But the tone is far from festive. Instead, it is the sound of a tense and anxious world.
“We are stuck in a colossal global dysfunction,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, adding that “our world is in danger — and paralyzed.”
He and others pointed to conflicts ranging from Russia’s six-month-old war in Ukraine to the decades-long dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. Speakers raised concerns about a changing climate, rising fuel prices, food shortages, economic inequality, migration, disinformation, discrimination, hate speech, public health and more.
The priorities varied, as did the prescriptions for healing the ills of mankind. But in a forum devoted to the idea of bringing the world together, many leaders echoed a common theme: Now more than ever, the world needs collaboration, dialogue and trust.
“We live in an era of uncertainty and shock,” Chilean President Gabriel Boric said. “It is clear today that no country, big or small, humble or powerful, can save itself.”
Or, as Guterres put it, “Let’s work as one, as a coalition of the world, as united nations.”
It is rarely that easy. As Guterres himself pointed out, geopolitical divisions undermine the work of the UN Security Council, international law, people’s trust in democratic institutions and most forms of international cooperation.
“The divergence between developed and developing countries, between North and South, between the privileged and the rest, is getting more dangerous by the day,” the secretary general said. “It is at the root of the geopolitical tensions and lack of trust that are poisoning every area of global cooperation, from vaccines to sanctions to trade.”
While calls for the maintenance of large-scale international cooperation – or multilateralism, in diplomatic parlance – abound, there are also differing ideas about the balance between cooperation and self-esteem, and whether an ‘international order’ World War II is established, is necessary. rearrange.
“We want a multilateralism that is open and respects our differences,” said Senegalese President Macky Sall. He added that the UN can only win the support of all countries “on the basis of shared ideals, and not on the basis of local values established as universal norms.”
After the pandemic forced a fully virtual meeting in 2020 and a hybrid meeting last year, delegates representing the countries and cultures of the world are once again filling the halls of United Nations headquarters this week. Before the meeting started, leaders and ministers in masks walked through the auditorium, chatting individually and in groups.
It was a sign that, despite the fragmented state of the international community, the United Nations remains the main meeting place for world leaders. Nearly 150 heads of state and government have signed up to speak at the nearly week-long ‘General Debate’, a high number illustrating the gathering’s distinction as a place to voice their opinions and meet privately to discuss various challenges — and, they hope, make some progress.
Guterres made sure to start with a tone of hope. He showed a photo of the first UN chartered ship to transport grain from Ukraine — part of a Ukraine-Russia deal brokered by the UN and Turkey — to the Horn of Africa, where millions of people are on the brink of famine. . , he said, exemplifying promise “in a world teeming with turmoil.”
The Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 was at the top of the agenda for many speakers.
The conflict has become the biggest war in Europe since World War II and has opened rifts between the major powers in a way not seen since the Cold War. It has also raised fears of a nuclear disaster at a major power plant in now Russian-occupied southeastern Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the loss of important grain and fertilizer exports from Ukraine and Russia has led to a food crisis, especially in developing countries, as well as inflation and rising costs of living in many countries.
As Jordan’s King Abdullah II noted, affluent countries who have unfamiliar experiences of scarcity are discovering “a truth people in developing countries have long known: For countries to thrive, affordable food must be on every family’s table.”
Leaders in many countries are trying to prevent a wider war and restore peace in Europe. Diplomats do not expect any breakthroughs this week, however.
In an impassioned speech to the assembly, French President Emmanuel Macron said that no country can stand on the sidelines against Russia’s aggression. He accused those who remain silent of being “in a sense complicit in a new cause of imperialism” that is trampling on the current world order and making peace impossible.
The country of Slovak President Zuzana Caputova has long been dependent on Russia for oil and gas. But Slovakia has provided military aid to neighboring Ukraine, she noted.
“We, the members of the UN, must clearly side with the victim over the aggressor,” she said.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro called for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine, protecting civilians and “maintaining all channels of dialogue between the parties”. But he opposed what he called “unilateral or unilateral” Western sanctions, saying they have damaged economic recovery and endangered the human rights of vulnerable populations.
Neither Ukraine nor Russia has spoken yet. The meeting agreed to allow Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to speak via video, over objections from Russia and some of its allies.
Zelenskyy’s speech is expected on Wednesday, as well as a personal address from US President Joe Biden. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take the stage on Saturday.
Edith M. Lederer is the UN’s chief correspondent for The Associated Press and has covered international affairs for more than half a century. For more AP coverage of the UN General Assembly, visit https://apnews.com/hub/united-nations-general-assembly