The war in Ukraine and its president’s visit take center stage at the United Nations this week, but developing countries will compete for attention and push for faster action on poverty and inequality at the first full meeting of world leaders since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted travel three years ago.
The annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly comes at a polarizing and divisive moment in history – the most tense and dangerous since the Cold War, according to many analysts and diplomats.
They point the finger Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, which has upended the already difficult relations between the great powers as well as the lingering impact of the pandemic, high food prices, the worsening climate emergency, the escalation of conflicts and the the world’s inability to tackle poverty, hunger and gender inequality.
For developing countries, top priority is the two-day U.N. summit that begins Monday and aims to galvanize world leaders into action to achieve 17 far-reaching and long-overdue goals global goals by 2030. In addition to eliminating extreme poverty and hunger, the goals include ensuring quality secondary education for all children, achieving gender equality and taking urgent action to fight climate change. At the current rate, no objective will be achieved.
High-level meetings on issues such as pandemic prevention and universal health care are also planned.
“We stand at a critical juncture in human history,” Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former Liberian president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said last week.
MANY LEADERS ARE ON THE TRACK – AND SOME ARE NOT
When the annual high-level meeting of the 193-member General Assembly begins Tuesday, presidents, prime ministers and monarchs from 145 countries are expected to speak, a very high number that reflects the multitude of global crises and the lack of ‘action.
For the first time in years, US President Joe Biden will be the only leader of the five powerful nations with veto power at the UN Security Council to attend in person. That sparked private grumbling from developing country diplomats, saying major global players would not listen to their demands, which require billions of dollars to implement.
Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the Johannesburg summit last month BRICS bloc of developing economies — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Russian President Vladimir Putin, wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Ukraine, has not visited South Africa and will not come to New York. French President Emmanuel Macron, who attended last year, chose not to host Britain’s King Charles in Paris next week, and Rishi Sunak will be the first British prime minister to skip the General Assembly in a decade, officially due to a busy schedule.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters last week that he did not think the presence of a leader “is more or less relevant.” What matters, he said, is whether their government is prepared to make commitments on the UN goals and many other issues during the week. “So it’s not a vanity fair,” he said.
Richard Gowan, director of the International Crisis Group at the UN, said that after the recent meeting in New Delhi of the Group of 20 major economic powers, “for some European leaders, there is not much political capital to reach great heights. and you need to be seen a lot more at home.
He called the situation at the United Nations “bleak,” saying that “we feel like we are much closer to the brink in U.N. diplomacy” than a year ago. “Great power tensions are having an increasingly serious effect on the organization,” he said.
With the four leaders sending lower-ranking ministers, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is sure to attract even more attention as the war is in its 19th month with no end in sight. Biden, who will speak on Tuesday, will also be closely watched for U.S. views on Ukraine, China and Russia.
Zelenskyy will also address the assembly on Tuesday and participate in a Security Council meeting on Ukraine on Wednesday, focused on the principles of the United Nations Charter, which require each country to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of others. The meeting could create the unique spectacle of placing Zelensky and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the same room.
GROWING GLOBAL DIVISIONS MAKE UN WORK MORE DIFFICULT
The whole week is underpinned by the prospect that the very reason the United Nations exists – bringing countries together to promote peace and security – is becoming increasingly difficult because of divisions between the West, Russia and China, and the rise of regional and similar conflicts. multipolar groups that create a multipolar world.
Guterres, who will deliver his state-of-the-world address Tuesday at the opening of what is known as the general debate, said he would tell world leaders that now is not the time for “posturing or positions”, nor to “indifference or indecision”. .”
“Now is the time to come together to find real and practical solutions,” the UN chief said. “It’s time to compromise for a better future.”
Guterres, who says the war in Ukraine has deepened divisions, said the current transition to a fragmented “multipolar world” will not solve the planet’s myriad problems.
At the same time, he argues that the multilateral institutions established after World War II – the United Nations and its powerful Security Council, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – are outdated and must be reformed “to make them more just and more equitable.” and more representative of today’s world.
A recently published study by the IMF found that if the world were to divide into different economic, financial and trade systems, “the loss would be around $7 trillion a year,” Guterres said, making it crucial to single global economy and an agreement on how to govern “disruptive technologies”. like artificial intelligence.
Switzerland’s Ambassador to the UN, Pascale Baeriswyl, said the UN 17 Goals summit was the most important event this week, apart from one-on-one meetings between world leaders. She expressed concern that with so many crises, it might be difficult to generate enough attention and political will to find solutions.
Gowan said Zelensky’s visit to New York was an opportunity for him to engage with Southern leaders and others he has not met. But Gowan said there was growing pressure for a diplomatic solution to the war, and while Zelenskyy says “now is not the time for diplomacy” and insists Ukraine must continue to fight, “I think he will suffer a lot of reprisals.”
Guterres was asked how to keep a broader vision than just Ukraine and emphasize UN goals. “We don’t want to have just one spotlight,” he replied. “We have the possibility, as in several rooms, to have different projectors.”