The most powerful body in the United Nations, the 15-member Security Council, has largely been silent on the COVID-19 emergency. The main reason is that two of the council’s veto-wielding members, China and the United States, disagree over the pandemic’s origins and the response to it. On Thursday, that silence began to change.
The council finally met to address the crisis although in secret and via videoconferencing. It has been under pressure from many nations to act because of the global nature of the outbreak. In addition, its members could no longer ignore a compelling success story driven by the U.N.’s chief administrator.
On March 23, Secretary-General António Guterres called for an immediate cessation of hostilities in all the world’s violent conflicts in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and to be able to deal with the humanitarian consequences.
It turns out his call for peace was a powerful attraction.
Since then, cease-fires have been endorsed by warring parties in 12 countries, from the Philippines to Colombia. One in particular stands out. On Thursday, Saudi Arabia announced it would observe a two-week cease-fire in Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, in response to Mr. Guterres’ request. That five-year conflict, which is a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and its rival, Iran, has resulted in one of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and over 100,000 deaths – more than from COVID-19 so far.
In the council meeting, Mr. Guterres was expected to give an update on his peacemaking efforts and to ask for a U.N. structure to closely track the cease-fires. With combatants under such scrutiny, they might prolong the truces and negotiate deals to end their conflicts. In addition, the U.N. and other global bodies could use the pause to seek solutions to the underlying social and economic causes of the local wars.
Mr. Guterres’ original plea was that “there should be only one fight in our world today: our shared battle against COVID-19.” This “common enemy,” he added, doesn’t care about the human divisions that drive today’s violent conflicts.
The ultimate political cohesion against the virus would be a united Security Council. It could show there is something worthwhile to support – the inklings of peace around the world – that may help lessen the current disputes over how to deal with the virus crisis.
Peace is not merely the absence of war but a positive force for repairing and restoring societies. The current silence of guns in many countries begins the process That silence has pushed the Security Council out of its silence.