A Summer Reading List for Glum Multilateralists

A Summer Reading List for Glum Multilateralists
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, left, and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan at the Refugee Summit, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Feb. 17, 2020 (AP photo by B.K. Bangash).

Editor’s Note: Guest columnist Richard Gowan is filling in for Stewart M. Patrick, who will return next week.

What books should admirers of the United Nations and international cooperation dive into this summer? Tomes about international institutions rarely make great beach reads. But with pandemic staycations still keeping the beach out of reach for many of us, they are not as heavy a lift this year as they were in summers past. And with foreign policy pundits sounding the alarm over a “crisis of multilateralism,” it can even be refreshing to dig into books that explain how the organizations involved actually work—or put their current travails in a historical perspective. Here are four good recent ones.

Karel van Oosterom’s “With an Orange Tie: A Year on the Security Council” is an enjoyable insider’s account of how high-level United Nations diplomacy works in practice. Van Oosterom became the Dutch permanent representative to the U.N. in 2013, and is now moving to be ambassador in London. His book recounts the year he represented the Netherlands as a nonpermanent member of the Security Council in 2018, including the rough debates he endured on issues including chemical weapons in Syria. But he also shows how ambassadors in New York are able to cut deals on many issues behind the scenes despite their public rows. He has a good eye for the absurdities of diplomacy, too. The funniest moment in the book may be when council consultations are brought to a sudden halt by the British ambassador, who breaks protocol by eating a sandwich.

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