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In a world of trouble: at 75, the UN is a toothless anachronism


In a world of trouble: at 75, the UN is a toothless anachronism

The pillars of peace, human rights and development are under severe strain from populist nativism


The 193-member UN commemorates its 75th birthday in September. The UN emerged from the ashes of World War 2 in 1945 to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”. But as UN secretary-general António Guterres recently conceded: “Today we have a multilateralism that has no teeth.”

The multilateral system has three pillars: peace, human rights and development. All three are under severe strain from the headwinds of the populist nativism blowing from Washington. The UN’s work is being bankrupted by its largest donor behaving like a deadbeat dad. The US has irresponsibly withdrawn from the World Health Organisation (WHO) amid a global Covid-19 pandemic. The Trump administration has also wielded a wrecking ball through the dispute resolution mechanism of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Kenyan scholar Ali Mazrui described Jesus Christ as “the Prince of Peace at the UN”. The world body’s 1945 charter was drafted largely by Christian powers, which insisted that only “peace-loving” nations could be members and pushed Christian concepts of peace and love as the antidote to war. UN peacekeeping succeeded in Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Cambodia, El Salvador and East Timor, but failed spectacularly in Rwanda, Angola and Bosnia...

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