id-September, and the United Nations General Assembly is the latest landmark of the calendar year to have been transferred to the virtual world by the coronavirus. Which is to be regretted for at least three reasons.
First, while modern technology makes international gatherings in some ways simpler and greener than before – no national leader needs to get on a plane – it is an excuse for the rest of the world to take even less notice of the UN General Assembly than usual. Second, the UN has reached its 75th anniversary this year, which – for all the organisation’s well-known failings – should have been a cause for more than virtual celebration. And third, because the conjunction of the UN anniversary and the pandemic has prompted a discussion about the future of multilateralism, international cooperation, and peace-making that deserves a wider hearing than it is currently receiving.
The genesis of this debate was the rush to national and even regional barricades in the early stages of the pandemic. We saw it in China’s initial reticence about the outbreak in Wuhan (whether or not this is where the virus originated). We saw it in the borders that were re-erected across the European Union and in the reluctance of many countries to share precious equipment and intensive care beds (Germany has just apologised to Italy for its early unhelpfulness on this score). And we saw it in the way that the United States, New Zealand and other countries tried to cut themselves off from the rest of the world.
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