The United Nations was formed after the worldwide defeat of fascism and at the birth of a Cold War. Seventy-five years later those pernicious currents are resurgent. It seems incredible that within living memory, geopolitics have apparently circled back to such destructive and potentially catastrophic dynamics.
Maybe “circling back” is the wrong expression. Maybe the world just never left the ashes of fascism and World War II fully behind. The supposed death of fascism and birth of Cold War are not separate events. They are interrelated, merely different manifestations of the same pathology.
The 75th annual UN general assembly convened this week at its New York headquarters under ominous circumstances. For the first time in the history of the world body, delegates were largely absent due to the coronavirus pandemic which has ravaged most of the globe’s 193 nations. World leaders addressed the forum via remote video teleconferencing from their own countries rather than taking to the podium in New York.
Antonio Guterres, the ninth UN secretary-general, opened the session with an urgent appeal for the United States and China to avoid an escalating Cold War. He warned that at a time of pandemic threatening global poverty, famine and rising death toll, the world cannot afford a titanic confrontation between the two largest national economies.
Among the world leaders to address the international forum were U.S. President Donald Trump, China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. (Recorded addresses can be viewed here, here and here.) While Xi and Putin delivered speeches that were internationalist in spirit and commensurate tone, emphasizing solidarity, cooperation and peace, Trump went on a rant that was brimming with rancor, recrimination, militarism and nationalistic hubris.
Completely ignoring appeals to avoid a Cold War, the American president delved into chilling provocations against China, accusing the latter of unleashing a pandemic on the world, which he sneeringly referred to as the “China virus” and “plague”. As his administration has repeatedly done over recent months, Trump demanded the world hold China to account. Washington has fomented a new Cold War with China much like the former decades-long standoff between the U.S. and the old Soviet Union. The politicization of the coronavirus pandemic by the Trump administration is merely a proxy for a wider geopolitical confrontation that the U.S. is pursuing against China, which stems from a perceived decline in American global power.
This reckless polarization of geopolitics by Washington is undermining international security and greatly increasing the danger of a new world war, one that would doubtless escalate into a nuclear conflagration. What the Trump administration is doing is tantamount to criminal pyromania. Yet there is plenty of reason to believe that an alternative American administration would do the same albeit perhaps with a different political agenda or style. For U.S. global power seems inherently programmed for militarism and belligerence. These nefarious manifestations are a corollary of American presumptions of being an “exceptional” global power that is predicated on hegemony over the entire planet.
Presidents Xi and Putin reminded the world in their respective addresses that the UN was formed after the historic defeat of international fascism. The newly formed world body in 1945 was supposed to supersede the defunct League of Nations which failed to prevent World War II. In the UN Charter were enshrined the principles of respect for nations’ sovereignty and non-aggression.
A fair observer would note that the Chinese and Russian leaders both embodied a contemporary expression of the founding vision of the UN. Xi and Putin each urged the nations of the world to work together with mutual partnership and respect to ensure peace and progress for the betterment of humanity. Xi in particular emphasized the need for cooperation to overcome the coronavirus pandemic. While Putin underscored in his address the need to reduce weapons of mass destruction.
By contrast, Trump’s address was bereft of magnanimity and compassion. See this commentary by one of our columnists. His was a tirade full of antagonism towards China driven by cynical and groundless accusations, as well as bristling with American militarism and hubris. It was an extraordinary display of naked aggression starkly repudiating the principles of the UN Charter and the historic founding purpose of the world body.
It seems astounding that on the 75th anniversary of the founding of the UN, a world leader could deliver such a profane address which was not just tone deaf to the occasion but which actually promulgated the antithesis of its founding principles.
One has to say that in too many ways the UN has failed to live up to its lofty principles over its 75-year history. That, however, is no reason to abandon its commitments and aspirations. Presidents Xi and Putin, among other world leaders, are right to remain loyal to the foundational objectives of the UN.
Nevertheless, the harsh truth is that the UN has failed abysmally in maintaining international security and world peace over the past seven decades. Countless wars have raged during that three-quarters of a century with tens of millions of lives lost, and whole countries destroyed.
By clear culpability, the United States has been the main purveyor of these wars carried out under false and grotesque pretenses, such as “defending democracy” or “protecting human rights”. Virtually in every instance, national sovereignty and the principle of non-aggression were violated by Washington, and on too many occasions the UN was ineffectual in preventing wars by compelling the U.S. to abide by the UN Charter. The U.S. and its Western allies instigated the Cold War immediately after World War II as a means to counter the Soviet Union. Today, the U.S. is repeating that same objective of polarizing the world with a new Cold War against China.
If there is a dark sense of déjà vu it is because the criminality of American imperialism has never been held to account. The self-righteous bombast of Trump and past American leaders is in actuality a perverse inversion of reality. Their pretensions of nobility and virtue are a cover for the kind of lawlessness that was supposed to have been defeated in World War II. Trump is but an unvarnished version of the same kind of American war criminality that has been extant – though better disguised – over the past 75 years.
There is something quite fitting about Trump not being capable of delivering a proper UN speech this week. That incapability is intrinsic to American power.
Thankfully that power is in terminal decline and the rest of the world will eventually overcome the aberration. Perhaps over the next 75 years, the UN vision might actually be fulfilled. But if that is to happen, American capitalist-imperialist power as it exists must be supplanted to conform at last with democratic, lawful principles and the UN Charter.
Fascism, it seems, wasn’t fully defeated in World War II despite the enormous, heroic sacrifice of millions. It just lived to fight another day. Time to finally end it.