UN General Assembly opens to world in crisis – but only one of five key world powers is present

by MMC
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The United Nations – “Drop by drop, the poison of war infects our world,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said as he opened the annual gathering of 193 nations at the UN General Assembly.

As the world faces the greatest number of violent conflicts since 1945 – plagued by the consequences of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine and the resulting surge in food prices, as well as record temperaturesclimate disasters and unprecedented numbers of migrants and asylum seekers crossing borders in search of a better life: the agenda is daunting.

President Biden will speak there on Tuesday, but the leaders of four of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council – Britain, France, Russia and China – will be noticeably absent . So what can the United Nations hope to accomplish?

Of the 193 UN member countries, 145 send their heads of state or government to the General Assembly – but of the five founding and permanent members of the Security Council, only Mr Biden will be in New York this week.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Putin rarely attend. in person (both addressed the gathering virtually during the pandemic) and this year, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak are not showing up.

“While Sunak (UK) and Macron (France) have an excuse” — King Charles III is visiting France this week — “I think it’s telling that they’re absent,” Richard Gowan, director of the U.N. International Crisis Group, told CBS News. “That said, I think the General Assembly is a good opportunity for Biden and (US Secretary of State Antony) Blinken to work on strengthening ties between the United States and non-Western leaders during Xi’s absence and Putin.”

Many experts say competition between the United States and China for allies in what is often called the “global South” has undermined the UN’s ability to bring parties together to find solutions to problems. most urgent collectives in the world.

“I don’t see next week as a competition between great powers. Our goal is to support the small countries, to let them know that we are as committed to them as we have always been,” declared the American ambassador at the UN, Linda Thomas. Greenfield told reporters before the meetings.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who led a recent regional summit and recently visited China, is also not in attendance.

“Even without Xi and Modi at the UN, there are a number of non-Western leaders who will speak forcefully on behalf of the developing world,” Gowan said, citing Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who plans to use his speech to make a big push for rebalancing the global system, and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, who will probably also hit similar notes.

He also said that leaders of small states can also have an outsized impact in the General Assembly. One example is Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley – a likely contender for the next secretary-general – who used her recent appearances at the UN to call for reforms to the IMF and World Bank.

“People are looking to their leaders for a way out of this mess,” Guterres said.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivers a statement at UN headquarters in New York, September 18, 2023.


The Russian invasion of Ukraine and continued bombing of civilians will be the focus of this year’s event, as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy takes center stage amid the ongoing war. This follows Moscow’s decision cancellation of UN-backed grain export deal which has caused food crises in developing countries.

Zelensky will have several opportunities to make his call for support heard around the world during this trip, including at the UN and in Washington, where he meet President Biden THURSDAY.

Zelensky told CBS News’ “60 Minutes” Sunday of the horrors civilians face in his country.

“If Ukraine falls, what will happen in ten years? Think about it. If (the Russians) reach Poland, what will be next? A third world war?” I said in the interview. “We are defending the values ​​of the whole world. And it is the Ukrainians who are paying the highest price. We are truly fighting for our freedom, we are dying. … We are fighting for real against a nuclear state that threatens to destroy the world. “

Volodymyr Zelenskyy: the 60 Minutes interview of 2023

Zelensky also insisted that Ukraine would not consider ceding territory in exchange for a peace deal with Russia.

Nevertheless, UN expert Gowan believes that “Zelensky must be careful”, saying that “even those who sympathize with Ukraine want to see peace talks as soon as possible.”

Another pressing issue currently before the UN is the forced displacement of people around the world, which has reached a new record of 110 million people this year, High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said on Sunday at UN headquarters. the UN, causing an influx of refugees. from Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Food insecurity is also high on the agenda, with hopes that Monday’s one-day summit on global goals could result in new pledges.

“The number of people around the world who do not have enough to eat is at its highest level in modern history,” the UN World Food Program said. Its executive director, Cindy McCain, said 700 million people “don’t know when – or if – they will eat again.”

Few diplomats see decisive progress during UN week.

“We must say no to bloc confrontation, power politics or double standards. If the next General Assembly can set the right direction and restore people’s confidence in the UN, all other issues will be easier to resolve,” Chinese UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said. CBS News Sunday.

Some experts say it is harder than ever to concentrate at the UN.

“The UN is adrift, but that’s not its fault. Guterres has an ambitious and thoughtful agenda for the organization, emphasizing issues such as regulating artificial intelligence and combating climate change,” Gowan said. “But the major powers that shape U.N. diplomacy are focused elsewhere, and it is difficult to reach agreements on long-term global issues in an era of war and hot crises.”

Asked for the U.S. view on how to make the UN more effective, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said:

“Our commitment is unwavering: to ensure that the UN and in particular the Security Council are fit for purpose for the next generation.”
“The Security Council…does not represent the world as it exists today,” she said.

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