“Compromise has become a dirty word. Our world needs statesmanship, not gamesmanship and gridlock . . . It is time for a global compromise. Politics is compromise. Diplomacy is compromise. Effective leadership is compromise. Leaders have a social responsibility to compromise in building the common future of peace and prosperity for our common good.”
With these cautionary words, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened the 78th Conference of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 78), which lasted between September 19th and 26th. War, inflation, poverty, global warming, debt, energy, and food crises were all discussed, and each one of them plays a role in the goal of this year’s conference: “Rebuilding Trust and Reigniting Global Solidarity: Accelerating Action on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals towards peace, prosperity, progress, and sustainability for all.”
The week’s events included the General Debate, Security Council Meeting, SDG Summit, and several high-level meetings. These featured such subjects as universal health coverage, pandemic preparedness and prevention, and financing for development. Each committee spent time reviewing previous resolutions on their respective topic and implementing ways for member-states to continually take strides towards significant progress. Unfortunately, this would not end up being the case at the conclusion of the conference, with many resolutions unpassed and the UN’s influence over the international world in serious question.
The General Debate
In UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s opening remarks, he pointed out the failures of the international system and the countries within it, most notably the standstill of nuclear disarmament, lack of diplomacy seen within disagreements between countries – here specifically calling out the Russo-Ukrainian War – and the incapability of all countries to come together and respond with understanding and compromise. “We cannot effectively address problems as they are if institutions don’t reflect the world as it is,” Guterres pointed out, while warning of a “great fracture” to the international economic, financial, and trade systems.
Guterres called on countries to recommit to the UN and its mission by bolstering preventative actions, supporting humanitarian aid by funding the proposed Global Humanitarian Appeal, formulating a new agenda for peace based on the UN Charter and International Law, increasing the SDG stimulus budget to $500 billion per year, and committing to a Global Digital Compact between world governments, regional organizations, the private sector, and civil society in order to “mitigate the risks of digital tech and identify ways to harness their benefits for the good of humanity.” Finally, he urged developed countries to commit to phase out coal, oil, and gas, as well as reach net zero emissions by 2040. For emerging economies, he set the goal of 2050.
Guterres warned of new risks and rising tensions while calling out several major conflicts within countries like Sahel, Sudan, Haiti, Myanmar, Syria, Afghanistan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Other sentiments from the Secretary-General’s opening speech included the lack of diplomacy obstructing just peace and progress within the world, countries being forced to choose between serving their people or paying their debts, and new technology requiring new, innovative ways of governing. It was clear from his pointed statements that the Secretary-General is unsatisfied with the numerous global disasters and lack of progress toward coherent resolutions. Most of all, the theme of Secretary-General Guterres’ remarks was a massive disappointment in the serious lack of compromise between countries on issues that actively pose a threat to human lives across the globe.
Regarding the remaining days of the debate, a special private sidebar was held between Antonio Gutierrez, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and Turkey with the intention of drafting Russia back into the Black Sea Grain Deal. The negotiation was initiated back in July of this year, and although a valiant attempt, it was, unfortunately, short-lived as Russia decided it was not to discuss this matter or even meet with Ukraine over the course of UNGA 78 in New York.
In addition to this, lingering critical sentiments toward the Western bloc peppered the general debate, essentially regarding their inability to see anyone else’s view besides their own. It is evident that many countries that may not conform to typical democratic ideals feel this way, including China and the Middle East, and are frustrated with this pattern within the UN and the international community. For example, in their address to the general assembly, the Russian delegate claimed that “the collective West has a calling card and it has long been to reject the principle of equality along with their inability to reach an agreement.”
As was to be expected, the remaining majority of debate tied back to the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, something that Ukrainian President, Voldomir Zelenskyy, did not waste any time in emphasizing. In his speech addressing the General Assembly, the leader depicted all of the ways the Russo-Ukrainian war is not only affecting the countries directly involved, but also other aspects being discussed at the conference such as climate change, exports and trade, global food shortages, and even human rights issues such as cultural genocide.
Riddled with dissatisfaction and a seemingly large amount of anger, delegates continued to debate the same issues over again throughout these seven days. Confirming Secretary-General Gutierrez’s sentiments from beginning to end, member states reluctantly reached conclusions that remain unpromising and unrealistic. It appears highly likely that the world will be in the same position next year at UNGA 79. This conundrum begs the question of whether the Security Council, addressing a highly important topic of debate, had any more luck than the General Assembly in its span of shorter meetings.
