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The coronavirus pandemic has brought together political rivals, prompting offers of support and assistance between adversaries on the global stage. It has forced governments and communities alike to activate in ways and on at a scale rarely seen. It’s made individuals reach for the better angels of their nature in a world that all too often seems divided beyond repair.
One unfortunate constant found within the crisis, is the failure of yet another United Nations organ to manage a global challenge. The World Health Organization becomes the latest in a long list of United Nations-related organizations to trust an authoritarian power at the expense of the safety and security of the world.
The WHO’s fidelity to Chinese propaganda about the COVID-19 virus, especially Beijing’s contention into late January that the threat of human-to-human transmission was minimal, cost countless lives around the world. It influenced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's decision-making here to the detriment of our own national response.
What that means for U.S. policy going forward should be debated by the Trump administration starting now. The president is already directly acknowledging that the WHO-China connection and the high costs to U.S. taxpayers must be reconciled.
A component of that response should be re-engaging at the United Nations with all the influence and leverage we have as the world body’s top funder, top economic power and most powerful military. Systemic reform at the U.N. has been a goal of several U.S. administrations, and this latest failure on the part of the WHO should serve as a catalyst for free nations to rally together to finally make it happen.
It is important to note this is the same U.N. that just named China to its Human Rights Council in the middle of a pandemic worsened by the Chinese Communist Party's deliberate lack of transparency. It’s the same U.N. that previously held up Iran, Cuba and South Sudan as human rights leaders.
It’s the same U.N. that for decades has led ineffective, abusive and corrupt so-called peacekeeping operations that brought the countries involved no closer to achieving peace. It’s the same U.N. that lined the pockets of officials in the Oil for Food scandal that allowed Saddam Hussein to deprive and torture his people.
This is the same U.N. that failed to stop the Rwandan genocide and respond to the aggression of Islamic terrorism, preferring to be guided more by those with an anti-Semitic agenda. It’s the same U.N. that has turned a blind eye to Russian imperialism and Chinese expansionism.
The United States’ decision to leave the Human Rights Council in 2018 was understandable. But in the context of raising our voice as loud as possible during these times of surging Chinese, Russian and Iranian influence, President Trump should consider having a U.S. representative on the council again.
Using the UN as a platform to articulate American values against those of our geopolitical competitors is one avenue to address not just the systemic problems of the organization, but to also reassert our dominant position on the world stage.
There is a temptation for the U.S. to simply go its own way in terms of alliance management and handling critical global issues. Certainly, in many ways, it should.
However, the U.N. as an organization has a significant impact and influence on dozens of countries that are vulnerable to the reach of China, Russia and Iran. A U.N. that continues to be influenced significantly, if not controlled, by authoritarian regimes is not merely a gross misuse of U.S. taxpayer money. It is clearly counter to our national security interests and those of our allies.
Foreign policy observers, including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, have opined that the pandemic will usher in major changes to the world order. They are right. Indeed, it should reaffirm the United States and democratic nations’ leadership role in ensuring liberty, cooperation, tolerance, economic opportunity and human advancement. The U.N. must stand for those ideals again.
China, Russia and Iran’s sphere of influence must be reduced using all aspects of our national and multilateral influence. That means forcefully pursuing U.N. reform and countering the outsized voice of authoritarian regimes within the world body at every turn. The U.S. and a half dozen other nations – all U.S. allies – fund the majority of the U.N. budget but have watched the organization trend toward the agendas of authoritarian member states for decades.
President Trump, now more than ever, needs to lead a consortium of top U.N. funders to drive reform proposals that truly recommit the world toward the principles of peace, democracy and human rights.
Defunding or recoiling from the United Nations isn’t the answer. Using it as a platform to articulate American values against those of our geopolitical competitors is one avenue to address not just the systemic problems of the organization, but to also reassert our dominant position on the world stage.
President Trump can bring the same bold, reform-minded attitude that he is bringing to the federal government to the United Nations and truly save lives in the process. It would be a positive realignment that comes out of this most recent failure.