A diamond jubilee deserves more than prerecorded speeches, but somehow a parade of three-minute videos broadcast to a mostly empty General Assembly chamber succinctly captures the moment for the United Nations. The world is facing a set of crises that is unprecedented in modern history — the COVID-19 pandemic, a global economy that has gone off the rails and a climate catastrophe — and the world body is distracted by geopolitical rivalries and a growing tendency of national governments to go it alone while complaining about the institution’s ineffectiveness. As U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres explained in comments at the world body’s 75th anniversary, “we have a surplus of multilateral challenges and a deficit of multilateral solutions.”

This is, warned Guterres, “a 1945 moment.” The COVID pandemic has “laid bare the world’s fragilities. … Climate calamity looms, biodiversity is collapsing, poverty is rising, hatred is spreading, geopolitical tensions are escalating, nuclear weapons remain on hair-trigger alert.” Yet even in this precarious situation, cooperative action remains beyond reach.

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