American leadership in recalibrating global institutions

Donald Trump has made no secret of his hostility to the World Health Organization (WHO). In the summer of the coronavirus, 2020, he lambasted the WHO’s performance in stark and explicit terms: “The W.H.O. really blew it,” Trump tweeted. “For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China centric.” Well, yes. But it’s not just the WHO. China has over recent years engaged in a well-documented effort to extend its regulatory, technological, economic, political, and (when possible) security reach using United Nations bodies as its favored vehicle. Both the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) were recently in its sights, and China’s now notorious stewardship of Interpol is well publicized.

But the China problem that has been exposed so dramatically as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is a subset of a larger and more serious one. Much of the global infrastructure built in the wake of World War II—think the United Nations, NATO, the European Union, and the Bretton Woods institutions—is aged, sclerotic, corrupt, and incapable of addressing the challenges of the twenty-first century.

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