Multilateralism in crisis Will the United Nations soon be obsolete?

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As the European headquarters of the United Nations, Geneva is helping mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the UN and 100 years since the formation of the League of Nations (LoN). Geneva is one of the two most important global centres of multilateral diplomacy together with New York. In Geneva, the challenges facing the entire planet are debated and negotiated before being sent to New York, where the states decide which options to respond to.

This organisational model for relations between states is more precious than ever; the Geneva authorities have named the celebrations #Multilateralism100. It is an unequivocal call for action at a time when the world’s policeman – the United States – continues its slide towards unilateralism, a desire for power without regard for the sovereignty of other states or for international law that governs relations.

The challenge of peace

Peace: This was the raison d’être for the creation of the LoN, as it is for the UN, two organisations born from the ashes of two world wars that ravaged Europe and Asia. Each time, the victors of these two international conflicts wanted to establish a judicial framework based on man’s right to self-determination. The aim was to ensure that peace would not rest solely on the balance of power between the major powers but would take account of the interests of all member states and their citizens.

It is an objective which is far from being achieved, according to UN secretary general Antonio Guterres.

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“Today, a wind of madness is sweeping the globe. From Libya to Yemen to Syria and beyond – escalation is back. Arms are flowing. Offensives are increasing. […] Meanwhile, Security Council resolutions are being disrespected before the ink is even dry,” warned Guterres on February 4, 2020.

So, in terms of collective security, is the UN on the verge of becoming obsolete, as happened to the LoN at the end of the 1930s?
If the UN’s executive branch – the Security Council – is paralysed, other international bodies help pacify societies. The UN is based on three pillars: peace and security, development and human rights. As pointed out by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan in 2005, these three areas are interdependent.

“There cannot be security without development nor development without security. And one and the other each depend on the respect of human rights and the state of law,” Annan said.

But for at least a decade, civil liberties have been eroded even at the heart of liberal democracies such as the US, but also in Europe.

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