Last year, there were no leaders. It will be quite different this year, sort of.
Leaders from over 100 countries are expected to travel to New York this week as the UN’s annual high-level meeting — an COVID-inflected and semi-locked down affair, which takes place in one the worst-hit cities in the pandemic. This will be a departure form the 2019 General Assembly’s last in-person meeting — and a far cry from last year’s all-virtual.
They face daunting challenges that will scare any country leader, including an escalating global crisis and severe vaccine inequities. These include Afghanistan’s future under the new Taliban rulers, worsening conflict in Myanmar and Tigray in Ethiopia.
Antonio Guterres, U.N. Secretary General, has highlighted many other indicators of a more chaotic and insecure world. These include rising poverty and hunger, technological advances “without guardrails” such as lethal autonomous weapons and the risk of nuclear war. Also, growing inequality, discrimination, and injustice that bring people to the streets to protest, “while conspiracy theories, lies, and divisions fuel deep within societies.”
The U.N. chief continues to repeat that the world is at a “key moment” and must change gears to “a safer and greener world.” This means leaders need to show multilateralism their teeth. They should take joint action to end the global failure to address COVID-19 in 2020, and ensure that 70% of the world population is vaccinated by 2022.
As is the case with many United Nations meetings, it is still to be seen if the high-level meetings that begin Monday and end September 27 make any real progress.
More than 100 heads and ministers of state and government, along with more than two dozen other ministers, decided to travel to New York this year, despite the pandemic. This reflects the unique role of the United Nations as a global square for all 193 members, no matter how small or large, weak, powerful or insignificant.
The annual assembly of world leaders, known as the General Debate, has been a forum where top officials, including presidents, prime ministers, can discuss regional, global and local issues at receptions, public or private, lunches, and dinners. It creates space for diplomacy to be done face-to-face, which is considered to be far more productive than online meetings.
Richard Gowan, U.N. director for the International Crisis Group, stated that the General Assembly’s first meeting in person since the pandemic started — although about 60 leaders chose to give prerecorded speeches — was symbolic and an opportunity to show “international cooperation matters.”
He said, “For leaders of poorer countries this is also an rare opportunity to speak publically about the ongoing aftershocks COVID-19.” It’s also quite enjoyable to visit New York. Many of these leaders are stuck in their capitals.
After four years of Donald Trump representing America at the meetings, Joe Biden will make his debut as President at Tuesday’s General Debate. Gowan stated that “the most important question is how he frames relations to China.”
Gowan stated that he won’t be as harsh in his criticisms of China as Trump, particularly in 2019 and 2020. “But, I believe that Biden will attempt to cast China as a nation that is challenging the rules-based global order and as a country that should be distrusted with the leadership of the international system.”
The pandemic is something that world leaders need to talk about, but also something they have to address on the ground. COVID-19 entry requirements are a key issue prior to the meetings. This applies to leaders to the United States and the U.N headquarters.
Brazil is the tradition’s first speaker after the secretary general delivers his state-of-the world report. Jair Bolsonaro the president of Brazil, who isn’t vaccinated, stated Thursday that he does not plan to get the shot anytime soon. Bolsonaro’s explanation: He had COVID-19, which he claims means he has high levels of antibodies.
To enter the United States, you must have a current COVID-19 test or a vaccine. However, New York City has a vaccination requirement to convention centers. It considers the General Assembly hall, which isn’t technically U.S. territory, to be one of these.
Abdulla Shahid, the Assembly President, stated in a Thursday letter that the U.N. relies on an honor system alone. This means that there won’t be any New York City police checking anyone entering U.N. headquarters.
Many diplomats claim they will closely monitor the last speakers scheduled for Sept. 27, as each speaker has something to discuss.
North Korea recently tested new cruise missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Generals overthrew Myanmar’s democratically elected government in February. The democratically elected president of Guinea was overthrown by the military a month earlier. The Taliban took control in Afghanistan on August 15, when the Afghan army gave up the fight to the Taliban as the U.S. troops began withdrawing from the country. This happened after 20 years of war.
The military junta is challenging the credentials of Myanmar’s current diplomat, who was a member of the ousted democratic government. However, U.N. officials have stated that the General Assembly’s Credentials Committee will not meet to discuss the challenge until after the end the week’s meetings. The Taliban have not yet submitted a challenge to the credentials of the ambassador from the former government.
Prerecorded statements will be delivered by the presidents of South Africa, Egypt, Indonesia and South Africa this year. The French President Emmanuel Macron was originally scheduled to make a prerecorded speech, but the government announced that Jean-Yves Le Drian, the Foreign Minister, will deliver the address in person on the last day.
France and China reacted angrily and with the leaders of Australia, Britain and Canada to Biden’s surprise announcement of a deal to supply Australia at least eight nuclear-powered submarines. Australia had already signed a contract for at least $66 million to purchase a dozen French diesel-electric submarines.
France, America’s oldest ally, responded to the dispute by recalling its ambassadors from Australia and the U.S. on Friday. The topic’s implications for Asian security and global security will be hot topics at private meetings this week.
Monday’s action starts when the secretary general brings together world leaders and BTS, the global pop star band. The goal is to shine a spotlight upon the 17 U.N. 2030 goals. These include ending poverty and protecting the environment to providing quality education for every child and ensuring that everyone has healthy lives.
About 40 world leaders will be attending a closed meeting about climate change, co-chaired jointly by Guterres, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in the lead-up to November’s major global climate event in Glasgow.
Barbara Woodward, Britain’s U.N. Ambassador, stated that “we need urgent progress in cash, cars and coal” She stated that this means that $100 billion must be raised to assist vulnerable countries in dealing with climate change. It also requires ambitious plans by countries for reducing emissions.
Louis Charbonneau (UN director for Human Rights Watch), said that world leaders should also address the human rights crisis.
He stated that they should make it clear to the world that there is no business as usual for serious rights violators and that they support U.N. actions that will impose actual costs. “Abusive leaders across the globe must know that the world is watching and that they could be held responsible for serious violations.