On 8 December students and members of the public convened to hear UNA-UK’s Chairman, Lord Wood of Anfield, discuss President Trump and the United Nations at a public lecture at Bangor University.
UNA-UK’s Chairman started by reflecting on Trump’s first year as President of the United States and pointed to a number of examples where the US has withdrawn from multilateralism: He highlighted Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, the US’s pressure to reduce the peacekeeping budget, the decision to decertify the Iran nuclear agreement, and the recent withdrawal from the UN compact on migration, among others, as evidence of this retreat.
In response to Trump’s pessimism on the UN, Lord Wood argued that it is important to “fight back” and “make the case again” that the UN and the system of multilateralism matters: "Those who believe in multilateralism can't let the most important country in the world undermine it, we have got to protect it”. He went on to assert that Trump’s attacks on the UN “misunderstand fundamental things” about the UN and that the US will need multilateralism to support its interests and respond to the problems it faces.
Lord Wood indicated that public debate around the UN tends to focus on its shortfalls and limitations. He emphasised that to equate these criticisms with the idea that the UN is failing is a “colossal mistake”, and that without the UN, the world would be “considerably poorer, more insecure, more violent, sicker and more divided”. He argued that most of the UN’s work and accomplishments are made every day with little fanfare and that it is “up to us to remind the US and the world of this work, again and again”.
Lord Wood went on to challenge critics that accuse the UN itself of failing: “When the UN Security Council cannot agree a condemnation of Assad’s atrocities in Syria, it is because of its member states, not the UN…the UN is the venue for the failure of countries to agree, not the cause or roadblock”.
Looking ahead, Lord Wood argued that it is important to “admit that we can do better and seek to improve the UN” on areas including peacekeeping and transparency of appointments. Drawing attention to UNA-UK's Global Britain scorecard, he advised that we must make sure our own government leads, to "hold their feet to the fire" and ensure consistency in upholding the rules.
To conclude, Lord Wood made the case that “multilateralism is weaker without the US engaged, but we can still show them it works, to prove they are stronger by engaging rather than withdrawing... we need to protest, shame and embarrass those who turn their back on multilateralism”.
The event was supported and organised by UNA-UK, Bangor University and UNA Menai.
Photo: Jennie Freya/ UNA-UK Chairman Lord Wood at Bangor University