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Amid Ukraine’s Prominence at UN Summit, Can Other Global Objectives Gain Attention?

by Madison Thomas
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United Nations General Assembly

As Ukraine’s ongoing conflict and its President capture headlines at this week’s United Nations assembly, developing nations are also striving for recognition, seeking more rapid interventions on poverty and inequality. This marks the first extensive gathering of global leaders since the COVID-19 pandemic put international travel on hold three years ago.

The U.N. General Assembly convenes at a particularly volatile and discordant moment in world history, viewed by numerous experts and diplomats as the most perilous period since the Cold War era. Driving this assessment are factors such as Russia’s February 2022 incursion into Ukraine, which has aggravated already tense international relationships, as well as the continuing effects of the pandemic, elevated food costs, the intensifying climate crisis, escalating regional conflicts, and the global community’s inaction on poverty, hunger, and gender inequality.

For nations still in the development stage, the focus is on a two-day U.N. summit commencing Monday, aimed at eliciting concrete commitments from world leaders to meet 17 crucial but currently lagging global objectives by 2030. These goals span from eradicating extreme poverty and hunger to ensuring quality secondary education, promoting gender equality, and acting expeditiously to mitigate climate change. None of these goals are on track to be realized at the current pace.

Additionally, high-stakes discussions on subjects like pandemic mitigation and universal healthcare are slated for the agenda.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, commented last week that humanity finds itself at a pivotal crossroads.

A Diverse Array of Leaders — Yet Notable Absences

As the high-profile annual meeting of the 193-member General Assembly kicks off Tuesday, 145 countries are expected to be represented by their leaders, a number indicative of the numerous global crises and the stagnation in addressing them. Remarkably, U.S. President Joe Biden is the only representative from the five permanent, veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council to attend in person, triggering private discontent among diplomats from developing nations, who argue that pivotal global actors will not hear their resource-intensive propositions.

Several other leaders have opted for different commitments: Chinese President Xi Jinping recently participated in a BRICS summit, while Russian President Vladimir Putin remains absent from New York amidst allegations of war crimes in Ukraine by the International Criminal Court. French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak have also chosen not to attend, each citing different reasons.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres argued that the importance lies not in the attendance of specific leaders but in their willingness to make meaningful commitments towards U.N. objectives. Richard Gowan, U.N. director of the International Crisis Group, added that the current atmosphere at the United Nations is decidedly pessimistic, impacted significantly by rising tensions among major global powers.

Focal Points and Growing Global Disparities

With fewer top leaders present, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is likely to dominate the headlines even further, especially given that the Ukrainian conflict is in its 19th month with no resolution in sight. Attention will also focus on Biden’s position on key issues like Ukraine, China, and Russia.

The challenge lying ahead is the increasing difficulty for the United Nations to fulfill its primary mission of fostering global peace and security. This is being exacerbated by the growing divisions between the West, Russia, and China, and the emergence of regional and likeminded groups, signaling a shift towards a more fragmented multipolar world.

Guterres will use his opening remarks at the General Debate to encourage leaders to abandon posturing and indecisiveness in favor of actionable solutions. He argues that existing multilateral frameworks require comprehensive reform to better represent the contemporary global landscape.

Recent studies by the International Monetary Fund suggest that a fractured global system could lead to an annual loss of around $7 trillion, making it imperative for nations to reach a global consensus, especially concerning disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence.

Pascale Baeriswyl, Switzerland’s U.N. ambassador, considers the summit on the 17 U.N. objectives to be the week’s most critical event, but worries that the numerous crises may overshadow the political will to find solutions.

Guterres, when questioned about balancing the focus between Ukraine and broader U.N. objectives, emphasized the need for multiple focal points in addressing global challenges.


This article is contributed by Edith M. Lederer, the chief U.N. correspondent for The Big Big News, with over 50 years of experience in covering international affairs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about United Nations General Assembly

What is the main focus of the United Nations General Assembly this year?

The main focus appears to be the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, but developing countries are also striving for recognition and pushing for more rapid interventions on global challenges like poverty and inequality.

Who are the notable attendees and absentees at this year’s U.N. General Assembly?

U.S. President Joe Biden is the only leader from the five permanent, veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council to attend in person. Notable absentees include Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

What are the 17 global goals that the developing countries want to address?

The 17 global goals, aimed to be achieved by 2030, include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, ensuring quality secondary education for all, promoting gender equality, and acting expeditiously to combat climate change, among others.

What is the general sentiment regarding the state of global affairs, according to diplomats and experts?

The sentiment is largely pessimistic, with many viewing the current period as the most perilous since the Cold War era. This is due to multiple factors such as rising geopolitical tensions, the ongoing pandemic, and various other global crises.

Why is there discontent among diplomats from developing countries?

There is a feeling among diplomats from developing nations that key global actors won’t be listening to their resource-intensive propositions, particularly because many leaders from powerful nations are not attending the assembly in person.

What challenges does the United Nations face in fulfilling its primary mission?

The U.N. faces challenges stemming from increasing divisions between the West, Russia, and China, along with the emergence of regional and like-minded groups. This shift towards a more fragmented multipolar world is making it difficult for the U.N. to foster global peace and security.

What reforms does U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres suggest for multilateral institutions?

Guterres argues that existing multilateral frameworks like the United Nations and its Security Council, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund require comprehensive reform to become more fair, equitable, and representative of the contemporary global landscape.

What are the financial implications of a fractured global system, according to IMF research?

According to recently published IMF research, a fractured global system could lead to an annual loss of around $7 trillion.

How does the absence of major world leaders affect the focus on Ukraine?

With fewer top leaders present, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is likely to receive even more attention. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine is in its 19th month, with no resolution in sight, making it a major focus of the assembly.

What is the most critical event of the week according to Switzerland’s U.N. ambassador, Pascale Baeriswyl?

Pascale Baeriswyl considers the summit on the 17 U.N. objectives to be the week’s most critical event. However, she expresses concern that the numerous global crises may overshadow the political will to find solutions.

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