This is an extract from an article published on the Foreign Policy website on 27 March 2020.
The United Nations Security Council is watching the greatest global health crisis in a century unfold from the sidelines, quarreling over the wisdom of working online, batting down proposals to help organize the response to the pandemic, and largely ignoring the U.N. secretary-general’s appeal for a global cease-fire.
The paralysis comes at a time when the United States is pressing the 15-nation council to adopt a resolution that would largely blame China for unleashing the pathogen on the world. The initiative—which appears to be part of a broader U.S. strategy to deflect responsibility for its own sluggish response to the spread of the virus—is certain to be blocked by China, which wields veto power.
The council’s inaction marks a stark contrast from the Security Council’s previous response to international threats, from al Qaeda’s 9/11 attack on the United States to the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa. During that health crisis, the Obama administration rallied the council behind a plan to flood the region with medical workers and to shift the mandate of a U.N. peacekeeping mission in the region—working with the support of the U.S. military—to help contain the spread of disease, which killed over 10,000 people.
In an effort to fill the current political vacuum, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday issued a call for a sweeping global cease-fire to allow war-wracked countries and insurgent forces to turn their attention to battling the virus. His peace envoys in Yemen and Syria have taken up the call for a cease-fire.