John J. Metzler
New York ●
Monday, September 20, 2021
Presidents, prime ministers, potentials and kings will converge in New York for the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
The annual meeting and debate among the 193 member states of the United Nations is still in the shadow of the clouds of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the deteriorating global security situation marked by conflict and refugee flows.
Last year’s UN session, the high-level week in which key political figures speak and debate key international issues, was largely online; thanks to WEBEX diplomacy it advanced surprisingly smoothly. While some delegates spoke from the United Nations marble rostrum, most of the speakers addressed largely empty audiences in the cavernous Assembly Hall.
Unfortunately, the long-awaited celebrations of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations were largely lost in the virtual reality of cyberspace.
Now the restrictions have been relaxed, but not lifted. The delegations, which usually consist of dozens of diplomats, ministers and the media, have been reduced to ten people for each member state. Approximately 80 delegates will speak in person, but the online hybrid option ensures that some will accept this process without an integrated audience.
Let’s be realistic, the ongoing COVID-19 crisis combined with a tumultuous political situation in the United States over the past year has seriously marginalized the scope and message of the UN; reliance on online diplomacy has sometimes seriously diluted the message where the nuance and “feel” of a meeting or discussion was lost in limbo by technical issues or simply by virtual reality.
The deteriorating situation in Afghanistan after the acquisition of the Taliban remains a key concern; so does military takeover in Myanmar and continued violence in Syria, Yemen and Ethiopia.
Refugee overflows from these crises are straining neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Turkey and Bangladesh.
Reflecting on the last year, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, stated drowsily that the last session of the United Nations was held “in the shadow of a formidable enemy: the COVID-19 pandemic. In any case, this has been the most difficult period the world has faced since World War II … The pandemic has deepened inequalities. ”
COVID-19 has killed more than 4 million lives.
Guterres warned: “Business as always is not an option.”
Addressing the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, Guterres said frankly: “Even before the dramatic events of recent weeks, Afghans were experiencing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.” He appealed for US $ 600 million in emergency aid to bring urgent assistance to eleven million people by the end of the year.
The Biden administration has provided $ 64 million in humanitarian aid to the Taliban-led state.
Anticipating the broader terrorism after the Taliban victory, Guterres told correspondents: “The fact that in Afghanistan the Taliban were able to win could encourage other groups from different parts of the world … We have seen several of them. “Not only congratulating the Taliban, but showing more enthusiasm for their own ability. And these are two things that make me very worried.”
He cited the deteriorating threat of the sub-Saharan Sahel, where he warned that “terrorists have gained ground and should be encouraged by the current situation.”
“I am just worried about terrorism. I am very concerned that many countries are not prepared to fight it. And we need a much stronger unity and solidarity of the countries in the fight against terrorism, “he implored.
But the consequences of ongoing conflicts, while sometimes overlooked, continue to grow.
UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths offered a compelling assessment of the Syrian crisis. “Humanitarian needs in Syria are greater than ever … an estimated 13 million people in Syria need humanitarian aid. This is the highest since 2017.”
As a shocking memory, at least six million refugees have also fled their country to neighboring lands or to Europe.
The situation in Myanmar is equally complex with a Beijing-backed military junta taking power earlier this year. According to UN envoy Christine Schraner Burgener, Myanmar is facing an attempt by the military to legitimize its government,
“This is an attempt to promote legitimacy in the face of the lack of international action taken.” Even before the coup, Myanmar’s previous government expelled more than a million Rohingya Muslims who remain refugees in neighboring Bangladesh.
Interestingly, Myanmar’s seat in the General Assembly, as well as that of Afghanistan, are the two previous governments; which will lead to an interesting debate on credentials with the new regimes.
Still, New York City must now prepare for the roads, hypersecurity, and icy streets that are part of diplomatic folklore known as “United Nations Week.” Come back again !!
The writer is a United Nations correspondent dealing with diplomatic and defense issues and author of Divided dynamism: the diplomacy of separate nations: Germany, Korea, China.