The world’s problems seized the spotlight Tuesday as the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly of world leaders opened with harrowing assessments of a planet beset by escalating crises and conflicts that the aging international system seems increasingly ill-equipped to deal with.
After two years when many leaders were weighed down by video due to the coronavirus pandemic, presidents, prime ministers, kings and foreign ministers have now gathered almost in person for the first global event of diplomacy.
But the tone is far from festive. Rather, it is the squeak of a tense and unsettling world.
“We are stuck in a massive global dysfunction,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, adding that “our world is at risk — and paralyzed.”
He and others have pointed to conflicts ranging from Russia’s six-month-old war in Ukraine to the decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Speakers expressed concerns about climate change, rising fuel prices, food shortages, economic inequality, immigration, misinformation, discrimination, hate speech, public health, and more.
The priorities varied, as did the prescriptions for the treatment of human diseases. But in a forum dedicated to the idea of bringing the world together, several leaders brought up a common theme: The world needs cooperation, dialogue and trust, now more than ever.
“We live in an era of uncertainty and shocks,” said Chilean President Gabriel Borek. “It is evident nowadays that no nation, big or small, humble or mighty, can save itself on its own.”
Or, in the words of Guterres, “Let us act as one, as an alliance of the world, as a United Nations.”
It’s seldom that easy. As Guterres himself has pointed out, geopolitical divisions undermine the work of the United Nations Security Council, international law, people’s trust in democratic institutions, and most forms of international cooperation.
The Secretary-General said: “The discord between developed and developing countries, between North and South, between the privileged and the rest, is becoming more and more serious by the day.” “It is the roots of geopolitical tensions and mistrust that poison every area of global cooperation, from vaccines to sanctions to trade.”
While the calls for maintaining large-scale international cooperation — or multilateralism, in diplomatic parlance — abound, differing ideas about the balance between working together and self-defense, and about whether the “international order” created after World War II needs to be re-established. arrangement.
“We want an open pluralism that respects our differences,” Senegalese President Macky Sall said. He added that the UN could win the support of all nations only “on the basis of shared ideals, not on the basis of local values that are set as global standards”.
After the pandemic forced an all-virtual meeting in 2020 and a mixed meeting last year, delegates reflecting the world’s nations and cultures are filling the halls of United Nations Headquarters again this week. Before the meeting began, leaders and ministers wearing masks roamed the assembly hall, speaking individually and in groups.
It was a sign that despite the fragmented state of the international community, the United Nations remains the primary gathering place for world leaders. Nearly 150 heads of state and government signed up to speak during the nearly week-long “general debate,” a large number that demonstrates the gathering’s uniqueness as a place to give their opinions and meet privately to discuss various challenges — and they hope, make some progress.
Guterres was keen to begin with a note of hope. He showed a picture of the first UN-chartered ship carrying grain from Ukraine – part of a deal between Ukraine and Russia that the UN and Turkey helped broker – to the Horn of Africa, where millions of people live on the brink of starvation. He exemplified the promise “in a world teeming with turmoil”.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February was high on the agenda of many speakers.
The conflict has become Europe’s biggest war since World War II, opening up divisions between the major powers in a way not seen since the Cold War. It also raised fears of a nuclear disaster at a large power plant in southeast Ukraine, which is now occupied by Russia.
Meanwhile, the loss of important grain and fertilizer exports from Ukraine and Russia has led to a food crisis, especially in developing countries, and inflation and a rising cost of living in many nations.
As Jordan’s King Abdullah II noted, rich countries going through uncommon experiences of scarcity are “discovering a truth that people in developing countries have known for a long time: for countries to prosper, affordable food must reach every family’s table.”
Leaders in many countries are trying to prevent a wider war and restore peace in Europe. However, diplomats do not expect any breakthroughs this week.
In a moving speech to Parliament, French President Emmanuel Macron said that no country could stand on the sidelines in the face of Russian aggression. He accused those who remain silent of being “in some way complicit in a new cause of imperialism” that tramples on the existing world order and makes peace impossible.
Slovak President Zuzana Caputova has long relied on Russia for oil and gas. But she noted that Slovakia has provided military assistance to neighboring Ukraine.
“We, the members of the United Nations, need to stand clearly on the side of the victim over the aggressor,” she said.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro called for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine, the protection of civilians and the “preservation of all channels of dialogue between the parties”. But he opposed what he called “unilateral or unilateral” Western sanctions, saying they have hurt economic recovery and threatened the human rights of vulnerable populations.
Neither Ukraine nor Russia has come to speak. The council agreed to allow Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to speak by video, despite objections from Russia and a few of its allies.
Zelensky is expected to deliver a speech on Wednesday, as well as a speech by US President Joe Biden in person. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is scheduled to take the podium on Saturday.
Edith M. contributed to this report. Lederer, chief UN correspondent for the Associated Press. For more AP coverage of the United Nations General Assembly, visit https://apnews.com/hub/united-nations-general-assembly
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