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The UN’s Existential Crisis

Far from bolstering multilateralism, COVID-19 has revealed a world of nation-states locked into a destructive zero-sum contest. The United Nations' upcoming 75th anniversary thus risks being remembered as the moment when a lethal virus destroyed the very idea of our common humanity.

NEW DELHI – On October 24, the United Nations will celebrate the 75th anniversary of its founding in 1945, when the historic UN Charter entered into force. Sadly, the organization will do so at a time when multilateralism has never seemed more in peril.

The COVID-19 pandemic has inaugurated a new era of deglobalization. Evidence of isolationism and protectionism is mounting, with many governments loudly emphasizing sovereignty, nationalism, and self-reliance, and questioning treaties and trade agreements. The UN therefore has every reason to worry about its continuing salience.

In his address to the UN General Assembly on September 22, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called COVID-19 a “fifth horseman” of a potential global apocalypse. The coronavirus’s emergence, rapid spread worldwide, and rising death toll (now exceeding one million), together with the pervasive fear it has stoked, have been accompanied by a dramatic contraction in world trade and the most calamitous recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals is now beyond reach in a world suffering from economic collapse and social dysfunction.