UNITED NATIONS (AP) — World issues took center stage on Tuesday as the United Nations General Assembly’s annual meeting of world leaders began with a dire assessment of a planet occupied by escalating crises and conflicts, while aging The international order seems increasingly incapable of dealing with these problems.
For two years now, the president, prime minister, monarch and foreign minister have gathered almost exclusively in person at the premier global event for the diplomatic community after many leaders have spoken out via video because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But the tone was far from celebratory. Rather, it is the leaf of a tense and worrying world.
“We are deadlocked in a massive global dysfunction,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, adding, “Our world is at risk — and paralyzed.”
He and others pointed to conflicts ranging from Russia’s six-month war in Ukraine to the decades-long dispute between Israel and Palestine. Speakers worry about climate change, soaring fuel prices, food shortages, economic inequality, immigration, disinformation, discrimination, hate speech, public health, and more.
Priorities vary, as do prescriptions for treating human diseases. But in a forum dedicated to bringing the world together, many leaders expressed a common theme: The world needs cooperation, dialogue and trust more than ever.
“We live in times of uncertainty and shock,” Chilean President Gabriel Borric said. “It is now clear that no country, big or small, humble or powerful, can save itself by itself.”
Or, as Guterres put it, “Let’s work as one, as a world coalition, as the United Nations.”
Rarely is it that easy. As Guterres himself has pointed out, geopolitical divisions are undermining the work of the UN Security Council, international law, people’s trust in democratic institutions, and most forms of international cooperation.
“The division between developed and developing countries, between North and South, between the privileged and others, is becoming more and more dangerous,” the secretary-general said. “This is a source of geopolitical tension and a lack of trust that poisons the every area of global cooperation, from vaccines to sanctions to trade.”
Calls for large-scale international cooperation (or multilateralism in diplomatic parlance) abound, but there are questions about how to balance cooperation with self-reliance, and whether the “international order” established after World War II needs to be reordered.
“We want a multilateralism that is open and respectful of our differences,” Senegalese President Macky Sall said, adding that the United Nations can only be “based on shared ideals, not local values established as universal norms.” , in order to win the support of all countries.
After the pandemic forced the fully virtual conference in 2020 and last year’s hybrid conference, delegates reflecting the countries and cultures of the world once again packed the halls of United Nations Headquarters this week. Before the meeting, leaders and ministers wearing masks walked around the Great Hall, chatting individually and in groups.
This shows that despite the fractured state of the international community, the United Nations remains the main gathering place for global leaders. Nearly 150 heads of state and government have signed up to speak at the “general debate” for nearly a week, a number that underlines the conference’s uniqueness as a venue for voice and private meetings to discuss challenges – and, they hope, to achieve some progress.
Guterres made sure to start with a note of hope. He showed photos 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 are on the brink of famine. , he said, was an example of commitment “in a world full of turmoil”.
Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine was at the top of the agenda for many speakers.
The conflict has become Europe’s largest since World War II and is pulling rifts between great powers in a way not seen since the Cold War. It has also sparked fears of a nuclear disaster at a large power plant in Ukraine’s now-Russian-occupied southeast.
Meanwhile, the loss of vital grain and fertilizer exports from Ukraine and Russia has triggered a food crisis, especially in developing countries, as well as inflation and rising living costs in many countries.
As Jordan’s King Abdullah II pointed out, wealthy nations that have experienced unfamiliar experiences of deprivation “are discovering what the people of developing countries have long known: for nations to prosper, every household must eat Affordable food.”
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.
French President Emmanuel Macron said in an impassioned speech at the conference that no country can stand idly by in the face of Russian aggression. He accused those who remained silent “in some way complicit in the new cause of imperialism”, trampling on the current world order and making peace impossible.
The country of Slovak President Zuzana Caputova has long relied on Russia for oil and gas. But she noted that Slovakia provided military aid to neighboring Ukraine.
“We, the members of the United Nations, need to clearly stand with the victims and not the aggressors,” she said.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro called for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine, protecting civilians and “maintaining all channels of dialogue between the parties”. But he opposed what he called “unilateral or unilateral” Western sanctions, saying they undermined economic recovery and threatened the human rights of vulnerable groups.
Neither Ukraine nor Russia have had their turn to speak. Parliament has agreed to allow Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to speak via video over the objections of Russia and some of its allies.
Zelensky is expected to speak on Wednesday, with U.S. President Joe Biden speaking in person. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take the podium on Saturday.
Associated Press United Nations chief correspondent Edith Lederer contributed to this report. For more AP coverage of the UN General Assembly, visit https://apnews.com/hub/united-nations-general-assembly