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U.N. Chief: Security Council Gridlock Blocks Effective Coronavirus Response

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres says "there was no unity around the world in the strategy to fight the pandemic."
Ludovic Marin
AFP via Getty Images
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres says "there was no unity around the world in the strategy to fight the pandemic."

The coronavirus pandemic set a new record this weekend: More than 136,000 new cases around the world were reported on Sunday, the highest number in a single day.

The statistic comes from the United Nations, the global body the world often turns to in a crisis.

"If the pandemic represents something, it is a demonstration of our fragility. Something that you can only see in a microscope has put us on our knees," U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said during an interview with All Things Considered. "And that humility should lead us to solidarity and unity."

Instead, he says, there was no unity in the strategy to fight the pandemic. "Each country went its own way, with the epicenter moving from country to country."

The U.N. can distribute aid and help governments shape their coronavirus responses. But it has limited tools to force a country to, say, follow guidelines from the World Health Organization, a U.N. agency.

And gridlock in the U.N. Security Council — which can pass enforceable resolutions — has stalled any real action.

That frustrates Guterres.

"We see that the very dysfunctional relationship that exists today between the United States-China, United States-Russia, makes it practically impossible for the Security Council to take any meaningful decision that would be fundamental" to fight COVID-19 effectively, he said.

Here are excerpts from the interview.

You say there's an absence of a coordinated international response. Do you think that shows the system is too broken to be useful?

The point is that we have multilateralism, but the multilateralism we have has no teeth. We need mechanisms of cooperation, with mechanisms of governance, that simply do not exist. And even where we have in the multilateral system some teeth, as is the case of Security Council, it has shown very little appetite to bite.

So I do believe that when we look into the future — and we are in the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, time to think about the future — we need to strengthen multilateral institutions and to give them the instruments in order to make sure that an effective global governance is able to work and to face the dramatic challenges we are having in front of us.

President Trump has announced that the U.S. will pull out of the World Health Organization. Do you believe the U.S. is relinquishing its leadership role on the world stage by pulling inward?

What I believe is that the role of the U.S. in the international community is essential. I believe that the world needs an engaged United States, that United States leadership is absolutely fundamental to having a world order in which democratic values can prevail, in which human rights can prevail and in which peace and security can get guaranteed by international cooperation.

On questions of moral authority, the U.S. has represented itself as a force for democracy and free expression around the world. How you view the president's reactions to protests against police brutality?

First of all, we need to be very firm in the absolute condemnation of racism in all its expressions. It's an abhorrent thing. It's totally against the values of our common humanity. Second, it is clear that we have grievances related to racism, grievances related to inequalities, that those grievances lead populations to demonstrate, that those demonstrations are legitimate, they should be peaceful.

But it is also very important that the authorities show restraint and do not become themselves a source of violence in relation to the way those demonstrations are handled.

Listen to the full interview at the audio link above.

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Jolie Myers
Ari Shapiro
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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