Is it too late for the United Nations Security Council to make even a modest contribution to international stability during the coronavirus pandemic? After negotiating for the better part of two months, the council’s member states have yet to agree on a resolution addressing the security consequences of COVID-19. Last Friday, the United States refused to endorse a text that the body’s 14 other members were ready to back. It is not clear that a compromise is possible.
This is a pity, because the draft resolution the U.S. nixed—worked out by France and Tunisia, the former a permanent member of the council and the latter an elected one—centers on a fairly straightforward proposal to limit the suffering stemming from the pandemic. It repeats U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ appeal back in March for a general cessation in hostilities so that aid workers and health experts could help conflict-affected communities navigate the coronavirus. The draft calls for a 90-day humanitarian pause in armed conflicts in general, in addition to a more specific demand for an immediate halt to violence in crises that are already on the council’s agenda, such as in South Sudan and Libya.
Guterres’ initial appeal resonated quite widely, as armed groups from Colombia to the Philippines committed to cease-fires in late March. Had the Security Council moved faster to endorse the idea, it might have gained momentum earlier on. But a series of disputes among council members, including a battle between China and the U.S. over whether the resolution should contain a positive reference to the World Health Organization, prevented them from giving Guterres early, clear backing.