The U.N. Security Council reflected Friday on the lessons learned from World War II on the 75th anniversary of its end in Europe, as the world faces its biggest collective challenge since then — the coronavirus.
“How we react to the new challenge before us — the COVID-19 pandemic — could be as significant as how the world rebuilt after fascism was vanquished,” U.N. political chief Rosemary DiCarlo told a virtual meeting of more than 80 nations, including nearly 50 foreign ministers, organized by Estonia, which presides over the Security Council this month.
The end of six brutal years of war, massive death and destruction in Europe marked a turning point. From the devastation, the European Union, the United Nations and NATO were born, along with a new world order.
“COVID-19 is a test of our humanity, but also of the multilateral system itself,” European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said of the disease caused by the coronavirus. “The rules-based international order — with the U.N. at its core — must be upheld and strengthened.”
He expressed concern that the pandemic has rattled societies and exposed vulnerable nations to great peril.
“It has the potential to deepen existing conflicts and generate new geopolitical tensions,” Borrell said. “It is a reminder that peace, democracy and prosperity must constantly be nurtured, expanded and made more inclusive.”
Several diplomats warned that, 75 years after World War II, some of the characteristics that marked Nazi Germany are reemerging on the world stage.
“The voices of populism, authoritarianism, nationalism and xenophobia are making themselves heard ever more loudly,” the U.N.’s DiCarlo said. “We must confront those who would drag the world back to a violent and shameful past.”
Germany, which was an aggressor in World War II and is now a leading nation on the European and international stage, also expressed concern about rising nationalism.
“In Germany, we have a saying: ‘He who closes his eyes to the past will be blind to the present,’ ” Foreign Minster Heiko Maas said. He urged political support for international institutions and multilateralism, and threw his government’s support behind the U.N. chief’s call for a global humanitarian cease-fire.
On March 23, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for the cease-fire to focus attention and resources on fighting the virus. Dozens of nations and at least 16 armed groups have signed on, but so far, the 15-nation Security Council has been unable to adopt a resolution supporting the truce.
The United States, which accuses Beijing of lying and covering up the spread of the coronavirus early on, has butted heads with China at the Security Council over the language in the draft resolution.
The Trump administration has blasted the World Health Organization for what it says is a bias favoring China and has suspended funding to the agency. Washington wants a reference to supporting the WHO in the fight against COVID-19 removed from the draft resolution. China wants it to remain.
France and Tunisia, which drafted the text, thought they found a way around it, changing the WHO reference to “specialized health agencies” of the United Nations — of which there is just one. Washington rejected that on Friday afternoon, ending yet another week without support from the U.N.’s most powerful body for Guterres’ now seven-week-old appeal.
The feud between the two powers has frustrated diplomats who want to see strong support from the council for a global cease-fire, but fear the foot-dragging will further corrode the council’s credibility, which has found itself paralyzed on other important crises, including the war in Syria.
Council resolutions require nine votes in favor and no vetoes from the five permanent members, which include China and the United States, to pass.