Ex-UN chief calls on America to show global leadership, says WHO withdrawal ‘morally wrong’

Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told CNBC Tuesday that he is “deeply, deeply concerned” about the state of global politics and described current global leaders’ focus on “short-term political gains” as shameful.

Ban, who led the U.N. from 2007-2016, said there had been “growing disunity” in the multilateral system since America’s withdrawal from many U.N.-led agreements and agencies, as well as nuclear treaties such as the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) on the Iranian nuclear issue.

“People say that the multilateral system has been under attack even … The U.S. has been withdrawing from major specialized agencies of the United Nations starting from (the) U.N. Human Rights Council … Then they have withdrawn from UNESCO … Then (the) Paris climate change agreement most seriously,” he said.

“I’m really urging the United States to really show their global leadership based on global vision as they did when they were leading this establishment, founding the United Nations 75 years ago,” he added.

Ban, who was the eighth U.N. secretary-general, described the U.S’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization earlier this year at the height of the Covid-19 global response as “morally wrong” and “politically very short-sighted.”

Trump halted U.S. funding for the WHO back in April as his administration conducted a review of the organization. That review then outlined what the White House perceived as “repeated missteps” during the early stages of the pandemic. Trump has also previously cited what he called “the World Health Organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.” A formal withdrawal from the WHO began last month.

To date, the U.S. has reported over 4.8 million coronavirus infections and 158,268 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. A spokesperson for the White House wasn’t immediately available when contacted by CNBC.

Former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

Thomas Trutschel | Photothek | Getty Images

Korea response

Speaking about the international response to the Covid-19 crisis from his home base of South Korea, Ban said the country had been a relative success story with its handling of the pandemic, with around 14,500 cases and 302 deaths.

Ban said adopted policies such as the “Three Ts Plus P” — “testing, tracing, treatment and participation” — had helped the population and government work closely together against the virus.

Asked why he thinks the rest of the world had not followed South Korea’s response, Ban told CNBC that global leadership had been “sorely lacking at the top level.”

“Every country has been doing on their own without any collaboration and cooperation without listening to the advice of experts and scientists and doctors,” he said.

“It is quite shameful that the most resourceful, the strongest country in the world, the United States, has more than 25% of cases infected with (the) virus,” he added.

Ban, who was secretary-general during the 2014 outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa, said he had then secured a U.N. Security Council resolution “within one day,” declaring the outbreak as “a serious threat to the maintenance of international peace and security.”

He is now highly critical of the response by the U.N. Security Council to the Covid-19 crisis and what he called the “politicization” of the virus.

“After six months of this outbreak, the United States and China have been playing a blaming game, all this politicization of these virus issues, they have not been able to take any single resolution at the Security Council. This is a shame, they are neglecting the global responsibility as permanent members of the Security Council.” he added.

Ban acknowledged that the U.N. “is not a perfect organization.” But he said it has set out many visions and many promises, adding that implementing these promises to the world “depends upon how global leaders show their leadership.”

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