At the 73rd session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York this week, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that multilateralism is under fire when the world needs it the most. "Our world is suffering from a bad case of 'trust deficit disorder,'" he said, and added, "Trust is at a breaking point – trust in national institutions, trust among states, trust in the rules-based global order." Guterres added, "Within countries, people are losing faith in political establishments, polarization is on the rise and populism is on the march."
Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump, who was late for his speech at the U.N. headquarters in New York, praised his America First agenda, setting off laughter by world leaders in the hall. Starting with the U.S. building a wall along the border with Mexico, he delivered harsh messages to almost every country including U.S. allies. Depicting globalism as a threat to American sovereignty he rejected the legitimacy of the International Criminal Court (ICC). He said, as far as America is concerned the court – which prosecutes war crimes and crimes against humanity – has "no legitimacy and no authority." Recalling that he withdrew the U.S. from the Human Rights Council, he attacked almost all global institutions, and finally said, "We reject the ideology of globalism and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism."
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, known for his critique of the current world order, reiterated his warnings, and said that the U.N. risks becoming an organization with "a reputation for failure," catering to just five world powers, unless it's restructured, particularly the Security Council. He said that the U.N. has "moved away from the capacity to meet the expectations of humanity through peace and welfare." Referencing Bosnia, Rwanda and the plight of the Palestinians, he said the world body must be restructured if it is to succeed. Referring to the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Erdoğan said, "We believe that when we say the world is greater than five we are becoming the voice of the common conscience of the human race."
As world leaders came and left the stage, basically attacking each other with polite and diplomatic words, three speeches aroused my interest. While Guterres tried to warn world leaders about the increasingly chaotic disorder and the high risks of confrontations, he was like a portrayal of the ineffectiveness of the United Nations: a man who is fully aware of the dangerous situation but can do almost nothing to stop it. During Trump's speech in which he cut down U.S. relations with global institutions, I had some questions in my mind: "Is it the end of globalization?" or "Is it the beginning of something worse?" Only President Erdoğan delivered concrete and substantial suggestions to help restore the alarming U.N. structure and current global world order.
The 73rd session of the general assembly made me think about the ineffectiveness of the League of Nations, the intergovernmental organization founded after World War I. It was supposed to provide a forum for resolving international disputes but could do nothing to prevent World War II. As we recall, when the Kwantung Army of Japan invaded Manchuria crushing Chinese forces in 1931, the world did nothing. It was the first sign of ineffectiveness of the League of Nations. Then, in 1937, Japan started to invade China. When Nanking fell, they killed hundreds of thousands of people.
When Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in 1935, the world did nothing. Over 250,000 Ethiopian combatants were killed. It was just another major setback of the League. In fact, many world leaders praised Mussolini's conquest.
Adolf Hitler was bolder. Even so, when German troops occupied the demilitarized Rhineland in March 1936, the world did nothing. Understanding that the League had no guts to stop him, Hitler annexed Austria in 1938. He provoked little response from the world. Then he staked claims on the Czech Sudetenland.
The world's response to the Spanish Civil War was even worse. Not only did Hitler and Mussolini lend military support to Gen. Franco, but U.S. companies including Ford, GM and Texaco also provided machine tools, trucks and oil despite embargoes. Many Catholics rallied to support Franco. The Republic fell and Franco won in 1939. At least 500,000 people were killed.
The world did nothing to help Jews when Kristallnacht was carried out in 1938 by SA paramilitary forces and civilians throughout Nazi Germany and Austria. Encouraged, Hitler invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia breaking his promise in 1939 while labeling the British and Jews as warmongers on the other side. His next target was Poland.
World War II, which is viewed as the war won by the goods forces against German Nazism, Japanese militarism and Italian fascism, started after years of ignorance, selfishness and foolishness. Although we think that today we are living in a modern and civilized world, the world has barely changed since then. The situation deteriorates further each day, and yet the world does nothing. Unless we hear the alarm bells ringing and do something to restore the structure of the U.N., there will be no place left for dialogue and diplomacy amidst this chaos. Then, the U.N. will share the same fate as the League of Nations – failing to do its job to preserve world peace.