The Security Council Debate
The highly anticipated 9421st Security Council debate took place on September 20, with many captivated viewers curious about debate topics, as well as the potentially, troublesome interactions between the Russian Federation and special attendee Ukrainian President, Voloymir Zelenskky. The debate was entitled “Upholding the purposes and principles of the UN Charter through Effective Multilateralism: Maintenance of Peace and Security of Ukraine”.
While tensions ran high, questions of the Russian Federation’s position within the international sphere post-war circled the committee room, along with heavy disapproval regarding deportation efforts and the treatment of Ukrainian children within war territories. Russia, speaking first, voiced strong disapproval of the presence of Ukraine in the committee room, given that the country is not currently a member of the council. In response, the Security Council President presented an alternative option to the delegate of the Russian Federation — “end the war in Ukraine, and President Zelenskyy will not speak”.
Shortly after, President Zelenskyy took the floor criticizing the UN for not presenting a solution to the issue, claiming that “countries now have to turn to alternative options for solutions.” Again, the question of the veto power within the Security Council came forward to center stage as President Zelenskyy accused Russia of falsely holding its place within the council and forcing it into a deadlock by using the veto power. Ukraine officially called for the abolishment of the veto power within the UN Security Council, or at the very least suspended during times of warfare, to restore the integrity of the body.
Calls for the UN General Assembly’s decisions to become binding, expansion of Security Council membership, and revocation of UN attendance and rights for states who declare war on other members accompanied Zelenskky’s remarks. A resolution drafted by the United States and Albania was presented on the floor, but it failed to be adopted. The resolution would have officially recognized Russia’s aggression as a violation of Article II of the UN’s Charter, which obligates states to “refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State.” Moreover, the document would require Russian troops to cease fire and retreat into Russian territory, the UN to immediately deploy humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, and the OSCE to support de-escalation efforts. It would also call on the parties to abide by the Minsk agreement. Eleven members voted for the resolution; China, India, and the United Arab Emirates abstained from the vote; and the Russian Federation ultimately vetoed the document.
Leaving an issue of this importance unresolved and at a standstill is quite frustrating for all countries and people everywhere who remain on edge. This conclusion also strikes as irresponsible on the Council’s part, presenting the question of when the violence will stop. It remains uncertain what it will take for each country to set down its weapons and instead seek a resolution. It’s hard to believe anyone has the ability to answer this question besides the Russian Federation, but the officials of this nation don’t seem to want to share anytime soon.
SDG Summit on Sustainable Goals
Of course, it wouldn’t be a UN Conference without discussing progress on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which occurred at a two-day conference between September 18th and 19th. Although perhaps not as exciting as some of the other meetings taking place during the week, the SDG Summit nevertheless continues to be an important part of UN Conferences providing a platform for countries to remain up-to-date on each other’s progress as well as hold each other accountable to meeting goals set by the committee.
This particular summit focused on marking a new phase of accelerated progress, on the part of all countries, toward reaching the Sustainable Development Goals set to be achieved by 2030, less than seven years from now. Among the topics discussed, the most focused on remained meeting the basic needs of individuals first and foremost. With a limited list of only 145 speakers ranging from Estonia to the United States, many echoed the need for greater commitments and sacrifices on behalf of all countries to achieve these goals by 2030.
Of all the six dialogues taking place between countries, and numerous speeches from delegates everywhere, the summit reaffirmed its commitment to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals in 2030. By adopting a political declaration committing countries to “reaffirm their shared commitment to end poverty and hunger everywhere, combat inequalities within and among countries, and build peaceful societies that leave no one behind,” the Summit, along with the declaration, was deemed by attendees to be a productive and large step towards meeting the 2030 goals. However, the rest of the world watching may not be as convinced. It seems probable that the goals will make little progress given the lack of cooperation by bigger, more industrialized countries such as China and the United States, who produce most of the issues.
It would seem that over the course of this long, emotional conference, one thing has become astronomically clear: the UN is not what it once was. Initially formed with the purpose of providing an arena for countries to diplomatically solve disputes in an ethical, civilized manner, the UN has simply become an international political boxing match. Despite the weeks’ worth of debates, conversations, and proposed resolutions, the world finds itself in the same place it was prior.
Disappointing as it may be, with the evolution of society the question of a need for change in the UN tugs on many minds. Are Secretary-General Guterres and President Zelenskyy right? Will the UN need to become more prominent and forceful in its decisions and recommendations? Although it is difficult to see countries agreeing to a stronger, more authoritative version of the United Nations, it remains a valid option, were countries willing to comply — perhaps in the wake of a third world war, or even a war between superpowers. After all, disastrous situations lead to the quickest and most forceful changes in world politics.
With the understanding of all this in mind, including potential ramifications if compromise is unmet, the most anyone can do is sit patiently and watch events unfold.