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The Absence of Major Leaders at the UN Provides a Platform for Emerging Voices

by Gabriel Martinez
8 comments
Global Diplomacy

The Foreign Minister of Togo, Robert Dussey, unambiguously articulated a notion of an “African renaissance,” expressing an unwavering commitment to addressing Africa’s challenges independently. He dismissed the idea that world affairs should be orchestrated solely by the dominant powers of the previous century. “No one is the fulcrum of global affairs,” Dussey stated assertively in French. “We reject the notion of being marginalized as global progress ensues.”

While Africa was the focal point of Dussey’s remarks, his sentiments resonated with numerous other leaders representing smaller states at the United Nations General Assembly this year. Typically, these nations air their concerns only to have them overshadowed by the dominant voices, especially the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

However, this year presented a different landscape. Notably, four of the five permanent members of the Security Council were absent, their seats filled by lower-level officials. This absence offered a rare opportunity for lesser-known nations, many of whom are disproportionately affected by climate change, to voice their concerns and find a more receptive audience. The overarching message became increasingly apparent: emerging voices are gaining prominence on the international stage.

Terrance Michael Drew, the Prime Minister of Saint Kitts and Nevis, emphasized that “the influence of the Global South is intensifying.” Similarly, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Xavier Espot, the Prime Minister of Andorra, underscored their nations’ eagerness for transformative change. Anjali Dayal, an associate professor specializing in international politics, noted the amplified attention towards the concerns of smaller nations this year.

The lessened participation of major nations at the U.N. was a significant factor in this shift. Of the permanent members of the Security Council, only the United States, represented by President Joe Biden, delivered a speech. This allowed smaller nations and coalitions more room to advocate for reforms, including an expansion of the Security Council’s permanent membership, an issue that has generated longstanding frustration.

Tandi Dorji, Bhutan’s Foreign Minister, highlighted the inadequacy of the current global governance structure, urging for a more equitable representation on the Security Council. His sentiments reflected the broader issue of the U.N.’s outdated structure, which many contend is ill-suited for tackling today’s challenges, ranging from climate change to the fragmentation of global power.

The increased attention to lesser-heard voices is also fueled by other factors such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. Both issues have disproportionately affected smaller and poorer nations, forcing these countries to forge coalitions to make their voices heard on a global stage. Seychelles President Wavel Ramkalawan emphasized the necessity of an inclusive approach as the world rebuilds post-pandemic.

Coalitions are becoming increasingly diversified, extending beyond traditional groupings like the G20 and European Union. Whether it is the Global South, small island developing states (SIDS), or the African Union, collective voices are growing stronger. Contributing to this is the sheer population of countries like Africa, which is expected to double by 2050, and India, which has recently surpassed China in population size.

China, interestingly, positioned itself as a member of the Global South while concurrently striving for global leadership, thereby offering a platform for smaller nations. Zhiqun Zhu, a professor of political science, pointed out that China seeks support from the developing world as the Global North, particularly the U.S., focuses on constraining China’s rising influence.

President Joe Biden, in his address, acknowledged the need for reform in global institutions to reflect the complexities of the 21st-century world. His statement signified a broader recognition that both the U.N. and the international community must adapt to a rapidly changing global landscape.

Returning to Togo’s Robert Dussey, his remarks encapsulate the mounting frustrations and aspirations of smaller nations. Faced with an array of challenges but lacking sufficient resources, these nations are weary of condescension and are demanding a meaningful role on the world stage, aligning with the realities and demands of the 21st century.


Ted Anthony, who is the Director of New Storytelling and Newsroom Innovation at The Big Big News, has been chronicling international affairs since 1995 and has reported on the U.N. General Assembly’s leadership meetings since 2018. He can be found at Ted Anthony’s Twitter.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about United Nations General Assembly

What is the main theme of the text?

The main theme of the text is the rising prominence of voices from smaller nations in the international arena, particularly during the United Nations General Assembly. This increased prominence is due to the absence of leaders from major powers.

Who were some of the key speakers at the U.N. General Assembly?

Key speakers included Robert Dussey, Togo’s Minister of Foreign Affairs; Terrance Michael Drew, Prime Minister of Saint Kitts and Nevis; Penny Wong, Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs; and Tandi Dorji, Foreign Minister of Bhutan, among others.

Why was the absence of major world leaders significant?

The absence of major world leaders, especially those from four of the five permanent member nations of the U.N. Security Council, created a void that allowed smaller nations to voice their concerns more prominently. This absence led to a shift in focus and a re-examination of global governance and equity.

How did climate change feature in the discussions?

Climate change was a significant topic because it disproportionately affects smaller nations, particularly island nations. This gave these countries a natural role in driving discussions on the subject, advocating for transformative change and global action.

What is the Global South and how did it factor into the discussions?

The Global South refers to developing nations that share unique common needs. Its voice was highlighted as growing louder in international discussions, demanding equity, representation, and action on issues like climate change and vaccine inequity.

What organizational changes were discussed concerning the U.N. Security Council?

Speakers advocated for a broader-based permanent membership of the Security Council. The current structure, which gives veto power only to its permanent members, was criticized for not being representative of the world today, lacking members from Africa or Latin America.

How did the pandemic influence the discussions?

The pandemic was a focal point in discussions on vaccine inequity and the need for inclusive rebuilding. Smaller nations, being the most affected constituencies, took the lead in emphasizing these issues.

What does the text suggest about the future of global governance?

The text suggests a need for reform in global governance structures to include a broader range of voices, particularly from smaller nations and the Global South. This is essential to address the pressing challenges of the 21st century in a more equitable manner.

More about United Nations General Assembly

  • United Nations General Assembly
  • Climate Change and Its Impact on Small Island Nations
  • The Structure and Functioning of the U.N. Security Council
  • The Concept of the Global South in International Relations
  • The Global Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic
  • Vaccine Inequity and Its Global Repercussions
  • Multilateralism in the 21st Century

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8 comments

MomofTwo September 27, 2023 - 3:34 pm

Just shared this w/ my kids. They need to know that every country has a voice that matters.

Reply
EmilyK September 27, 2023 - 6:58 pm

finally! I’ve been saying forever that smaller countries need to be heard, and it looks like the stage is finally set for it.

Reply
CryptoKnight September 27, 2023 - 7:53 pm

Its about time the smaller countries had their moment. Those Security Council seats need a revamp too.

Reply
GenZActivist September 27, 2023 - 10:46 pm

Togo’s minister hit the nail on the head. We’re all weary of the same old powers pulling all the strings.

Reply
Financier101 September 27, 2023 - 11:39 pm

Intresting how the absence of major players kinda changed the dynamics. Could it be a new trend?

Reply
PoliticalPete September 28, 2023 - 4:27 am

Global governance needs to catch up with the times, period. Solid article by the way.

Reply
EcoWarrior September 28, 2023 - 8:43 am

Climate change affecting the smallest nations the most, but they hardly have a voice? Sad reality, but glad its getting attention here.

Reply
JohnSmith42 September 28, 2023 - 10:58 am

Wow, this is a really eye-opening read. Always thought the UN was just a platform for big nations. Nice to hear the small guys get a say too.

Reply

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