Period. 29 September - 5 October 2020
  • In a week where the U.S. President became the latest head of state to test positive for COVID-19, world leaders met for the 75th UN General Assembly that was dominated by the pandemic as the global death toll has officially surpassed one million lives. The first ever virtual meeting of Member States was underscored by growing inequalities and heightened geopolitical tensions, however, with the UN Secretary General claiming that COVID-19 has been a “clear test of international cooperation — a test we have essentially failed.” As countries have struggled to pay their regular budget contributions, the UNDP admits that existing development finance systems have fallen short, furthermore asking if the institutions and means by which they are resourced “as a backbone, as a global safety net, as a humanitarian response capacity” remain sufficient. The Director of NYU’s Center on International Cooperation likewise remains uncertain about the long-term implications of the pandemic. A bad outcome, she claims, would be a system that becomes overwhelmed and under-resourced, constantly shifting attention from crisis to crisis. Conversely, a good outcome would arise from using this systemic shock to isolate a small number of persistent global issues, including the interconnectedness of health and social systems, rising inequality and associated political instability and conflict.
  • In their address to the General Assembly, world leaders took up the question of the role and continued relevance of the UN, with the Kenyan President asking what the UN brings to the world at 75. Referring to the increasing difficulties to achieving consensus, French President Macron warned the UN “ran the risk of impotence (for having) such a hard time agreeing on so little,” while his Swiss counterpart urged that it was countries themselves that were often to blame for undermining the work of the UN bodies. The latter sentiment was echoed by the UN Secretary General who spoke of a “disconnect between leadership and power,” arising from a failure to recognize that in our increasingly interconnected world, “solidarity is self-interest.” The UN head concluded his remarks by offering Member States with two scenarios: either wealthier countries significantly scale up financial and technical support to the Global South – including debt relief and ensuring access to future vaccines – or one where poorer countries are left on their own, resulting in long-term economic disruption and dramatic human costs.

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