said, adding that the Council has a central role to play. He warned that, while addressing the health-care crisis, nations must not lose sight of other major global challenges. COVID-19 treatments and vaccines must be treated as the common goods that they are, he emphasized, expressing support for WHO’s work and for the establishment of the proposed High Council for Human and Animal Health. It is up to the international community to anchor its COVID-19 recovery in the pursuit of sustainable development, he stressed, also advocating for Security Council entailing greater representation for African nations and the prohibition of the veto.
Pham Binh Minh, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam, said COVID-19 has infected and claimed millions of people, laid bare the fragility of States and inequality in the world, noting that this is just the tip of the iceberg, with its lingering effects set to compound existing problems. It is important to stand together towards sustainable recovery, he emphasized. To the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), good governance is the linchpin, he said. Stressing the need for innovative financing for development, he said the international community must pay special attention to developing countries, especially in relation to vulnerable groups, such as women, children and refugees and migrants. He recalled that, on 9 September, ASAEN member States affirmed their resolve to develop a comprehensive recovery measure to prevent COVID-19 from undermining regional peace and security.
Philippe Goffin, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belgium, highlighted the profound health, social, economic and humanitarian consequences worldwide of the pandemic, particularly on vulnerable people, including children, women, migrants and people living in conflict areas. In the year marking the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations, the global challenges, such as conflict, poverty, climate change, natural disasters and now COVID-19, are the brutal reminder of the Organization’s raison d'être. He called upon States to share data to efficiently mount collective responses. Highlighting the European Union’s financial contributions to support WHO’s efforts on COVID-19 vaccine development, he rejected vaccine nationalism as “toxic” and called for fair access to vaccines. The virus and the resulting health crisis have also had an impact on the United Nations itself, particularly with regard to decision-making in the Council or the deployment of peace operations. While most of these operations have shown great flexibility and ingenuity to continue their mandate, despite all the constraints imposed by COVID-19, the Council will need to reflect on their adaptability.
Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State for South Asia and the Commonwealth of the United Kingdom, said the United Nations system — including WHO — has responded quickly to address the effects of the pandemic, deploying especially to places where people are most vulnerable. International financial institutions such as the World Bank and IMF have adapted to the pandemic’s macroeconomic challenges, and the “Group of 20” moved to suspend the debt payments of the world’s poorest nations, he noted. Meanwhile, the vaccine alliance known as GAVI — to which the United Kingdom recently pledged more than $2 billion — has been working to mobilize towards a COVID-19 vaccine, he said, adding that such a range of efforts demonstrates the kind of response of which the international community is capable when it works together. However, the crisis has also driven countries apart, testing the international system like never before, he pointed out, emphasizing that it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that, as the multilateral system emerges from the pandemic, it does so stronger than before. “Now is not the moment to reject international institutions,” he said, warning that the pandemic’s indirect effects, such as food insecurity, are likely to worsen even further. The United Kingdom stands firmly behind the principles of the United Nations Charter and will continue to do so, he pledged.
Niels Annen, Minister of State in the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, said the global rules-based multilateral order stands at a critical juncture, and nations must cooperate “rather than putting our countries first”. The international community must avoid complacency, but rather innovate in ways that bring new life to institutions. Noting that the Council has lost trust because it could not find clear words in response to COVID-19 for many months, he declared: “When the Council is exclusively seen as a gallery for the great Powers, we all lose.” Only through reform will the organ’s legitimacy be fully restored. He also called for efforts to strengthen WHO, noting that global expectations for the agency currently outstrip its capacity. Turning to emerging threats to international peace and security — including human rights violations and the effects of climate change — he called for a more active preventive agenda. The European Union continues to play a strong role, undertaking a range of front‑line responses to the COVID-19 pandemic both within and outside of the region. In that regard, he noted that, on 25 September, foreign ministers from around the globe will outline their commitments to “build back better” in such fields as climate change and global health, while reaffirming their support for multilateralism.
