“We are convening during a period when humanity confronts immense challenges, encompassing the surging climate emergencies, escalating conflicts, a global cost-of-living crisis, mounting inequality, and disruptive technological shifts.” – Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General
Amidst mounting divisions on the global stage, the United Nations General Assembly is convening, with a backdrop of ongoing conflict in Ukraine, a series of climate-related disasters, and a world characterized by growing discord. This environment is expected to hinder collaborative efforts aimed at addressing a multitude of contributing issues.
Illustrating this tension, only President Biden is slated to participate from among the leaders of the five permanent members of the Security Council—namely, the United States, Russia, China, France, and Britain. Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, will make his first appearance since Russia’s invasion of his country. However, Ukraine’s prominence on the agenda has diminished compared to the previous year.
Originally intended to focus on the pressing needs of countries in the “Global South,” a loose coalition of developing and underdeveloped nations, this year’s gathering has garnered disappointment from diplomats. They lament that global attention remains fixated on the Ukrainian conflict, while their own crises receive minimal attention and funding.
In response to these concerns, the UN General Assembly has set aside time to discuss critical issues such as climate change, sovereign debt relief, and strategies for aiding struggling nations in achieving the UN Development Goals pertaining to prosperity, health, development, education, and gender equality.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted, “We are convening during a period when humanity confronts immense challenges, encompassing the surging climate emergencies, escalating conflicts, a global cost-of-living crisis, mounting inequality, and disruptive technological shifts.” He emphasized that people are seeking leadership to navigate this complex landscape.
However, Guterres acknowledged the growing difficulty in uniting UN member states, given the profound divisions laid bare by the absence of world leaders from the forum.
highlight increasing global divisions
The absence of several prominent world leaders underscores the deepening global divisions. While acknowledging the nonattendance of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the surprising aspect lies in the absence of French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“It’s crucial for countries to participate in this annual forum,” emphasized US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield during a press conference on Friday. She expressed disappointment that not only America’s rivals but also its allies were skipping the event this year. Thomas-Greenfield added that President Biden intends to emphasize the resurgence of “multilateralism.”
The French mission to the United Nations cited a scheduling conflict as the reason for Macron’s absence, as he hosted Britain’s King Charles III in Paris this week. The UK did not provide a clear explanation for Sunak’s absence from the first general session and will be represented by a delegation of ministers from both countries.
Analysts warned that world leaders’ decision to shun the UN jeopardizes the institution’s relevance at a time when it is already grappling with challenges. While various UN agencies continue to play a vital role in organizing and delivering humanitarian aid, the UN’s ability to mediate and negotiate has been significantly diminished, particularly as the conflict in Ukraine escalates and a series of military coups disrupt governments across Africa.
The Security Council, originally established as a major force for maintaining global peace and stability, has conspicuously faltered in addressing these issues due to divisions among its veto-wielding members.
“The situation at the United Nations is now dire,” remarked Richard Gowan, UN director of the International Crisis Group, an organization focused on conflict prevention. “We are on the brink of a precipice in UN diplomacy, and the tensions among major powers are having an even more profound impact on the organization.”
First for Zelensky
In a historic move, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will be present at the gathering for the very first time since Russia’s invasion of his nation. Later this week, he will visit Washington, aiming to demonstrate that the substantial financial assistance provided by the United States to his country is being effectively utilized.
Furthermore, Ukraine took action by dismissing six deputy defense ministers yesterday, intensifying the ongoing overhaul of a ministry that has faced criticism for issues related to corrupt procurement practices.
Attempting to disrupt a repetitive pattern
The Ghanaian government finds itself in dire financial straits, prompting it to seek assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This marks the 17th financial rescue effort since the country gained independence in 1957.
This pattern of recurrent crises and bailouts has afflicted numerous impoverished and middle-income nations for decades, posing a substantial threat to the progress achieved in areas such as education, healthcare, and income levels. These relentless cycles are anticipated to be a topic of discussion at the upcoming UN assembly.
A beacon of transformation
Iraq’s Prime Minister, Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, is set to deliver an address at the United Nations with the aspiration of persuading the global community that he is poised to effectively address his nation’s longstanding issues of corruption and instability. His aim is to transform Iraq into a dependable and steadfast partner in the region.
Strained relations between the Western World and the Global South
Significant tensions between the Western world and the global South played a pivotal role in this year’s General Assembly preparations, according to diplomats. The United States and its European allies express weariness, citing concerns that Russia and China are actively enticing these countries away from the Western sphere of influence. Their determination lies in strengthening connections with the developing world.
Olof Skoog, the EU’s ambassador to the United Nations, remarked, “If it were solely up to us, we would allocate more time to discuss Ukraine.” However, he clarified that the primary focus this year is on averting the deepening of the North-South divide. The emphasis is placed on acknowledging that, for the developing world, the central theme of this week revolves around developmental issues.
Despite this emphasis, Ukraine still retains its place on the agenda, with President Zelensky scheduled to address the assembly on Tuesday. A session on the ongoing war, to be held by the Security Council on Wednesday, promises potentially dramatic moments, as it may witness President Zelensky and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov sharing the same table, provided both leaders remain seated. Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken will also deliver an address.
President Zelensky is anticipated to endeavor to rally support for Kiev’s war efforts from countries that have been wavering on the issue. It is expected that he will firmly reject the growing chorus, which has arisen among certain conservative elements in the United States and in some Global South countries, calling for immediate peace talks to bring an end to the conflict.
These calls for peace have been echoed by Mr. Guterres, who has consistently emphasized the need for conflict resolution. However, the path to achieving this, he noted, lies in adhering to the principles of the UN charter and international law. This would entail Russia withdrawing all its forces from Ukraine, as experts have pointed out. Yet, Mr. Guterres has been cautious in not articulating this stance publicly. As he emphasized in a recent press briefing, “Politics involves compromise. Diplomacy thrives on compromise. Effective leadership entails compromise.”