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W.H.O.'s to blame?

Several world leaders have been critical of the World Health Organization's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including U.S. president Donald Trump and Japan's deputy prime minister and finance minister, Taro Iso. While the Trump administration has been openly critical of the United Nations and supported a greater focus on individual autonomy (just look to his 2017 U.N. address), will other nations now follow suit? Some leaders have tried to fill the geopolitical void left by the U.S., such as French president Emmanuel Macron, whose "French Initiative" was aimed at coordinating a united effort among the U.N.'s top powers. (https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/04/08/colum-lynch-china-us-can-the-united-nations-survive-coronavirus/) Will this be enough or are we starting to see cracks surface that will ultimately serve as the undoing of the United Nations?


While global politics and intergovernmental organizations are relatively modern concepts, we can look all the way back to Washington's farewell address to understand the Founding Fathers' original intent for the United States. In it he said, "It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements." While the U.S. held several treaties with European nations for the next hundred years, there were no permanently established organizations (in part because of the instability within Europe during this time, as nations consistently rose and fell).


With the rise of progressive political thought at the beginning of the 20th century and the end of the First World War, several countries called for a unifying force to help maintain world peace. The League of Nations was formed in 1920, initially consisting of 48 countries, and at its height reaching 58. While Woodrow Wilson was its primary architect, Republicans in Congress voted against having the U.S. join out of fear of political entanglement in foreign affairs. The League lasted until 1946, however its replacement had been planned since the Tehran Conference in 1943. The United Nations was formed in 1945 with much larger support from the U.S. and has been working since (for better or for worse) with membership reaching 193 countries in 2011. During this time, the U.S. has served as one of its greatest leaders, often taking the helm and providing a majority of its budget.


Some may argue that Washington's sentiments have become obsolete, however recent history shows otherwise. While several other intergovernmental organizations have since been established, not all countries have been pleased with the results. In June of 2016, Britain voted to leave the European Union, finally completing the process on January 31, 2020. Earlier this week we discussed a call for more localized government as states have stepped up to fill the gaps from the federal government. Will we see a similar call from nations as they look towards independent sovereignty during this crisis, or will this serve as a catalyst to strengthen the U.N.'s authority in order to better prepare for future global crises?


Fabrice Coffrini/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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