“Divisions are deepening. Inequalities are widening. The challenges spread further,” António Guterres said at the annual gathering of leaders at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
“We have a duty to act. And yet we are stuck in a colossal global dysfunction,” he said.
The diagnosis was echoed by some of the more than 100 leaders present at the week-long event, but very little consensus emerged on how to bridge the divisions between nations deeply in conflict over how to respond to the war in Ukraine.
The United States seeks to pressure and isolate Russia on the world stage for the violence and destruction that has taken place in Ukraine since forces from Moscow invaded on February 24. The fighting claimed tens of thousands of victims and millions of refugees as Russia captured and then withdrew from Ukrainian territory to the south and east.
Many developing countries in Africa and Latin America, meanwhile, are unhappy with global pressure to condemn Moscow as they bear the brunt of rising food and energy prices stemming from the war.
Washington is trying to address those concerns this week by prioritizing lowering global food costs and making moves to reform the UN Security Council — a longstanding goal of developing countries that view the institution. as obsolete and unrepresentative.
“For the West, the goal this week is to win the hearts and minds of non-Western leaders,” said Richard Gowan, UN expert at the International Crisis Group.
In theory, the UN gathering provides an ideal platform for the West to push its agenda following the decisions of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping not to attend.
But many countries that had resisted Russia’s condemnation remained so during the first day of speeches.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, the first head of state to speak, remained neutral on the conflict, telling both sides that a solution “will only be found through negotiation and dialogue”.
Macky Sall, the president of Senegal, also called for de-escalation and negotiation in a speech that did not once use the word “Russia”.
Some criticism of Moscow has come from Chilean President Gabriel Boric, who has opposed Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and also criticized the US trade war with China for negatively affecting the economy world, a move seen as offering a balanced perspective between Moscow and Washington.
“You have a lot of countries that were once ready to criticize Russia earlier in the year, but have developed Ukraine fatigue and are trying to stay out of the war,” Gowan said.
This is especially true for countries that have political and military ties to Russia or face particularly difficult economic pressure.
Even before the outbreak of war in Ukraine, a slowly building global food crisis, caused by conflict, climate change and the coronavirus pandemic, was causing malnutrition in regions such as the Horn of Africa, Haiti, the Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan.
Putin’s invasion has greatly compounded these problems, depriving world markets of a key grain supplier. The price increase has increased the costs of the United Nations World Food Program by almost 50%, which means existing funds can feed fewer people. Some 50 million people are on the brink of starvation.
It is just one of many issues that Guterres says are being overlooked as leaders focus on the day-to-day gains and losses on the battlefield in Ukraine.
“Much of the world’s attention remains focused on the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” he said. “At the same time, conflicts and humanitarian crises are spreading – often out of the spotlight.”
He highlighted less publicized crises, including the economic collapse of Afghanistan, the proliferation of armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the deterioration of the human rights situation in Myanmar and the “cycles of violence” in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
US efforts to win over the goodwill of the developing world this week are manifesting themselves in a number of ways.
President Biden is expected to discuss reform of the UN Security Council during his visit to New York, but US officials have not yet determined whether he will do so publicly or privately, the court told Tuesday. urges the President’s National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan.
Since its inception, the Security Council has granted veto power to five nations, including the United States, China, Britain, France and, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia.
As other nations occupy rotating seats, countries in the South are advocating for an overhaul that would result in a council that better reflects today’s diverse centers of global power.
“The abuse of the right of veto has virtually paralyzed the Council on countless crises by preventing substantive action – on Syria, Russia’s abuses in Ukraine and Myanmar,” said Louis Charbonneau, director of the UN to Human Rights Watch. Russia has been the most active user of its veto power in the Security Council, while the United States has vetoed motions targeting Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
He said a new rule require the permanent members of the Security Council to justify their veto in front of all member countries was a step in the right direction towards accountability.
Biden aides are also hosting a food security summit with the European Union and African Union on the sidelines of the general assembly, as well as coronavirus meetings and a conference for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
The gestures will coincide with a strong push from Biden during his speech Wednesday for nations to come together against Russia and “stand up against the naked aggression we’ve seen in recent months,” Sullivan said.
In his remarks, the president is expected to portray the challenge of the 21st century as a competition between “democracies and autocracies.” The refrain, which Biden uses often, offers an easily digestible worldview but also risks excluding certain non-democracies whose cooperation the United States seeks, such as Singapore or the Persian Gulf monarchies.
Other Western leaders have tried to adopt a more inclusive approach, such as French President Emmanuel Macron, who planned a dinner Tuesday evening aimed at bridging the “North-South Divide” with guests such as the leaders of Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Colombia, Argentina and the European Council and Foreign Ministers of India, Egypt and Indonesia.
“Our goal is not to perpetuate the idea that it’s the West against the rest,” said a French official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the French president’s diplomatic talks. “A collapse of the world order is in no one’s interest.”
Guterres said there were signs of hope for solving global problems through multilateralism.
A Turkish and UN-brokered deal to end Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports and resume Ukrainian exports in July has helped ease global food and grain supply problems and created silo space vital for the next harvest of Ukrainian farmers.
“Some might call it a miracle on the sea,” said António Guterres. “In truth, this is multilateral diplomacy in action.”
But major challenges remain as economists warn the global economy could remain plagued by inflation and weak growth for years.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said some nations were spending less than they could on alleviating the food crisis. Officials in the United States, the biggest funder of UN efforts to fight hunger, often say that Russia and China have made contributions far below their share to solve the problem.
“That has to change,” Blinken said at a food security meeting on the sidelines of the UN meeting. “And no matter what countries have done so far, every country is called upon to do more.”
Also on Tuesday, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said the proliferation of global sanctions, a byproduct of competition between major powers like Russia and the United States, was partly to blame for supply chain problems. world, prices and food security.
“The security architecture is eroding,” he told the General Assembly. “Mutual distrust between world powers is deepening.”
Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, France’s minister for development and international partnerships, said the key to addressing long-term food challenges is to help developing countries reduce their dependence on imports, an effort that Paris and others support. She rebuffed Russia’s assertion and his allies that the West’s response to Russia’s actions was to blame, citing the exclusion of food and fertilizer from global sanctions.
“We have to be honest that Russia has chosen to militarize access to food, just as it has chosen to militarize energy supplies,” she said in an interview. “Of course, the most affected countries are the most vulnerable.”