As we mark the 75th anni­ver­s­a­ry of the libe­ra­ti­on from Nazi fascism, we face an unpre­ce­den­ted glo­bal cri­sis. Chan­cellor Ange­la Mer­kel cal­led the cur­rent pan­de­mic the grea­test chal­len­ge sin­ce World War II. As we ack­now­ledge this important anni­ver­s­a­ry, Chris­toph Heus­gen, the Ger­man Ambassa­dor to the United Nati­ons, hopes we can recall what promp­ted the post-war genera­ti­on to build this sys­tem in the first place and learn les­sons for how to rebuild it in a more equi­ta­ble way.

In spring 1945, Ame­ri­can tro­ops libe­ra­ted my home­town, Neuss, Ger­ma­ny, from the Nazis. Later, Neuss beca­me part of the Bri­tish zone, and they worked tog­e­ther with local citi­zens to orga­ni­ze post-war life. This did not occur in a vacu­um – by the time the Federal Repu­blic of Ger­ma­ny was foun­ded in 1949, the Ger­man government was working clo­se­ly with allies, buil­ding a libe­ral, demo­cra­tic sta­te and, abo­ve all, inte­gra­ting into an inter­na­tio­nal sys­tem that was swift­ly beco­m­ing robust and was cen­te­red on mul­ti­la­te­ral insti­tu­ti­ons like the Euro­pean Uni­on, NATO and the United Nati­ons.

As we mark the 75th anni­ver­s­a­ry of this libe­ra­ti­on, we face an unpre­ce­den­ted glo­bal cri­sis. Chan­cellor Ange­la Mer­kel cal­led the cur­rent pan­de­mic the grea­test chal­len­ge sin­ce World War II. As we ack­now­ledge this important anni­ver­s­a­ry, I hope we can recall what promp­ted the post-war genera­ti­on to build this sys­tem in the first place and learn les­sons for how to rebuild it in a more equi­ta­ble way.

The chal­len­ges we face today can­not be ascri­bed sole­ly to the cur­rent pan­de­mic, yet this cri­sis reve­als fault lines that we must address. To do this, we should remind our­sel­ves why mul­ti­la­te­ra­lism mat­ters.

Bet­ween 1870 and 1945, dif­fe­ren­ces in Euro­pe cul­mi­na­ted in three devas­ta­ting wars. The les­sons of World War II led to the first real sys­tem for inter­na­tio­nal jus­ti­ce, begin­ning with the pro­se­cu­ti­on of war cri­mi­nals in Nur­em­berg. Sin­ce 1998 war cri­mes and cri­mes against huma­ni­ty are pro­se­cu­t­ed at the Inter­na­tio­nal Cri­mi­nal Court. Having lear­ned the les­sons from its dis­astrous past, Ger­ma­ny deeply belie­ves in the strength of the rule of law and not in the law of the stron­gest. At the UN, 193 coun­tries have the chan­ce to work tog­e­ther for the com­mon good and the­re we stri­ve to uphold the rules-based inter­na­tio­nal order.

Seven­ty-five years later, this order is under hea­vy strain. It is again the law of the stron­gest which seems to pre­vail in Ukrai­ne, in the Midd­le East, in Libya, in the South Chi­na Sea and many other con­flicts world­wi­de. Inter­na­tio­nal law is dis­re­gar­ded, human rights are end­an­ge­red and the free­dom of press is in ques­ti­on. Inter­na­tio­nal orga­niz­a­ti­ons, which were estab­lis­hed for the bene­fit of all peop­le, are regu­lar­ly instru­men­ta­li­zed for natio­nal pur­po­ses. As Ger­man For­eign Minis­ter Hei­ko Maas, tog­e­ther with his coun­ter­parts from the Alli­an­ce for Mul­ti­la­te­ra­lism, recent­ly made clear: This is a wake-up-call for mul­ti­la­te­ra­lism. We should return to what made the world safer and more pro­spe­rous.

Ger­ma­ny could not have been rebuilt without its allies. It was rebuilt through glo­bal soli­da­ri­ty, with the values of the inter­na­tio­nal sys­tem at its cen­ter. It was rebuilt on a strong foun­da­ti­on of human rights, equa­li­ty, and a visi­on for a bet­ter future. Ger­ma­ny was rebuilt on the spi­rit of mul­ti­la­te­ra­lism which gui­des our poli­ci­es to this day.

Mul­ti­la­te­ral coope­ra­ti­on is often not an easy way for­ward. Fin­ding com­mon solu­ti­ons can be labo­rious. But if ever­yo­ne sticks to them, rules-based mul­ti­la­te­ral solu­ti­ons are bet­ter, fai­rer and more las­ting than uni­la­te­ral action. COVID-19 has shown us the fault lines in our sys­tem, and now we must work tog­e­ther to make chan­ges.

Tog­e­ther we should reform the United Nati­ons and its Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil and not boy­cott it.

Tog­e­ther we should imple­ment the Paris Cli­ma­te Agree­ment and not under­mi­ne it.

Tog­e­ther we should reform the World Health Orga­niz­a­ti­on, the World Tra­de Orga­niz­a­ti­on and the Human Rights Coun­cil whe­re nee­ded, and not boy­cott the­se insti­tu­ti­ons.

Tog­e­ther we should imple­ment UN Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil reso­lu­ti­ons, which are bin­ding inter­na­tio­nal law and not cho­se tho­se we like as a menu à la car­te.

When COVID-19 has been defea­ted, other chal­len­ges will still exist: cli­ma­te chan­ge, ine­qua­li­ty, vio­lent con­flict. The best we can do is emer­ge from this cri­sis by retur­ning to the roots of inter­na­tio­nal coope­ra­ti­on and reco­ver in a way that is sus­tainab­le, equi­ta­ble, green, and has the values of the UN at its cen­ter.

Back in 1971, at the age of 16, I spent a for­ma­ti­ve and inspi­ring year in the United Sta­tes, which would not have been pos­si­ble if US tro­ops had not libe­ra­ted Neuss 75 years ago. Ger­ma­ny was saved from fascism, pro­tec­ted against Soviet aggres­si­on, even­tual­ly reuni­fied and was invi­ted into the inter­na­tio­nal sys­tem that the US hel­ped crea­te. Today, we face ano­t­her defi­ning moment in histo­ry. It is time for tho­se with shared values to again work tog­e­ther and not against each other.

 

Chris­toph Heus­gen

has been Ger­man Ambassa­dor to the United Nati­ons sin­ce 2017. Pri­or to this he was For­eign and Secu­ri­ty Poli­cy Advi­sor to Chan­cellor Ange­la Mer­kel bet­ween 2005 and 2017.