Mahendra Siregar, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, expressed concern that a prolonged pandemic may perpetuate inequality and poor humanitarian conditions, while also noting a worrying trend of escalating political rivalry. The Security Council must help to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid, and progress on peacebuilding must not be reversed, he said. The United Nations system, including the Council, must rise to the challenge, leverage its comparative advantages, avoid overlaps, and stop working in silos, he emphasized, pointing out that power frictions make United Nations bodies dysfunctional and feed mistrust in global institutions. Since there is no alternative structure to coordinate responses to pandemics, the practical approach is to improve and enhance the relevance of the United Nations system, he said. Stressing the need for fair access to vaccines, he pointed out that, as countries navigate through recovery and development, far-sighted leadership and strong early warning capacity are needed.
The representative of the United States said she was astonished and disgusted by the content of the discussion. “Shame on each of you,” she told fellow members, saying they have taken the opportunity to focus on political grudges rather than the critical issue at hand. COVID-19 remains a threat to the daily lives and livelihoods of billions around the world, she added, noting that her country has been unrelenting in its efforts to combat COVID-19, both at home and abroad. To date, the United States has allocated more than $20 billion to benefit the international response, she said, pointing out that funding provided by generous United States taxpayers is saving lives in more than 120 countries around the world. The United States has also contributed more than $900 million to the United Nations response, by far the most of any country to date, compared with Niger’s $4.6 million, South Africa’s $8.4 million, Indonesia’s $5 million, Viet Nam’s $9.5 million and Tunisia’s $600,000. She went on to state that China’s decision to hide the origins of the virus, minimize its danger and suppress scientific cooperation transformed a local epidemic into a global pandemic. More importantly, those decisions cost hundreds of thousands of lives around the world. Equally troubling is the danger posed by corrupted international organizations, she said, recalling that WHO was for many years considered a centre of science over politics, and data over bias. That reputation lies in tatters today after WHO assisted the Chinese campaign to withhold cooperation and lie to the world, she said, calling for reform of that organization.
The Dominican Republic’s representative said the pandemic threatens to erode hard-won development gains and is instilling fear in people around the world, while exposing flaws in global governance. The Council must foster stronger unity, backing up resolution 2532 (2020) with concrete action. Appealing for a coordinated, people-centred global response rooted in solidarity — paying special attention to the most vulnerable — he said failure to develop such a system would jeopardize the world’s collective recovery. Emphasizing that looking inward is not the way forward, he called instead for more inclusive decision-making; underlined the need for stronger cybersecurity; and echoed expressions of support for a more accountable, representative, risk-sensitive approach to the Council’s work. “This is the time for unity,” he concluded.
Most speakers expressed their support for the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire amid the pandemic.
China’s representative, taking the floor a second time, noted that most Council members used today’s opportunity to call for stronger multilateralism, reflecting the general consensus of the international community. Regrettably, however, the representative of the United States once again made statements at odds with that consensus. Rejecting as baseless her accusations against China, he said United States politicians remain obsessed with attacking other countries and United Nations agencies, spreading political violence and disinformation while stoking divisions. Such practices will not defeat COVID-19, but instead disrupt international attempts to do so, he said, declaring: “Enough is enough — you have created enough troubles for the world already.” Outlining China’s contributions to the fight against the pandemic at its earliest stages, he went on to point out that, for its part the United States now has nearly 7 million confirmed cases and more than 200,000 deaths — despite having the most advanced medical system in the world — and its minority populations suffer disproportionately. Before pointing fingers at others, United States politicians should be held accountable for their own actions, he advised. They must stop politicizing the virus and support collective efforts, he said, insisting: “A major Power should behave like a major Power.” Hopefully, Washington, D.C., will ultimately return to the right track, he added.
The Russian Federation’s representative also took the floor again, similarly expressing regret over the accusations made by the United States against not only one Member State, but the entire Council. The Russian Federation has long recognized the cross-border nature of today’s global threats, which are more relevant today, he said, adding that the crux of the United States statement does did not correspond with such an appeal. “No one can simply fence themselves off from these threats,” he stressed, noting that some States are attempting to use the current situation to advance narrow, self-serving national goals or to settle scores with countries with whom they do not agree. He went on to reject escalating attacks against the United Nations and its agencies, noting that WHO acted professionally and took timely, proactive steps in coordination with national Governments.
Indonesia’s representative also took the floor again, citing remarks by his country’s President before the General Assembly earlier this week to the effect that “a healthy world, a productive world, needs to be our priority”. Such a future requires a stronger commitment to multilateralism, he said.