On Tuesday, September the 15th, 2020, the UN turned 75 years old — a major feat in these days of liquidity when nothing lasts longer than a sigh.
But the historical date was missed by every living soul on earth including residents of the square comprised by 40th to 46th Street and from 1st to 2nd Avenue of New York City.
As a matter of fact, neighbors to U.N. headquarters could be grateful to the Covid-19 induced downgrading of the celebration as for once in their lives they will not see their schedules disrupted by protests marches; oozing sirens from police cars escorting heads of state and street blocks.
But Covid-19 has not only silenced the historic celebration, it has brought to the forefront the organization’s weaknesses and, worse, its lack of relevance to today’s dilemmas.
Indeed, while a record number of heads of state (171) will participate in the General Assembly, through recorded videos they will address an empty stage and a public focused on survival worldwide.
To main streeters everywhere, the United Nations is at best a very distant friend. At worst, an unnecessary nuisance.
This loss of relevance seems to spring from two sources. First, and in the conceptual realm, the U.N. is prisoner of the sovereignty trap.
Created as it was to prevent another world war, it needed to have some capacity to intervene in internal affairs of countries experiencing deviations from governance. Multilateralism, which was the reigning principle guiding the creation of the U.N., is about solving problems in coordination among many states.
This increasingly collides with a concept of sovereignty created by Jean Bodin in the 16th century.
Second, the incredibly soft criteria to grant nationhood to territories emerging from civil strife, seceding from a larger nation, or surfacing from a territorial regrouping exercise.
This resulted in a proliferation of nation states that are not sustainable or that lack territorial control by their governments.
Indeed, to go from 50 to 193 nation states in 70 years is and indication of the relative easiness with which the United Nations granted nationhood without even posing the question of sustainability.
As a result we have today 80 million people fleeing from their countries of origin accompanied by the most horrific violations of human rights to be experienced by the planet since the Holocaust. Worse, we have an ongoing pandemic that took hold of the world while the U.N. looked at the unfolding tragedy without being able to mobilize resources to a multilateral effort that could have standardized the fight against the disease while protecting economic life.
Lack of multilateral leadership will leave the world with 250 million people in dire poverty — which means dying of starvation. The time thus seems to have come for the U.N. to seriously be restructured.
But, alas we will need to wait until the U.S. and China flex their muscles in an unwinnable war for both of them before we tackle the lack of relevance on the U.N. to 21st century dilemmas. Meanwhile we will sit to watch a virtual U.N. reign over unresolved unvirtual conflicts and unattended unvirtual catastrophes.