Amid a deluge of rain, delegates and dignitaries from across the globe descended upon the United Nations on Monday, 25th September, setting the stage for the annual General Debate of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly.
This year, the diplomatic conclave finds itself grappling with a world marked by disarray and ongoing crises, raising questions about the U.N.’s ability to address these challenges effectively.
As tradition dictates, the Brazilian President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, opened the debate followed by President Biden. However, the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine, the pressing issue of climate change, and the lingering repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic cast a shadow over the event.
Is the UN faltering?
Efforts to achieve the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, set in 2015, are faltering, with the 2030 target to eradicate global poverty now in jeopardy. Many diplomats are openly expressing doubts about whether the United nations is actually able to confront a range of global crises.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, however, remains optimistic . He said, “It is a one-of-a-kind moment each year for leaders from every corner of the globe to not only assess the state of the world but to act for the common good. And action is what the world needs now.”
‘Face off’ on Wednesday
Wednesday is slated to be a really significant day, when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attends a special Security Council session on the conflict in Ukraine. We expect to see a dramatic face-off with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, nearly 19 months after the full-scale ‘Russian invasion’ of Ukraine.
Zelensky’s appearance comes at a challenging time for Ukraine, with its counteroffensive against Russian forces in the south and east facing difficulties. General Mark A. Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently warned that Ukrainian forces may have only “30 to 45 days’ worth of fighting weather left.”
While the U.S. and NATO continue to pledge their unwavering support for Ukraine’s defense, the prolonged war has strained Western resources, and garnered frustration from other nations. The collapse of Russian participation in the Black Sea grain deal, affecting the global food market, has only added to the frustration.
Richard Gowan, a U.N. expert at the International Crisis Group, noted, “The default position among the majority of U.N. members is we need to negotiate an end to the war.”
Biden Only, and Lonely?
President Biden is the sole leader from the Security Council’s permanent members attending the U.N. General Assembly this week, underscoring the U.N.’s evolving relevance. Nevertheless, more than 140 world leaders from diverse nations are in attendance, each with their own pressing concerns.
Apart from discussions on Ukraine, the U.N. has structured specific summits and conversations on climate change, global development goals, and sovereign debt relief, with many developing countries facing challenges related to international debt.
The China Shadow
China’s growing influence also casts a shadow, as the country seeks to position itself as a champion of non-Western nations. This has sparked concerns of a “north-south” divide in global politics.
The word “multilateralism” resurfaces annually at the U.N. General Assembly, symbolizing the organization’s role in a world order established after World War II. However, the world has changed a lot since then. Some of the U.N.’s structures, especially the Security Council, are seen as ‘dysfunctional’ due to the veto power of its permanent members.
Calls for reform in institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have grown louder, particularly from developing nations. Yet, amid ongoing global power struggles, the reform seems a long way from happening.
There’s Hope yet!
Stewart Patrick and Minh Thu Pham of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace highlighted the growing gap between the demand for international cooperation and its supply. They noted, “Humanity is grappling with simultaneous, compounding, and rapidly evolving challenges,” concluding that the U.N. has fallen short in addressing these challenges, both due to its perceived lack of fitness for purpose and a lack of trust among member states.
As world leaders gather in New York for the U.N. General Assembly, the organization faces critical questions about its ability to navigate an increasingly complex and divided world. The hope is that amidst the gloom, the spirit of diplomacy and cooperation will prevail, paving the way for meaningful solutions to global challenges.