The United Nations will mark its 75th anniversary Monday, celebrating the mantra that “multilateralism is not an option but a necessity,” even as the coronavirus underscores the fragility of international cooperation.
The anniversary will kick off the global body’s annual General Assembly, when normally the leaders and representatives of nearly 200 countries gather en masse to sound off about the world’s problems and offer myriad solutions.
But this year, a part of Manhattan will not be sealed off for the “UNGA”; there will be no endless limousine convoys, and no busy beehive of diplomats, journalists and translators in the halls of the UN.
Instead, with COVID-19 still limiting global movement, just one representative from each of the 193 UN members will be allowed, and only someone already in the United States.
Everyone else will have to appear by videoconference, including some 160-170 heads of state and government planning addresses.
Appearing by video on Tuesday will be Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping, who in the past have let their top diplomats speak for them; and US leader Donald Trump.
On Wednesday, Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro, who much of the world sees as illegitimate, will address the assembly by video. Missing as speakers are the leaders of Syria and North Korea.
“Diplomacy, to be effective, requires personal contacts, and I am very sorry that we are not going to have the opportunity to bring together leaders of countries,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
Even so, he said, there would be “many virtual meetings” on the sidelines of the assembly, convening by teleconference on subjects such as climate change, biodiversity and the conflicts in Libya and Lebanon.