As bad as the world now, it’s actually worse

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

Heads of state, one by one, usually give speeches that cause their staff to be so anxious, but often — laden with perfect platitudes about the promise of the UN mission — that quickly vanish into the ocean of daily news that no one ever hears again.

The UN General Assembly occasionally produces a rare moment worth reporting, but until then, 30 seconds of the impact it has on the consciousness of readers and viewers is instantly overshadowed – as was the case this week in the US with domestic political scandals and the emergence of the newest Kardashian baby .

Maybe it is. Because if the average person pays more attention to what is really discussed at the United Nations, or has the opportunity to listen to some behind-the-scenes conversations as some of us ought to do, they will walk away from the shaken experience unmoved.

take this example, Opening speech on Tuesday By United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. “We are stuck in massive global dysfunction,” he said, seemingly in no mood to speak kindly, “the international community is neither ready nor willing to confront the great dramatic challenges of our time. These crises threaten the future of humanity and the fate of our planet. Our world is in danger— and paralyzed.”

His main point: “Our world is in big trouble.”

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during the United Nations Security Council.

Michael M. Santiago / Getty

This point is underlined by the fact that a day later, Vladimir Putin chose to celebrate this United Nations week with his own speech – announcing not only the call-up of 300,000 conscripts to serve in the Russian army and the disastrous joining it. Invading Ukraine but also threatened to use nuclear weapons.

When the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, in order to protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal. Putin said.

The territorial integrity of Russia is not, of course, threatened… It is they who invaded their neighbors without provocation. But the fact that the statements of the man who controlled the largest nuclear arsenal in the world were, in fact, out of touch with reality made them even more dangerous.

The response of world leaders at the United Nations was swift.

US President Joe Biden, Wednesday, Putin called As the only person responsible for the tragic conflict in Ukraine, he pledged to defend that country. He argued that “a nuclear war cannot be won” and condemned Putin’s threat. The president also called for UN reforms, such as increasing the number of permanent members of the Security Council and reducing the veto power of those permanent members – which could make the organization less effective, if we use Guterres’ term.

Other leaders also condemned Putin, including the Ukrainian president, via videotape Volodymyr Zelensky He called for Russia to be classified as a state sponsor of terrorism and to be expelled from positions such as the one it holds on the Security Council. “A crime has been committed against Ukraine, and we demand a just punishment.”

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

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Exacerbated concerns linked to Putin’s comments were signs of unrest in his country. Men of military age fled the country by car and plane, packing border crossings and selling flights. The demonstrators took to the streets. Besieged by his chain of blunders in Ukraine, Putin, no doubt, felt trapped and endangered—a factor compounding the dangers of the moment.

There was also a general feeling of Putin’s mobilization It can backfire And in fact It contributes to more problems As for Russia in Ukraine – a situation that could make Putin desperate more desperate.

Meanwhile, Iran, one of Putin’s few remaining close allies in the world, was facing itself Troubles spread quickly In the wake of the brutal mistreatment and death of Mahsa Amini, who was actually killed by I refused to wear a headscarf.

Iran’s leaders, in New York for UN meetings, emphasized how paranoid they are about the situation back home by canceling an interview with CNN. Christian Amanbor Because she refused to wear a headscarf to the interview.

Meanwhile, of course, many of those present at the United Nations General Assembly were as concerned about what was happening in the United States as it was around the world.

The The rise of right-wing extremists Specifically by the ambassador of one of America’s closest allies when I sat next to her at an event here Monday night.

The ambassador said that one of the great questions her colleagues discussed was whether their country’s leaders, in their remarks to the United Nations, would address their concerns about endangering democracy in the United States (Guterres also cited the abolition of Raw vs. Wade As a sign that gender inequality has been getting worse in the United States and around the world.)

Definitely for visitors in New York, deteriorating legal situation America’s 45th president (while understood by some and seen as an important corrective to anti-democratic impulses), he is also seen as a source of potential divisions in the one ally they still see as indispensable. As a European official told me at the Monday event I attended, “We worry about democracy in America. Now we also have to worry about the safety of confidential documents. And we worry that you might go back to ‘America First’ politics after the next election. It’s a lot.”

People take part 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, is what Guterres was calling for in his remarks. But what makes them all so frightening is that the above issues were not actually the central threats that his speech referred to. He warned, for example, that “without action now, a global fertilizer shortage will quickly turn into a global food shortage.”

Climate crisis – cause more extreme weather crises such as Damage caused by Hurricane Fiona In Puerto Rico (US Territory) – was another focus of the Secretary-General. He said, “We need comprehensive action…our planet is burning.”

He then went on to point out the deep economic inequalities that have plagued the planet and are deepening. He said: “The difference between developed and developing countries, between North and South, between the privileged and the rest – is becoming more and more serious by the day. It is the root of geopolitical tensions.”

In other words, the UN’s causes (and diplomatic initiatives discussed in the UN General Assembly) have not diminished nearly eight decades after the institution was founded. It is growing rapidly. And frankly, as they do, they make clear that among the greatest problems we face remains the inertia and inertia of global organizations such as the United Nations.

Global problems from war to the threat of the use of weapons of mass destruction, from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to the climate crisis, from threats to democracy to hunger, from economic inequality to the unfair treatment of women – all require more capable and effective mechanisms. Effective from the ones that just brought New York traffic to a standstill this week.

In the words of Guterres, the frustration of a leader who must contend with the fact that these institutions are designed to be weak, designed not to greatly threaten sovereign power, and that the world’s problems are so urgent and on this scale can be heard can be heard. and gravity that requires a different approach.

Otwado, Puerto Rico, after a power outage as Hurricane Fiona passed on September 20, 2022.

AFP via Getty

Biden’s call for reform was an encouraging step in this regard, if a small one that is unlikely to materialize. But then a week where the great challenges facing the world can be seen side by side provides us with rare perspective and understanding that we are not collectively rising to the challenges we face.

There are glimmers of hope — protests against repressive regimes in Russia and Iran, the slow turn of the wheels of justice in the United States — but listening to the speeches of world leaders this week, it was clear that unless we rethink the way the nations of the planet collectively solve problems, what is Bad today will get worse tomorrow.


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