As the humanitarian and economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grow, so does the risk that this crisis will fuel new conflicts around the world, while stymying prospects for resolving ongoing ones. The global health crisis is triggering devastating levels of food insecurity and unemployment, especially in the world’s most fragile states, where the social contract between citizens and the state is severed and societies are fragmented and vulnerable to violence. These trends will almost certainly lead to a future spike in instability across these countries, unless concerted international action is taken.
After months of negotiation and diplomatic wrangling, the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) on July 1 unanimously adopted resolution 2532, endorsing U.N. Secretary-General Guterres’ late March call for a global cease-fire. Diplomats in New York hailed the resolution as an overdue win for multilateralism, while Pope Francis called for the resolution to be implemented “effectively and promptly.” Coming months after the secretary-general’s original cease-fire call and the global spread of the pandemic, will the resolution help bring peace?
A “mixed” response from the international community is threatening a worst-case scenario for fragile states facing COVID-19. USIP’s Tyler Beckelman says countries need to recognize “the best strategy for defeating the virus is defeating it everywhere” and cooperate on aid in fragile contexts.
On March 23, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres appealed for a global cease-fire to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet over eight weeks later, the Security Council has not been able to muster consensus on a resolution to support even a humanitarian, time-limited cease-fire, despite early and repeated warnings about the potential devastation that the virus will bring to conflict zones.
As the world’s privileged cope with the COVID pandemic through telework and sheltering at home, millions of people face grim struggles for survival, packed into informal settlements or camps for people already displaced in war-torn or fragile states. Governments have missed opportunities for a stronger international response, partly because of great-power rivalries. The economically powerful Group of 20 nations and international financial institutions have made a start at buoying the world’s economy—but other multilateral forums are mired in stasis. The U.N. Security Council should act to get ahead of the pandemic in fragile states and seize the moment to advance peace in some of the world’s most intractable conflicts.