UN marks 75th anniversary year in world of distrust, shifting power
United Nations: As the United Nations enters its 75th year, the world is still rife with mistrust: the United States remains the dominant superpower but is on the wane, while Asian power is growing in the face of an increasingly fractured Europe, with an explosive Middle East sandwiched in between.
In the New York headquarters of the United Nations, the Cold War never really ended, as demonstrated by a scene recently observed in its hallowed hallways: a US diplomat spotted hiding behind a wall to listen in on what the Chinese ambassador was telling a group of journalists.
Even if the world has managed to avoid a third World War, conflicts drag on for years and the risk of a more widespread conflagration remain high, as witnessed by the recent near-miss when US President Donald Trump ordered the killing of a top Iranian general in Baghdad while the Security Council simply looked on.
"With turbulence on the rise, trust within and among nations is on the decline," Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in a recent address, calling the multiple challenges "a grave test to multilateralism."
"We see this trust deficit in streets across the world, as people vent their frustrations and voice their feeling that political establishments are out of touch, incapable or unwilling to deliver," Guterres said earlier in January during a debate on the UN Charter.
"We see it in the work of the United Nations, including the Security Council, when member states struggle or fail to find reasonable common ground," he added.
Asymmetrical conflicts
The UN's promise as a global forum for resolving conflicts has dimmed dramatically since the powers that emerged from the ruins of World War II hatched the idea at the Yalta conference in February 1945.
For some, the cracks in the edifice started to really show in 2011 with the start of the Syrian civil war and the overthrow of Libyan strongman Moammar Kadhafi led by western powers. For others, it was the 2003 US-British invasion of Iraq that dealt the international system a resounding blow.
Asymmetric warfare has replaced the high-stakes balance of power that marked the heyday of the Cold War, with attacks on the streets of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East now so frequent as to seem almost humdrum. The old threat of nuclear proliferation has raised its head once again, accompanied by the new dangers of global warming.
The US pullback from the world stage over the past decade, combined with European fractiousness, has opened the door to Russian expansionism, which has proved hard to stop in crisis areas such as Syria, Libya, Venezuela or North Korea.
"Russia's approach to the UN is often more tactically intelligent than Western diplomacy," Richard Gowan of the International Crisis Group, said in an interview with AFP. "The US and Europeans often see the Security Council as a stage for making big moral statements rather than pursuing real diplomatic deal-making."
China has become the second-largest funder of the UN after Washington, but has kept a measured pace internationally.
Compared to 75 years ago, there are very few points of reference left. - AFP