JOHANNESBURG (AP) — At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has fractured global alliances and go-it-alone has turned ugly, some world leaders say Friday’s awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the U.N. World Food Program was a commitment to the belief that only a concerted effort can save humanity from further disaster.
“This not only recognizes your tireless work for food security on our planet, but also reminds the key importance of multilateralism that delivers results,” European Council President Charles Michel said in a congratulatory message.
More succinctly: “Multilateralism now more important than ever before,” Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven tweeted.
Ahead of the announcement, some had speculated that the Nobel might go to a fellow United Nations body, the World Health Organization, which has promoted multilateralism in the face of criticism by President Donald Trump.
But the choice of the WFP — headed by an American, a Trump nominee — was widely seen as supporting the call to global solidarity that the U.N. and others have stressed as confirmed COVID-19 deaths climb past 1 million, and as famine becomes a danger in several countries.
Little symbolizes global connectedness more than the WFP, long the U.N.’s logistics expert, which in responding to the pandemic launched an extraordinary emergency aid delivery service as most global flights were grounded. It involved almost 130 countries, unprecedented in scope. That’s on top of its usual work feeding millions of hungry people around the world.
The Nobel Committee made it clear this year’s award was a plea for unity.
“We are sending a signal to every nation (that) raises objections to international cooperation. We are sending a signal to this type of nationalism where the responsibility for global affairs is not being faced,” committee head Berit Reiss-Andersen said shortly after the award was announced. She didn’t name names.
She added: “Multilateral cooperation is absolutely necessary to combat global challenges. And multilateralism seems to have a lack of respect these days, and the Nobel Committee definitely wants to emphasize this aspect.”
The renewed call to solidarity faces fearsome challenges.
Some rich countries have stockpiled millions of doses of potential COVID-19 vaccines, to the dismay of other nations. And some of the world’s most high-profile leaders have downplayed the pandemic, including Trump, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
All three were later infected by the virus themselves.
Alarmed by the apparent chaos, many world leaders used last month’s annual U.N. gathering to issue ringing calls for a return to the multilateralismthat the world body has represented for 75 years.
Even before the pandemic, populist forces were pulling unity apart. Brexit was one symbol of the turn inward, along with restrictions against migrants in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere. And trade wars among giants rumble on even as COVID-19 rocks economies around the world.
Weary of divisiveness, some on Friday leapt at the Nobel news to issue another urgent warning that unilateralism is bound to fail.
“Solidarity is precisely needed now to address not only the pandemic, but other global tests of our time,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.
“There is also a hunger in our world for international cooperation,” Guterres added. “The World Food Program feeds that need, too. WFP operates above the realm of politics, with humanitarian need driving its operations. The organization itself survives on voluntary contributions from U.N. member states and the public at large.”
That last part was a reminder that the WHO, in the midst of arguably the worst pandemic in a century, stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars per year if the U.S. follows on Trump’s intention to withdraw from it completely. The U.S. had been the health agency’s largest donor until Trump announced a halt to funding earlier this year.
The WFP chief, American David Beasley, in the glow of the Nobel win quickly turned to his cheering colleagues — representing a global collection of staffers, from Kyrgyzstan to Samoa — and said in his southern U.S. twang: “I didn’t win it, you won it.”
As the U.S. woke up Friday to the Nobel announcement, there was no immediate comment from Trump — who has said he would like to win the award himself.
Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this story.