The COVID-19 pandemic, followed by Russia’s war against Ukraine, have delivered a one-two punch to post-World War II institutions meant to defuse or at least minimize international turmoil. Some, like those affiliated with the United Nations, often have proven to be ineffective but others, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, are showing encouraging resilience.
So Dr. Mark Meirowitz told participants in the Jewish Policy Center’s May 19 webinar, “State of the World, 2022.” “Covid was a world crisis,” said Meirowitz, a humanities professor at the State University of New York’s Maritime College. “The problem was, the world didn’t rise to the challenge.”
A key reason, Meirowitz stressed, was China’s cooption of the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO) and its leadership. Influence over WHO helped enable President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party to restrict information about the pandemic as it spread from Wuhan Province around the world in late 2019 and early 2020. “We know the stonewalling of WHO [by Beijing] really hurt the world’s ability to respond,” Meirowitz said.
Likewise, noted Meirowitz, when an International Court of Arbitration dismissed Chinese claims to zones and territory in the South China Sea, “China said the decision was ‘a piece of trash’” and ignored it. This after the United States promoted Beijing’s inclusion in the United Nations and related bodies, he said.
Washington and its allies thought China’s participation in international agencies including WHO, WTO and others would induce it to behave as a more reliable member of the rules-based international order. Instead, “a state like China wants to use the U. N.-system to add to its power and prevent criticism against it,” Meirowitz said. Xi and the Chinese Communist Party’s appetite for dominance—exemplified by its Belt-and-Road Initiative to first befriend, then overawe smaller countries—presents “an existential threat against the United States” and “if they can link with Russia, they will.”
Meirowitz’s areas of specialization include Turkish foreign policy, Turkish-Israeli relations and American foreign policy. His article in the current issue of the JPC’s inFOCUS magazine analyzes “How Israel Is Seen in the Mind of America.”
He said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was, like COVID-19, an international wake-up call. President Vladimir Putin’s 2014 aggression into Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula “was a shocking moment. … There should have been push-back” then by Washington and other Western states.
But support for non-member Ukraine since Russia’s general attack starting February 24 shows NATO’s collective approach to security in Europe “seems to be working,” Meirowitz said. Adding traditionally neutral but Western-leaning Finland and Sweden, which both have applied for membership as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, “is clearly pivotal for the survival of NATO.”
Though European support for Ukraine has been impressive, Meirowitz said, alliance members “still don’t have consensus … on how to deal with Russian oil” on which some have been dependent. Meanwhile, because America under the Biden administration had curtailed domestic natural gas and oil production, “the United States wasn’t ready” to meet European shortages.
Nevertheless, Western countries and Washington “have come a long way” since the Russian invasion and that “has a lot to do with U. S. power,” Meirowitz said. Even though America’s political system and society seems to be “in disarray,” exemplified by the division over the Supreme Court’s review of abortion law, immigration and crime, “people around the world look at the Statue of Liberty” and see the United States as “a bastion of democracy” and “a hope for people everywhere. … We can’t give that up.”