By John J. Metzler
UNITED NATIONS — Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Potentates are assembling in New York for the 74th General Assembly.
During this annual rite of Autumn, delegations from the UN’s 193 member states shall debate, discuss and hopefully find some common ground on a plethora of global crises ranging from bloody military conflicts, to tragic refugee outflows, and the undertow of poverty, underdevelopment and natural disasters.
Secretary General Antonio Guterres told correspondents, “We see trade wars and real wars… Tensions are boiling over.”
What’s known as the General Debate kicks off Tuesday September 24th with a week of high level speeches and meetings ranging from trying to secure peace, international security and supporting global economic development.
President Donald Trump, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, France’s Emmanuel Macron, and South Korea’s Moon Jae-In are among the first to address the UN Assembly at a time of heightened crisis as well as elevated expectations.
Among controversial speakers this year include leaders from Turkey, Iran and Egypt.
Naturally, while policy speeches may make headlines, often the real story emerges from quiet one-to-one meetings on the margins of the Assembly here at the UN or at nearby diplomatic missions. Will Donald Trump meet with Iran’s Hassan Rouhani while in New York?
Just two years ago President Trump delivered a fire and brimstone address to the Assembly aimed at North Korea in response to that communist country’s continued nuclear testing, intercontinental ballistic missile firings and military threats to East Asia and the USA.
North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-Un eventually blinked and a potentially deadly nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula was averted.
North Korea’s nuclear proliferation was not halted nor reversed but prudent diplomacy between Washington and Pyongyang, supported by South Korea, stopped the clock from ticking towards explosive military confrontation.
Following the debate and continuing into the following months, delegations at the Assembly discuss and vote on over 200 agenda items ranging from peacekeeping missions, climate change and fulfilling the elusive sustainable development goals.
Let’s review some of the pressing political and humanitarian issues facing the renewed session.
The unrelenting onslaught of global conflict continues.
- Syria’s bloody civil war grinds on after more than eight years of unmitigated terror. More than 600,000 people have died and 5.6 million have became refugees since 2011. Though the Assad regime remains in power backed by Russia, sadly most of the opposition comprises jihadi and radical Islamist terrorist groups.
- Yemen’s civil war has ignited as a proxy conflict between Iranian backed factions and Saudi Arabia. The fighting has taken a dangerous new turn with Iranian supported rebels using drones to attack and disable sensitive Saudi oil terminals. The incident has heightened USA/Iranian tensions. Secretary General Guterres stated, “I strongly condemned this attack. I think this attack is a dramatic escalation in the Gulf, and I believe that we absolutely need to stop this kind of escalation.” He warned that military confrontation “would have devastating consequences for the region and globally.”
- Afghanistan’s Islamic fundamentalist Taliban forces continue to battle a weak central government, the U.S and NATO allies remain politically torn as whether to keep militarily committed to this long running South Asian war or make a deal with the devil.
- At least a dozen other lethal conflicts continue from the Congo to Libya and Mali to Ukraine.
- Syria’s tragedy leads the list for the most tragic. As stated, 5.6 million Syrians have fled their country; most remain in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. Furthermore over 6 million people have been internally displaced inside beleaguered Syria.
- Venezuela continues to percolate politically. As the once prosperous country sinks deeper into chaos, 4 million people have fled Maduro’s socialist regime, causing Latin America’s largest refugee crisis. Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil are helping take in refugees.
- In Southeast Asia, Myanmar/Burma’s regime forced 900,000 Rohingya Muslims out of their homes. The UN’s World Food Program allocates $16 million monthly to help these unfortunates who take refuge in neighboring Bangladesh.
Amb. Craft stated significantly, “I will defend America’s values and interests. I will stand by our friends and allies.”
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014).
Free Press International