The World of International Organizations Explained

International organizations ‘under attack’

U2's Bono (ARÊTE/Unsplash)

The world’s leading international organizations and the order they represent are “under attack” politically but must work together to keep going, U2 frontman Bono told a diplomatic gathering to launch Ireland’s bid for a rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council.

In a speech to diplomats and staff at New York’s Madison Square Garden, the Irish rocker and activist helped his nation make its case for a Security Council seat from 2021 to 2022. The vote is planned for June 2020. He said Ireland’s abilities for storytelling and compromise are examples of “how you achieve peace.”

Ireland last won two-year rotating seats on the U.N.’s most powerful body, the 15-nation Security Council, in 1962, 1981 and 2001. Five permanent seats, with veto privileges, are held by Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, reflecting a power structure frozen in time since after World War II.

Bono’s message extended beyond Ireland’s expected three-way race against Canada and Norway for two seats reserved for Western nations on the Security Council. He warned that the existence of the United Nations, the European Union, NATO and the World Trade Organization, or WTO, are all threatened.

Bono placed the blame on “troubled times” and did not mention the reason for the threat: the virulent brand of anti-internationalism and populism espoused by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration.

Trump has pulled the United States out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, the U.N. Human Rights Council and the Global Compact for Migration, and he announced plans to withdraw the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, known as the Iran nuclear deal.

“These are perilous times — not just for these institutions, but for the shared values and shared rule of law they represent,” Bono said in a speech posted in Medium.

“We live at a time when institutions as vital to human progress as the United Nations are under attack. The European Union is threatened. The G-7 is being threatened. NATO is being threatened. The WTO is being threatened. I mean, what’s left?” said Bono.

“And not just these institutions, but what they stand for  —  an international order based on shared values and shared rules — an international order that is facing the greatest test in its 70-year history. Not just these institutions, but what they’ve achieved is at risk,” he said.

NATO storm clouds

Ahead of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, summit meeting at Brussels in July, Trump wrote to the leaders of Canada, Germany and other NATO allies to criticize their governments for not spending enough on defense and failing to meet what he sees as their collective security obligations.

Trump has repeatedly questioned NATO’s value and claimed the United States does too much for European security. His administration has reportedly considered withdrawing U.S. forces from Germany. At a NATO summit meeting in 2014, the allies committed to spend 2 percent of GDP on national defense.

Tensions between the United States and its Western allies extend the friction at a Group of Seven meeting in Canada last month, when Trump alienated others and feuded with host nation Canada’s leader. Even before the gathering, the G-7 gained notoriety as the “G6+1” owing to Trump’s standoff policies.

Trump waited until he was aboard Air Force One to blow up that summit, disavowing the G-7’s final communiqué negotiated over two days of diplomacy. He accused Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of being “dishonest and weak” and making “false statements.”

The insults deflected attention from Canada’s agenda for the G-7 during 2018 — promoting gender equality, women’s empowerment, clean energy and economic growth for all. Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum called Trump’s behavior at the G-7 “far worse behind the scenes” than it was in public.

“There was the gratuitous rudeness, including the moment he threw two Starburst candies onto a table and said, to the German chancellor, ‘Here Angela. Don’t say I never gave you anything,’ she wrote.  “There was aggression, as well as ignorance: ‘NATO is as bad as NAFTA, it’s much too costly for the U.S.,’ he said at one point; to others present, he mentioned NATO, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the World Trade Organization and the European Union collectively, throwing them together as organizations he dislikes. Later, he added a twist: ‘The European Union was set up to take advantage of the United States.’ ”

With the Trump administration stirring up tit-for-tat trade disputes by imposing tariffs and being retaliated against by important U.S. trading partners, Applebaum wrote that the other big risk is a trade war that the takes a toll on U.S. multinationals that have benefitted from trade deals around the world.

“There have always been downsides to the American-led international order, for everybody,” Applebaum wrote. “It was a series of negotiated trade-offs: You win some, you lose some. Mostly, America won. There was a reason successive American administrations supported the WTO, NATO, NAFTA and the E.U.: These organizations were the basis for American military power, as well as for American wealth and prosperity. If Trump destroys the trust upon which this system was based, it may never be revived. Europe may be poorer and more unstable as a result. But so will the United States.”

Support for international “values”

In a television interview, Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, said Trump “wants a strong NATO” but that the alliance is undermined by members who spend less than their fair share of GNP, or gross national income, on their military.

“If you think Russia’s a threat, ask yourself this question: Why is Germany spending less than 1.2 percent of its GNP?” he told CBS News. “When people talk about undermining the NATO alliance, you should look at those who are carrying out steps that make NATO less effective militarily.”

Trump has proposed raising and negotiating tariffs unilaterally, in violation of WTO rules. He told reporters at the White House that the WTO has “treated the United States very, very badly and I hope they change their ways.”

The United States has “a big disadvantage with the WTO,” Trump claimed. Then he gave veiled warning: “And we’re not planning anything now, but if they don’t treat us properly, we’ll be doing something.”

The antipathy expressed by Trump and Bolton towards international organizations has become almost a regular occurrence. In such times, Bono said, showing support for international institutions such as the U.N. Security Council matters more than ever.

“The choice is not just about the Security Council. It’s about the United Nations as a whole  —  about its future, and indeed, whether it has one … and it better,” he said. “Whether its values still matter, and they better. Whether peace is still possible, and who will speak for those noble ideas when the heat is on. And we better … ”

Irish leader Leo Varadkar said his nation is deeply aware of the need for global solutions to major challenges and that the United Nations is humanity’s conscience. “In these troubled and uncertain times,” he said, “as a global island we want to play our part in defending, supporting and promoting its values.”

The world of international organizations explained.

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