Un-Sung Heroes, Unfilled Coffers

Today, the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly opens in New York. So let’s ask a simple question: what good is the United Nations?


After all, the Security Council (UNSC) often seems like an anachronistic theater of obstruction where permanent members selected 70 years ago veto each other’s proposals for sport. Washington and Moscow have done so almost 200 times to protect their own interests.

Even when the UNSC does pass meaningful resolutions they are often spottily enforced or openly flouted – as people in Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, Palestine, and North Korea can all grimly attest. No doubt it’s better to have a forum for great power discussion than not, but you could be forgiven for thinking that this one isn’t quite fit for purpose.

But the United Nations is much more than the headline-grabbing Security Council.

The UN oversees half a dozen agencies that are dedicated to eradicating disease, hunger, and poverty all over the world.

The World Food Program, for example, helps to feed 80 million people a year, mostly in war zones. UNICEF offered life-saving treatment to 4 million children for severe malnutrition in 2017. The UN Refugee agency provides assistanceto more than 60 million people in 128 countries.

These agencies help vulnerable people in places where national governments either can’t or won’t act. In fact, even US National Security Adviser John Bolton – who never met an international organization he didn’t want to kick in the teeth – once went on record supporting their work.

Here’s the problem: those agencies are running short on cash as countries fail to pay their dues. Earlier this year, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned of an unprecedented funding shortfall of $139 million, even after US-backed budget cuts.

You’ll almost certainly read about Security Council fireworks in the coming days – but the quieter drama, which affects many more people, will be whether Mr. Guterres is able to secure the funding that his agencies desperately need.

Brazil's governors take on Bolsonaro: We've previously written about the tensions between local and national governments over coronavirus response, but few places have had it as bad as Brazil. As COVID-19 infections surged in Brazil, the country's governors quickly mobilized – often with scarce resources – to enforce citywide lockdowns. Brazil's gangs have even risen to the occasion, enforcing strict curfews to limit the virus' spread in Rio de Janeiro. But Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has mocked the seriousness of the disease and urged states to loosen quarantines in order to get the economy up and running again. "Put the people to work," he said this week, "Preserve the elderly; preserve those who have health problems. But nothing more than that." In response, governors around the country – including some of his allies – issued a joint letter to the president, begging him to listen to health experts and help states contain the virus. The governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic powerhouse, has even threatened to sue the federal government if Bolsonaro continues to undermine his efforts to combat the virus' spread.

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Governments of the developed world are finally responding with due sense of urgency, individually in 3 different ways.

1st, stand health care systems up so they won't get overwhelmed (late responses). The private & public sector together, building additional ICU beds, supply capacity and production of medical equipment and surge medical personnel in the US, Canada, across Europe & the UK. Unclear if we avoid a Northern Italy scenario. A couple days ago, Dr. Fauci from the NIH said he was hopeful. Epidemiologists and critical care doctors don't feel comfortable. Not in New York, Chicago, LA, Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans. In Europe, particularly London, Madrid, Catalonia, Barcelona, might be significantly short.

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The major outbreaks of coronavirus in China, Europe, and the United States have garnered the most Western media attention in recent weeks. Yesterday, we went behind the headlines to see how Mexico and Russia are faring. Today, we'll look at three other potential hotspots where authorities and citizens are now contending with the worst global pandemic in a century.

Start with India. For weeks, coronavirus questions hovered above that other country with a billion-plus people, a famously chaotic democracy where the central government can't simply order a Chinese-scale public lockdown with confidence that it will be respected. It's a country where 90 percent of people work off the books— without a minimum wage, a pension, a strong national healthcare system, or a way to work from home.

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In the end, it took the coronavirus to break the year-long deadlock in Israeli politics. Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu will still face corruption charges, but he has yet another new lease on political life, as he and political rival Benny Gantz cut a deal yesterday: Bibi will continue as prime minister, with Gantz serving as Speaker of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. After 18 months, Gantz will take over as prime minister, but many doubt that will ever happen.

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