As bad as the current world looks, it’s actually worse
As bad as the current world looks, it’s actually worse

As bad as the current world looks, it’s actually worse

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The annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York is generally reviled by New Yorkers for the traffic congestion it causes, but is otherwise ignored by the wider public.

One by one, heads of state usually give speeches that cause their staff great dismay, but most—laden with idealistic preambles about UN mission promises—disappear quickly into the sea of ​​daily news to be unheard of. from again.

UNGA occasionally produces rare precious moments, but even 30 seconds of the impact it has on the consciousness of readers and viewers is usually soon overshadowed—as was the case this week in the US with a domestic political scandal and the emergence of the latest Kardashian baby.

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Maybe the same. Because if the average person took a closer look at what’s really being discussed at the UN, or had the opportunity to listen to some behind-the-scenes conversation as some of us have to, they would walk away from the experience of being shaken up not being stirred up.

Take, for example, Tuesday’s opening speech by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “We are caught in a colossal global dysfunction,” he said, seemingly in no mood for small talk, “the international community is neither prepared nor willing to face the dramatic great challenges of our time. This crisis threatens the future of humanity and the fate of our planet. Our world is in danger—and paralyzed.”

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The bottom line: “Our world is in big trouble.”

UN Secretary General António Guterres speaks during the UN Security Council.

Michael M Santiago/Getty

That point is underscored by the fact that a day later, Vladimir Putin chose to mark this UN week with his own speech—in which he announced that it was not only the summoning of 300,000 conscripts to serve in the Russian army and their disastrous joining. invasion of Ukraine but also threatens the use of nuclear weapons.

“When the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, in order to protect Russia and our people, we will definitely use all means at our disposal. It’s not a bluff,” Putin said.

Russia’s territorial integrity is certainly not threatened… it is they who invaded their neighbors without provocation. But the fact that the claims of the man who controls the world’s largest nuclear arsenal are, in fact, not tied to reality makes that statement all the more threatening.

The response of world leaders at the UN was swift.

US President Joe Biden, on Wednesday, named Putin as the sole individual responsible for the catastrophic conflict in Ukraine, and pledged to defend the country. He argued that “a nuclear war is unwinnable” and condemned Putin’s threats. The president has also called for UN reforms, such as increasing the number of permanent members on the Security Council and reducing the permanent members’ veto power—which might render the organization a little less, to use Guterres’ terms, from functioning.

Other leaders have also condemned Putin including, via video feed, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky calling for Russia to be designated a state sponsor of terror and for Russia to be removed from positions like the one it holds on the Security Council. “A crime has been committed against Ukraine, and we demand a fair punishment.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses world leaders via video link at the United Nations General Assembly on September 21, 2022, in New York City.

Spencer Platt/Getty

Growing concern over Putin’s remarks are signs of unrest in his own country. Men of military age flee the country in cars and planes, bottling border crossings and selling flights. Protesters took to the streets. And Putin, no doubt feeling trapped by his chain of wrongdoings in Ukraine, feels increasingly cornered and at risk—factors that exacerbate the current danger.

There is also a general notion that Putin’s mobilization could backfire and actually is contribute to further problems for Russia in Ukraine—a situation that might make a distraught Putin even more desperate.

Meanwhile, one of Putin’s few remaining close allies in the world, Iran, is facing a quickly spread riot after the brutal persecution and death of Mahsa Amini, was effectively killed because she refused to wear the hijab.

Iranian leaders, in New York for a UN meeting, underlined how paranoid they are about the situation at home by canceling an interview with CNN. Christiane Amanpour because he refused to wear a head covering for the interview.

Meanwhile, of course, many of those attending the UN General Assembly were as concerned about what was happening in the United States as they were around the world.

The rise of right-wing extremists was specifically cited to me by the ambassador of one of America’s closest allies as I sat next to him at an event here on Monday night.

The Ambassador said that one of the big questions debated by his colleagues was whether the leaders of their countries, in remarks at the UN, would address their concerns about democracy being threatened in the US (Guterres also cited the rejection of Roe v. Wade as a sign that gender inequality is worsening in the US and around the world.)

Of course, for visitors to New York, the deteriorating legal situation of the 45th American president (while understood and seen by some as an important corrective to anti-democratic impulses), is also seen as a source of potential loopholes in one ally they continue to seek. . see as inseparable. And as one European official told me at the Monday event I attended, “We are worried about democracy in America. Now we also have to worry about the security of confidential documents. And we fear you will return to America First policy after the next election. That’s a lot.”

People participate in a protest against Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi outside the United Nations on September 21, 2022, in New York City.

Stephanie Keith/Getty

That all of this is happening simultaneously is troubling and, to some extent, what Guterres called it in his remarks. But what makes it all the more dire is that the issues above are not really the main threat that his speech refers to. He warned, for example, “Without action now, a global fertilizer shortage will quickly turn into a global food shortage.”

The climate crisis—causing more extreme weather crises such as the ravages of Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico (US territory)—is another focus for the secretary general. He said, “We need worldwide action… Our planet is on fire.”

He then goes on to cite the deep economic injustices plaguing the planet and deepening them. “The differences between developed and developing countries,” he argues, “between the North and the South, between the privileged and the rest—are becoming more dangerous by the day. This is the root of geopolitical tensions.”

In other words, the reasons for the UN (and for the diplomatic initiatives discussed at the UNGA) have not diminished nearly eight decades after the institution’s founding. They are growing fast. And frankly, as they do, they illustrate that among the biggest problems we face remain impotence and the inertia of global organizations like the United Nations.

Global problems from war to the threat of the use of weapons of mass destruction, from the proliferation of WMD to the climate crisis, from the threat to democracy to hunger, from economic inequality to the unfair treatment of women—all require mechanisms far more capable and effective than those recently created. traffic jams in New York this week.

In Guterres’ words one can hear the frustration of a leader having to face the fact that these institutions are designed to be weak, designed not to threaten overly sovereign powers, and that the world’s problems are so urgent and on such a scale. and the gravity that they demand a different approach.

Utuado, Puerto Rico, after a power outage with the passage of Hurricane Fiona on September 20, 2022.

AFP via Getty

Biden’s call for reform is an encouraging step in that respect, if that small step is unlikely to materialize. But beyond that, having a week where the great challenges facing the world can be seen side by side, gives us a rare perspective and understanding that we are not rising collectively to the challenges we are facing.

There are glimmers of hope—protests against repressive regimes in Russia and Iran, the slow turn of the wheel of justice in the US—but listening to speeches by world leaders this week, it’s clear that unless we rethink the way the planet’s nations solve problems collectively, what a bad day. this will only get worse tomorrow.

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