USA and WHO are worlds apart over coronavirus

Last Friday, May 8, the USA blocked a vote on a UN Security Council resolution calling for a global ceasefire during the Covid-19 pandemic, because the Trump administration objected to an indirect reference to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Over the past couple of days, the UN Security Council has been intensely lobbying for the resolution, which was intended to demonstrate global support for the call for a ceasefire by the UN Secretary General, António Guterres.

 

The main source for the delay was the US refusal to endorse a resolution that urged support for the WHO’s operations during the coronavirus pandemic.

 

As recently noted in this column, President Donald Trump has blamed the WHO for the coronavirus pandemic, claiming that it withheld information in the early days of the outbreak.

 

And recently US accused the WHO of failing its basic duty in the response to the coronavirus outbreak, by not taking a harsher stance against China.

A thing that resulted into US’s withdrawal of funding to the WHO. Since then, the USA has refrained from participating in the global solidarity to fight coronavirus. That’s to say the USA and WHO are now worlds apart.

More particularly, the proposed resolution, according to UN Secretary General, António Guterres, intended to have only one fight in our world today: ‘our shared battle against COVID-19’. 

As further noted by the UN Chief, “we know the pandemic is having profound social, economic and political consequences, including relating to international peace and security”.  He issued an appeal for an immediate ceasefire in all corners of the globe to reinforce diplomatic action, help create conditions for the delivery of lifesaving aid, and bring hope to places that are among the most vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.

No doubt the ceasefire would allow humanitarians to reach populations that are most vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19, and has now been reported in more than 180 countries. Particularly, in worst-hit countries health systems have reached the point of total collapse. So ending the sickness of war and fighting the disease that is ravaging our world is a necessity. In fact, it has turned out to be the greatest human enemy of our time. So acting collectively, at global level, is no longer optional but a necessity.  

So, the US rejected that draft resolution for making a reference to the WHO, and also turned down an alternative that didn’t explicitly name the organization. Other diplomats were surprised by the US move to block the vote. The effort they had been working on for more than six weeks came to a screeching halt, and they fear it will not be revived. On the contrary, China had urged for the resolution to include reference to the efforts of the WHO, which prompted rejection from the US.

The US representative said “in our view, the Council should either proceed with a resolution limited to support for a ceasefire, or a broadened resolution that fully addresses the need for renewed member state commitment to transparency and accountability in the context of Covid-19. Transparency and reliable data are essential to helping the world combat this ongoing pandemic, and the next one”.

While the force of the resolution would be primarily symbolic, it would have been symbolism at a crucial moment. Since Guterres made his call for a global ceasefire, armed factions in more than a dozen countries had observed a temporary truce. The absence of a resolution from the world’s most powerful nations, however, undermines the secretary general’s clout in his efforts to maintain those fragile ceasefires. In other words, even if such a resolution would, legally speaking, be non-binding, it would reflect the will of the global community.

The US has similarly blocked expressions of global unity at G7 and G20 meetings due to anger about China and the WHO.

Even though the Trump administration accuses the WHO’s failure, it indirectly criticizes China for not being transparent early on, which could have potentially prevented the novel coronavirus from turning into a pandemic that lives would have been saved. Owing to this, the rift between the US and China continues to grow.

If the United States continues to scale back its role on the world stage, it will undermine its efforts to battle the coronavirus pandemic and left the international community without a traditional global leader. The US, usually at the helm of helping to coordinate in global crises, has declined to take a seat at virtual international meetings convened by the World Health Organization and the European Union to coordinate work on potentially lifesaving vaccines. It is in this regard, that former and current world leaders warn that the Trump administration risks alienating allies by politicizing the deadly pandemic with its push to punish China and have other nations choose sides.

If the US maintains the status quo, the world will have to look for another global leader. The coronavirus is a global problem, and it affects literally everyone on the planet. This is a time when you expect the leaders of superpowers in a very constructive way to help coordinate and structure the global response.

The writer is a law expert.

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