UN failures on coronavirus underscore the need for reforms

The coronavirus that has claimed nearly 1 million lives has underscored the failure of the United Nations to bring countries together to defeat it, prompting renewed calls to reform the world body so that it can meet challenges far different - and more daunting - than those it faced at its birth, reports AP. 

As U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week, "The pandemic is a clear test of international cooperation - a test we have essentially failed." There is a "disconnect between leadership and power," he said, warning that in the 21st century's interconnected world, "solidarity is self-interest," and "if we fail to grasp that fact, everyone loses." 

The first-ever virtual meeting of world leaders at the General Assembly, highlighted increasing tensions among major powers, the growing inequality between rich and poor countries, and the escalating difficulty of getting the U.N.'s 193 member nations to agree on major issues - let alone unite on reforms. Born out of the ashes of World War II with 50 members, the United Nations has since expanded dramatically. Seventy-five years after its founding nations signed the U.N. Charter in San Francisco and vowed "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war," conflicts continue to rage around a world beset by inequality, hunger and a massive climate crisis. 

"We could criticize the U.N. for this - but who are we really talking about, when we blame `the U.N.?'" Switzerland President Simonetta Sommaruga asked. "We are in fact talking about ourselves, because the U.N. is its member states. And it is often member states that stand in the way of the U.N.'s work." 

Tensions were on display at a Security Council meeting when the United States and China - two of the council's five veto-wielding permanent members - accused each other of mishandling and politicizing the coronavirus. 

Russia backed Beijing, a close ally, as it has in recent years, leaving the U.N.'s most powerful body charged with maintaining international  peace and security more deeply divided and unable to address major issues, including conflicts like the one in Syria.