The Irish Times view on global politics in a time of crisis: multilateralism under strain

The UN security council has gone AWOL and states are turning inward to contain the virus

Donald Trump may have started the process of undermining the multilateral order and its key institutions, but it is half-hearted support by member states at this time of crisis, not the institutions themselves , which is hobbling it. Photograph: Joshua Roberts/ Reuters

Donald Trump may have started the process of undermining the multilateral order and its key institutions, but it is half-hearted support by member states at this time of crisis, not the institutions themselves , which is hobbling it. Photograph: Joshua Roberts/ Reuters

 

Since the global coronavirus outbreak, the powerful 15-member UN Security Council has yet to meet. Largely, diplomats suggest, because of a stand-off between the US and China over the origin of the pandemic.

At a time when global leadership could not be more important, the Security Council is AWOL. And it is clear that multilateralism, the very idea of international co-operation through the UN or organisations like the EU, is withering as states turn inward and seal each other off to contain the virus. Donald Trump may have started the process of undermining the multilateral order and its key institutions, but it is half-hearted support by member states at this time of crisis, not the institutions themselves, which is hobbling it.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who yesterday suggested the council may actually meet at last next week, has called for the launch of a “large-scale, coordinated and comprehensive multilateral response” to the pandemic that could see the mobilisation of up to 10 per cent of global gross domestic product. He must be heeded.

Expectations in Europe that the EU could provide collective leadership and solidarity in the face of the pandemic were bound to be disappointed because of its inbuilt constraints. Member states have for years kept Brussels out of public health. In the crisis the union’s role is limited to coordination and common procurement. In Italy that reality ensured that early failure by the EU to mobilise medical aid contributed to alienating many and may stoke up dangerous Eurosceptic forces.

Economically, the crisis has seen member states rally to the calls for a new Marshall Plan for Europe – finance ministers meet today in video conference to approve a new financial package – but exposed deep existing divisions over how or whether to manage debt collectively.

The possibility of mutualising debt through collectively issued “coronabonds” could raise many billions at next-to-zero interest rates, easing spending challenges for countries like Italy, Greece and Spain. But the Dutch, Germans and others see underwriting such debt as a dangerous carte blanche to the profligate.

Over the weekend Germany and the Netherlands indicated an easing of their positions and there is every possibility that today’s meeting will produce a strong economic package.

In uncharacteristic language, German finance and foreign ministers Olaf Scholz and Heiko Maas wrote that: “The funds must not come with any unnecessary conditions attached, as that would be tantamount to a rerun of the austerity policy that followed the financial crisis … What we need is quick and targeted relief.”

A sign that multilateralism is not dead yet in Europe.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.