NEW YORK, USA, Sep 19 – Amid a gathering of around 140 world leaders in New York for their annual assembly, a host of complex global issues demand their attention. These encompass Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a pervasive cost-of-living crisis, an escalating climate emergency, and the transformative impact of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence.
The breadth of these challenges is matched only by the diversity of opinions regarding their gravity and the appropriate remedies. Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, observes, “People are looking to their leaders for a way out of this mess. Yet in the face of all this and more, geopolitical divisions are undermining our capacity to respond.”
A new multi-polar world order is emerging, marked by mounting tensions, fragmentation, and geopolitical complexities. One of the pressing issues on the agenda is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. President Volodymyr Zelensky aims to rally support from world leaders in New York, a pivotal test of global opinion on Russia’s actions. During his UN General Assembly address, he will call on existing allies to maintain support for his country, alluding to concerns about the slow progress of Ukraine’s counter-offensive against Russian forces. Zelensky is also expected to seek fresh support from leaders in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, many of whom have refrained from condemning Russia’s invasion.
There is a recognition, both in Western nations and Ukraine, of the need to reframe their argument to the “Global South.” This term refers to regions where many countries have refrained from condemning Russia’s actions, preferring an end to the conflict, even if it involves Ukraine ceding territory. Western powers are striving to convey that the war affects not only European security but also has broader global economic implications.
However, a challenge looms as many leaders attending the UN assembly prioritize discussions on the climate crisis and economic hardships over the European war.
UN Secretary-General Guterres acknowledges this dynamic and has organized separate summits to address the world’s sluggish progress in reducing poverty and confronting climate change. In 2015, UN members committed to 17 “sustainable development goals” (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030. Unfortunately, most of these goals are off track due to the pandemic, rising debt, global inaction, and the war in Ukraine.
Guterres is seeking an economic stimulus for the SDGs and reforms to encourage international financial institutions to focus more on the needs of developing countries.
Several African leaders including Kenya’s William Ruto are attending the UN General Assembly.
Western leaders recognize the tension between their security concerns and the economic challenges faced by the Global South. They have arrived in New York pledging action on global development issues. Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, expressed President Biden’s eagerness to mobilize financial resources for development and infrastructure needs in the Global South.
While Western diplomats understand the importance of highlighting the implications of Russia’s invasion, particularly the food and energy cost impacts, they aim to address broader agendas, such as the SDGs and climate financing.
However, challenges persist, as some Western leaders, including President Emmanuel Macron of France and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, have opted not to attend the UN assembly. Mr. Sunak’s absence, attributed to diary pressures, has drawn criticism for potentially tarnishing Britain’s international reputation.
The UN general assembly offers a crucial opportunity for world leaders to address multifaceted global crises. Nevertheless, achieving unity, a cornerstone of the UN’s mission, may prove challenging in the face of divergent priorities and geopolitical complexities.