2020 in Review: The Failure of International Organizations

By: - December 8, 2020

Donald Trump receives lots of criticism for his America First policy, but the international organizations have seen a series of spectacular failures in 2020 that contrast sharply with Trump’s successes and even his brusque style.

Where is the UN?

International organizations failed to stop fighting in Armenia and Azerbaijan.  This conflict happened under the radar. It featured hard to pronounce names in a less well-known area during a pandemic. The conflict centered on the Nagorno‑Karabakh region which was technically a part of Azerbaijan but ruled by Armenia since their last conflict in 1994. The U.S. received its fair share of blame for not brokering a cease fire. This was unfair because a lame duck president who ran on a platform of no new wars and obligations is hardly in the strongest position to intervene. The dominant feature of this conflict was a series of cease fires brokered by Russia and supported by Turkey, the two dominant powers in the region that were broken as soon as they were established. Even then, the UN was noticeably absent, and arguably had a greater responsibility to intervene.

The WHO?

The World Health Organization was designed to help prevent mass pandemics just like the current one but it failed miserably. Early on the WHO echoed Chinese talking points that underplayed how easily the virus could spread. They failed to confront China on this matter, in part because they are dependent on foreign donations. This was on top of their already cumbersome bureaucracy and endless infighting. The result was that Western nations knew very little about the virus when it spread to their countries and the WHO information caused them to underprepare. (Though the media wouldn’t let you know that of course.)

It seems like such a long time ago, but Donald Trump reacted about the same way that every other official did. He wasn’t helped by his own turgid bureaucracy either. Seattle health officials for example, had thousands of flu study samples available but failed to test them for COVID in a timely manner. The organizations designed to save us from diseases ended up being a plague on us.

Nobel Peace Prize 

Yet, we still have noble Nobel prize winners that should make us feel better right?  The Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed Ali won the award in 2019 for his peace plan ending long standing tension with Eritrea. But as we’ve seen with the winner Barack Obama, and the scoffing at Trump’s Middle East peace deals, the Nobel prize is often a popularity contest. In 2020 Ali has expelled a member of his ruling coalition, adopted heavy handed rule, and then invaded the breakaway province ruled by his former allies. We are left in the situation where a Nobel Peace Prize winner is now the instigator of his own civil war. Again, like the fight between Azerbaijan and Armenia, there are no international organizations that can stop this war or bring at least a brief pause for humanitarian aid.

European Leaders?

This is even more buried, but there is still a Brexit crisis. While Britain officially left the union at the beginning of 2020, they have spent the last year in a grace period to finalize trade and border agreements. Of course, it’s been almost 5 years, two prime ministers later and Britain still hasn’t established the trade deals and fully left the EU. Officials on both sides are usually very polite, say the right things to reporters about hope and progress, don’t ruffle feathers, but nothing ever happens. Compare this to Trump’s behavior, and while they might have snickered about Trump on a hot mic, NATO ended up paying more for their defense budgets and have stepped up Freedom of Navigation patrols. I would rather have sharp rhetoric and meaningful action than polite palavering.

Donald Trump was hated for his America First policies and brusque manner. But he had so many successes that elites had to explain it away. As already mentioned, Trump’s breakthroughs in the Middle East and avoidance of new wars made him a strong candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. He reestablished deterrence against a belligerent Iran, fought back against unfair Chinese trade practices, established Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and his success contrasts sharply with the failure of international organizations.