The beginning of the general discussion is not very encouraging. Secretary-General Guterres is deeply concerned.
The theme of this year’s general debate is twofold: restoring trust on the one hand, and global solidarity on the other. Both sound good, both are necessary and the world is off track either way.
The State of the World Report prepared by UN Secretary-General António Guterres has, at times, almost apocalyptic qualities. For example, when he describes a world out of control. The governments of the 193 UN member states, as well as the world organization itself, are unable to find solutions. The gaps between East and West and North and South will become deeper.
Guterres said he now has no illusions. Compromise has become a dirty word. There are more and more conflicts, chaos and military coups. Democracy is in danger around the world and dictatorships are on the rise. When it comes to climate, hunger and more, developments are going in the wrong direction.
Optimism is difficult
Although Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva spoke after Guterres about faith in humanity, his speech seemed less descriptive than evocative.
US President Joe Biden is also trying to spread optimism. Having just returned from a visit to Vietnam, he emphasized that enemies can become partners. While he finds harsh words for Russia’s continued aggression against Ukraine, he is counting on cooperation with China.
Chinese leadership is absent
But does Beijing want the same thing? President Xi Jinping stays away from the UN general debate. While Biden speaks, the Chinese Vice President, no minister, and not even the ambassador sit in the large hall of the General Assembly. Only two young Chinese diplomats are listening. Symbolism is important in world politics.
Biden is particularly reaching out to countries in the South. Through commitments to reform the UN Security Council and UN financial institutions, it addresses long-standing demands from emerging and developing countries. This is urgently needed, especially as many countries in the Global South increasingly move into China’s orbit.
The US President concludes categorically that the current challenges facing the United Nations and the world are enormous, but they must and will be overcome. Many in the room are likely wondering how long this president, open to international cooperation, will continue to rule the superpower United States of America.
The ability to act is very limited
Richard Gowan, a long-time UN expert at the International Crisis Group think tank, questions the status and role of the UN: It works well when major powers cooperate, but things currently look bad in this regard. It is difficult to trust the United Nations’ ability to act in light of deep divisions between the most influential countries that have veto power in the Security Council.
The result: The United Nations is primarily in conflict, and the organization is paralyzed in some areas. In the areas where it is still working, for example in humanitarian aid, it lacks money.
Secretary-General Guterres said almost defiantly that he would not give up. In the end it is a battle for survival. The United Nations was created specifically for difficult and dangerous times like ours. But whether it is up to the challenges is currently not entirely clear.
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