2020: The year diplomacy died

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PARIS — This week’s virtual United Nations General Assembly could be a metaphor for the decline of diplomacy and of efforts to maintain a rules-based international order instead of the law of the jungle.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, world leaders are delivering a series of video monologues without being able to meet in New York for the customary pull-asides and private talks in which global disputes are often thrashed out, and common challenges such as climate change, disease, poverty and development addressed.

On its 75th anniversary, the U.N. cuts an increasingly beleaguered figure, eerily reminiscent of the League of Nations in the 1930s. In the age of megaphone diplomacy by tweet, jaw-jaw — to misparaphrase Churchill — is no longer better than war-war.

The Security Council is once again deadlocked by disputes and distrust among the great powers: the United States, China and Russia.

Arms-control treaties that helped keep the Cold War cold by slowing the spread of atomic weapons and instilling a modicum of trust among the superpowers have been violated or torn up. The few safety limits that are still intact may soon be left to expire.

Foreign ministries around the world have seen their role and budgets shrink.

There is no single culprit for the current waning of the “universal” world order that many emerging nations contend was fashioned by the West in its own interest in 1945, and again after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

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