Irish rock star Bono warned Monday that the United Nations and other international institutions including the European Union and NATO are under threat – and nations must work together to ensure their continued existence.
The Dublin-born U2 singer and activist gave a sobering speech to several hundred U.N. diplomats and staff at an event launching Ireland’s candidacy for a seat on the powerful Security Council in 2021-22 saying “you can count on Ireland to do its part in that work.”
While Bono didn’t name any countries responsible for threatening global institutions during these “troubled times,” his words appeared clearly aimed at U.S. President Donald Trump, who has criticized the EU and NATO. The American leader has also pulled out of the Paris climate agreement which the singer cited, and taken aim at the World Trade Organization with new U.S. tariffs, an institution Bono said is also under threat.
Speaking of the United Nations, Bono said, “I love that it exists, and I’ll tell you, I don’t take for granted that it exists, or that it will continue to exist because let’s be honest, we live in a time when institutions as vital to human progress as the United Nations are under attack.”
He then said the EU, NATO and the Group of Seven major industrialized nations have also been threatened.
“And not just these institutions but what they stand for – an international order based on shared values and shared rules, an international order that is facing the greatest test in its 70-year history,” Bono said. “Not just these institutions but what they’ve achieved is at risk.”
On Sunday night, the Irish government invited ambassadors from the 192 other U.N. member nations to Bono’s concert at Madison Square Garden as part of its launch for a council seat.
Bono, who is also a human rights and humanitarian activist and philanthropist, joked Monday evening that it was “unusual having a load of ambassadors jumping up and down at a rock and roll show.” He told the diplomats: “at least you weren’t shouting at each other, so that was good.”
But his speech was both his sobering assessment of the state of the world and an appeal to the diplomats to back Ireland for a council seat.
Ireland is expected to be in a three-way race against Canada and Norway for two seats reserved for Western nations on the Security Council. Elections to fill the seats for a two-year term will be held in June 2020.
Bono said Ireland’s experience of colonialism, conflict, famine, mass migration “give us kind of a hard-earned expertise in these problems, and empathy and I hope humility.”
“If you look at the agenda of what the Security Council will be addressing in the coming years, doesn’t it look a lot like us?,” he asked.
Bono said he just came back from Canada and praised Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as “a remarkable leader who’s put together the most diverse Cabinet on the planet.”
“That Canada is nice is the worst thing I can say about them,” he said.
As for Norway, he said, “who could ask for a better neighbor or committed peacemaker?”
“Here’s the worst thing I can say about them, they’re tall. They’re too tall,” he said.
Bono, who is not tall, joked, “we bear no nation – even tall ones any ill will.”
But he said the world needs Ireland’s storytelling talents and its ability to compromise “because that’s how you achieve peace.”
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar formally launched Ireland’s campaign for a council seat at the reception on the U.N.’s lawn that included Irish dancing and music – but no singing from Bono.
“We see ourselves as an island at the center of the world,” Varadkar said. “And we’re deeply aware that in an interdependent world, the great challenges of our time do not know international boundaries.”
Varadkar said Ireland’s independence in 1921 out of war and violence, and its U.N. membership since 1955 have led the country to be a promoter of freedom and defender of human rights.
“The United Nations is the conscience of our humanity,” he said. “In these troubled and uncertain times, as a global island we want to play our part in defending, supporting and promoting its values.”