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It’s Time to Reform the UN

The United Nations' failure to coordinate effectively during the COVID-19 crisis will bring about a difficult period of reckoning and tough decisions for the organization. Above all, the UN will have to abandon its old mindset and adopt institutional reforms that make it better equipped to address twenty-first-century challenges.

DOHA – The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many institutional weaknesses, but above all, it has shown that the United Nations is in urgent need of reform. In particular, the response of the World Health Organization – the UN’s global health agency – to the virus has revealed obvious shortcomings, which reflect a lack of international consensus and cooperation, as well as widespread protectionism on the part of its stakeholders.

Nowhere has criticism of the WHO been louder or more pronounced than in the United States, where President Donald Trump’s recent decision to freeze US funding for the organization delivered a devastating blow at a time when it was desperately in need of support. What the UN does next, and how it recovers from its failure to coordinate effectively during the COVID-19 crisis, will determine its role in the post-pandemic world.

I consider myself a son of the UN and a staunch supporter of its values and principles. Over a period of more than four decades, I undertook various roles within its mammoth bureaucracy, starting in 1974 with my appointment as Qatar’s delegate to the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and ending in 2017, when I failed by a single vote to become UNESCO Director-General.