This could be the perfect time for United Nations reform

This could be the perfect time for United Nations reform

Roddy Gow, Chairman and Founder

The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty – Winston Churchill.

Developments globally appear threatening with the drumbeat of war being described by journalists in Asia and the West. The Winter Olympics, themselves impacted by the political environment in which they are being held, have been preceded by the meeting that we were expecting with Putin and Xi getting together in Beijing.

As expected, Putin appears to have agreed to support China’s claims to Taiwan and implied readiness to invade in return for China accepting Russia’s claims over Ukraine and its demands that NATO expand no further east.

No one should be surprised by these anticipated positions adopted by two members of the UN Security Council, the body that must be past its sell by date with Russia and China consistently vetoing any efforts to reach unanimity on motions to achieve peace on a global basis. Their own self-interest runs counter to the UN’s charter and highlights the need to overhaul the organization and its method of operation. The pessimist might say such an exercise is too difficult, but an optimist might judge this as just the time, with frustrations over Ukraine and Chinese policies running high, to push for the needed reforms and enable the UN to function as its founders intended.

Then the Winter Olympics this year, set against the background of concerns that the host country will find itself held up for human rights abuses and the exclusion of many in order to achieve Covid Zero. How far is this from the founding spirit of the games as a celebration of athletic achievement removed from political considerations and goals – yet was Berlin in the Summer of 1936 so different from Beijing in the Winter of 2022? The pessimist points to a repeat of the nationalistic posturing of the host country in each case but the optimist will highlight how clear it is that any authoritarian government is exposed by the presence of so many high achieving athletes who represent the future.

Writing in the New York Times, Steven Myers and Alan Blinder remind us that Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter prohibits athletes or other participants from demonstrating or displaying “political, religious or racial propaganda” at Olympic events. Ms. Yang Yang, a Senior Official of the Beijing Organizing Committee and an Olympic champion, has said, “athletes need to be responsible for what they say” but added that “athletes are free to express their opinions”. For the optimist possible grounds for hope.

Turning to the tensions on Ukraine’s borders, we need to be reminded that it is that country’s right as a sovereign state, to request NATO membership, whatever Russia or its satellite Belarus may claim. Indeed, Russia’s positioning may well have served to unite Western opinion behind Ukraine, not an outcome that Putin presumably desired. It has also brought the US back into assuming a leadership role, a welcome change from the disastrous actions of the previous administration. Again, grounds for hope for the optimist.

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