The UN turns 75 — is it still relevant?

The UN turns 75 — is it still relevant?

This Friday marks 75 years since the signing of the United Nations charter, a document that established the biggest and longest-lived experiment in global political cooperation in modern history.

But the organization celebrates this milestone at a time of uncertainty about whether it is still fit for purpose in the 21st century — and not only because of the critical global challenge of the coronavirus pandemic.


First, the good news. The UN has much to be proud of. Its programs help hundreds of millions of people to ward off hunger, poverty, and violence. It's the leading platform for the fight against climate change and its refugee agencies care for almost 60 million of the most vulnerable people around the world. UN observers help to ensure free and fair elections, and its peacekeepers intervene where few countries would do so alone. And without the Non-Proliferation Treaty, many more countries today would have deadly nuclear weapons.

But on the other hand, it's hard to think of a major international crisis that the UN Security Council — the UN's most powerful body — has resolved since the 1991 Gulf War. The Council is too often a stage for rivals like the US, Russia and China to simply veto each other's initiatives. It was unable to prevent genocides in Rwanda, Darfur and more recently Myanmar, and powerless to restrain the 2003 US invasion of Iraq or Russia's annexation of Crimea a decade later. It did almost nothing on Syria.

So here are three big questions that the UN will need to resolve in the coming years.

First, does power at the UN reflect today's world? In some ways, the organization is still stuck in 1945: France and the UK remain permanent members of the Security Council, which has only one permanent member from Asia (China), and none from Africa the Middle East or Latin America.

Second, who's going to pay for the UN? The UN's regular budget is covered by mandatory contributions from all member states, but most UN agencies rely on voluntary contributions. This discretionary funding was already at high risk, and it's likely to decline even more as coronavirus clobbers national budgets. UN agencies will have to find the money elsewhere.

Third, will COVID-19 help or hurt the UN? On the one hand, a global public health crisis underscores the importance of precisely the kind of international cooperation that the UN is meant to foster. And as the pandemic deepens throughout the developing world, the UN will play a big role in managing the twin public health and economic impacts there.

However, the coronavirus is also heightening major countries' inclination to turn inward. The US, in a deepening rivalry with China, has already cut funding for the World Health Organization — a UN agency — over complaints that it's too cozy with Beijing. Will the pandemic and its aftermath empower political forces that favor cooperation or nationalism?

Happy Birthday, but… Three-quarters of a century on from its founding, the United Nations is at a potentially major turning point. As they blow out those 75 candles, what should the UN wish for?

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Even with innovations in fintech and digital payments, roadblocks related to basic infrastructure like electricity and internet connectivity still prevent many migrant workers from being able to transfer money to their families back home with a truly digital end-to-end flow. While more workers can send money digitally today, the majority of people still receive funds in cash. Read more about why public-private partnerships are key to advancing the future of global money movement and why it matters from experts at the Visa Economic Empowerment Institute.

The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Ian Bremmer is joined on GZERO World by artificial intelligence scientists Kai-fu Lee, who recently wrote about how AI will change the world over the next two decades, precisely to talk about AI's future. After this week's Facebook debacle, how can we align interest to regulate AI-driven algorithms? Will AI steal all our jobs? And what should we do to learn from AI to improve our lives before it gets smarter than us?

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

US elections officials have always persuaded losing candidates that they've, ahem, lost. Now it's worse because there's a new paradigm, according to former DHS and Election Assistance Commission official Matt Masterson, policy fellow with the Stanford Internet Observatory. Candidates that won't accept defeat regardless of the margin or evidence of fraud, he says, are undermining trust in the system — and election officials are ill-equipped to deal with this problem.

Matt Masterson made these remarks during a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Who's most responsible for spreading misinformation online? For Ginny Badanes, senior director for Democracy Forward at Microsoft, the problem starts with those who create it, yet ultimately governments, companies and individuals all share the burden. And she's more interested in what we can do to respond.

Ginny Badanes spoke at a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. In this video, watch Ian Bremmer's conversation with Lebanese journalist and author Kim Ghattas on GZW talking about the future of Lebanese politics and sectarianism in the county after the after the blast. It was originally published on August 19, 2020.

In Lebanon, "a majority (are) united in wanting a different future, a future that is non-sectarian, that is non-corrupt, that provides prosperity, justice, dignity for people," journalist Kim Ghattas told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

In this interview, Ghattas discusses the opportunity that could arise from the tragedy of the Beirut explosion which killed 200 and injured thousands more. The Lebanese are "fed up" with the militant group Hezbollah, she tells Bremmer, and want to strive for a government that better resembles the diversity and cosmopolitan nature of its citizens.

Watch the GZERO World episode: Lebanon Post-Blast: Rage in the Streets of Beirut.

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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