The United Nations is supposed to prevent conflicts through multilateral cooperation while addressing such global challenges as poverty, infectious diseases, international terrorism and climate change, but perhaps now more than ever questions are being raised about rebuilding the world body’s foundations.
It has been 75 years since the U.N.’s establishment. U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres expressed a strong sense of urgency, saying: “Today we have a surplus of multilateral challenges and a deficit of multilateral solutions.”
The confusion surrounding the novel coronavirus pandemic is a prime example. The World Health Organization, a U.N. specialized agency, is in a position to lead the fight against infectious diseases, but it has been caught up in confrontations between the United States and China, and has failed to play a credible role.
Despite Beijing’s failure to adequately disclose information at a time when the infection was spreading, the WHO praised China’s responses, raising questions about the agency’s neutrality. Washington has decided to withdraw from the WHO, claiming that “China has total control over the World Health Organization” and blaming China for the increase of the infections in the United States.
An international organization should not be allowed to be used as a tool in the fight for hegemony among great powers. The awarding of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to the U.N. World Food Program apparently is a warning on the current waning momentum for international cooperation.
The United States and China must go back to the origins of the United Nations, which was established to reflect on the horrors of World War II.
There is also an urgent task to reform the organization of the United Nations. The election of China, Russia and Cuba to the U.N. Human Rights Council, which monitors human rights abuses, is wordlessly surprising. All of these countries have been accused of human rights repression in their countries and it certainly is clear that they are not qualified.
Criticizing such situations, the United States had decided in 2018 to withdraw from the Human Rights Council. If the council fails to implement reforms, such as mapping out stricter selection criteria, it will inevitably become a name-only existence.
The U.N. Security Council has also seen a noticeable decline in its capacity to function due to the escalation of confrontations between the United States and China. The number of member states when the U.N. was established was 51. This has now reached 193, but the number of Security Council members has only increased from 11 to 15.
The momentum for reforming the Security Council must be increased so that countries that have experienced rapid growth in the postwar era, such as Japan and Germany, as well as developing countries in Africa and other regions, can play a greater role.
As Japan emphasizes international cooperation and the rule of law, an increase in Japan’s presence in U.N. organizations will help improve the governing capacity and credibility of each organization. It can also be expected to prevent or swiftly address the kind of misunderstandings that once occurred over the so-called comfort women issue in the U.N. arena.
While four people from China are heading four of the 15 U.N. specialized agencies, there are no Japanese. The government should consider measures to secure key positions, such as fielding former cabinet ministers as candidates.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Oct. 25, 2020.