The US – usually at the top of the table helping to coordinate in a global crisis – has refused to sit in a virtual international meeting organized by the World Health Organization and the European Union to coordinate work on a potentially life-saving vaccine.
On Friday the US blocked a vote on a UN Security Council resolution calling for a global ceasefire aimed at collectively helping a planet destroyed by the plague. The US does not want any references to WHO in the text and rejects a compromise version that does not directly mention the organization – and instead cites the UN “special health agency”, according to two diplomats who are familiar with the process.
The US has also blocked the expression of global unity at the G7 and G20 meetings because of anger towards China and WHO.
Unbelievable and sad
And where US presidents in the past have offered a steady vote, observers from Asia Pacific to Europe expressed doubts, entertainment and sadness at President Donald Trump’s briefing about the virus, saying they were very damaging to the US’s image abroad.
US officials pushed back, touting funds to fight Covid-19 and the work Trump carried out through the Group of Seven and bilaterally – leading more than 50 calls with world leaders. But experts say funding without full global coordination can slow down overall progress.
At a time when nearly 4 million people worldwide have been infected with this virus, diplomats say many countries crave the strong US leadership that they have seen at historic times and in previous epidemics, citing President Barack Obama’s response to Ebola and President George W Jobs Bush about HIV / AIDS.
“They want the US to lean more,” said a European diplomat. “We know they are doing a lot with countries, including developing countries, bilaterally … but many countries are languishing after the decisive US efforts that we saw when the Berlin Wall fell. Many countries believe this is one of those moments important moments in history and the US always led at those times. “
Critics say the Trump administration’s approach to coronavirus not only impedes the struggle against the pandemic, it has increased uncertainty, eroding respect for the US and deepening fears that the international system will no longer function effectively.
“The world is looking for global leadership. This is a global problem – it affects everyone on the planet. This is a time when you expect the leaders of superpowers in a very constructive way to help coordinate and structure responses,” said Robert Yates, director of the Global Health Program at Chatham House, a British think tank. “One would expect the US to have a leading role in trying to coordinate global efforts. That is really lacking.”
Global health officials found Trump’s move to cut funding for WHO amid a pandemic “truly amazing,” Yates added. “This is worse than lack of coordination, almost seems destructive.”
A senior State Department official told reporters Tuesday that the President “had concerns” about WHO, which Trump accused of bias in supporting China. The official repeatedly stressed that the US “is the single largest health and humanitarian donor in the world” and said the US “and President Trump are leading global efforts to combat this pandemic,” in part through the US G7 presidency.
But the US-led international response engine this time was not ready, said Gayle Smith, president and CEO of the non-profit ONE Campaign.
“Everyone in the world is looking for the same goods. How do we ensure that the global economy remains where it should be?” asked Smith, a former administrator of the US International Development Agency. And while he noted the G7 and G20 had held virtual meetings, “I really want to see the United States take some kind of extra effort to mobilize the world at various levels.”
US officials say Trump has held regular virtual meetings with G7 ministers to coordinate aid to other countries, but the White House has missed international meetings to coordinate vaccine hunting, leaving experts confused. One meeting was organized by WHO, while another meeting on Monday in more than 40 countries and several organizations raised $ 8 billion in pledges and produced commitments that whoever produced an effective vaccine would share it with the rest of the world first.
The absence of the US is “very, very unfortunate” Smith said, not only “because the US has historically been a leader,” but because the US has a national interest in being part of a group “that is trying to accelerate vaccine development”. and therapy, because obviously we will need a vaccine here … I think it would be wise, and for our sake, to be involved on the ground floor. “
Stephen Morrison, director of the Center for Global Health Policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, “This is a very crazy and disturbing thing that [the US] will go his own way and sit down. This is the country with the largest funding capacity, the biggest basic interest, the largest R&D capacity. “
He noted that the Trump administration had begun its own “warp speed” effort to develop vaccines, pointing to the complex network of interests needed to develop vaccines, including manufacturing and testing issues. “I did not know that I could make my own efforts,” he said.
Repeatedly asked on Tuesday about the absence of the US from the vaccine meeting, State Department officials emphasized how much funding the US provided for the Covid fight. A day later, the State Department issued a statement emphasizing US funding and work with organizations such as the Global Alliance on Vaccines and said the US saw the vaccine conference as “complementing our ongoing efforts.”
He added that “as we make progress in this global battle against Covid-19, we rely on our Allies and partners who join the United States to ask the difficult questions that China and the WHO need.”
“I am concerned that everything is political,” said a German diplomat who discussed Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo’s insistence that intelligence indicated the virus originated in a Chinese laboratory, although he had not yet provided evidence. “It is very clear that it is part of the campaign.”
‘Weirder than fiction’
A French diplomat said bluntly that “we cannot turn our backs on China. This is a great partner. Nobody can. We need to maintain partnerships.”
European diplomats said that a number of countries felt that “at the moment, priorities must be above a global pandemic that requires a lot of cooperation. … China needs to be part of it and WHO has to get involved … Anything that might reduce that effort when this makes people a little nervous. “
The behavior of the US President also made many international observers a little nervous.
Thomas Gomart, director of the Paris-based Institute for International Relations, said that Europe watched Trump’s response to the pandemic in amazement, calling his behavior “stranger than fiction.”
“He gives us a very diverse balance between entertainment and sadness, which is not as expected of a US president,” said Gomart, an assessment shared by Spain’s Javier del Pino, a prominent journalist.
“The way we looked at Trump was very pleasant at first,” said del Pino. “That’s not funny anymore.”