Eskinder Debebe
World News /22 Sep 2019
09.22.19

America, the United Nations, and Today’s Key Global Issues

The 74th Session of the UN General Assembly is now underway and soon world leaders will be descending upon New York City for what will surely be a period of important speeches and discussions regarding the issues confronting the world today.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ opening remarks pointed to several pressing concerns in the world today: climate change, increasing inequality, the pervasiveness of hatred and intolerance, and the threats to peace and security. The global body’s leader referenced the number of meetings that will take place during this time period, but he said if he could highlight two words that should be the focal point of these discussions it would be: “ambition and action.”

The secretary-general’s words echo the essence and the core of the liberal international order where states cooperate and act through multilateral institutions like the UN. The concept of multilateralism has been lost on this administration where their “go-it-alone” strategy has been fraught with peril, including its alienation of our allies.

This “America First” approach runs counter to the mission of the UN. One of the core principles of the world body is collective action, i.e., member states working together and cooperating to solve global problems. U.S. abandonment of its leadership position at the UN leaves a void that other states like China will certainly step in to fill. This is not what former President Harry S. Truman envisioned in 1945.

Since former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley’s departure, U.S. leadership at the UN has been non-existent with no clear direction from Washington as to how to proceed on several of the most pressing issues such as Libya and Yemen. With the confirmation of Kelly Craft over the summer to be the new U.S. ambassador to the UN, analyst at the International Crisis Group, Richard Gowan, writes that she needs to take several important steps early in her tenure “to build some diplomatic capital.” Gowan posits that it is essential for her to “restore a sense of order to U.S. engagement in the Security Council…by pushing Washington to give clearer directions on how to handle future crises.”

He also indicated that Craft needs to be forthcoming with her counterparts at the UN regarding the differences they share on many of the key hotspots confronting the world today, specifically in the Middle East.

Lastly, Gowan asserts, she will need to become creative and develop ways to fix the issues the administration has gotten itself into in recent times within the UN such as Libya and Venezuela. Compromise is a word that the administration shuns, but in order to accomplish anything of substance on these matters, Craft will need to convince – indeed no small task, perhaps even impossible to do – the administration of the importance of working with her colleagues at the UN to address these mounting crises.

U.S. leadership is vital at the UN as there are several key issues needing to be addressed soon, as the secretary-general laid out in his opening remarks on September 17th. There is no bigger issue than the threat climate change presents to our world.

On September 20th, the youth of the world took to the streets letting their voices be heard through the Climate Strike sending a strong message to world leaders that action addressing the threat climate change presents must happen sooner rather than later.

Moreover, the UN agenda will include universal healthcare, sustainable development goals (SDGs), financing for development (FfD), elimination of nuclear weapons, and the threat posed to small island states from the rise of sea levels attributed to climate change.

In a recent interview with Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS), Dr. Martin Edwards, Associate Professor and Chair, Seton Hall University School of Diplomacy & International Relations, stated that “…the depth and breadth of the work that the UN is launching is more than just symbolic.” Furthermore, Dr. Edwards added, the SDGs are the key initiative of the world body and it requires greater awareness and leadership on the part of member states, especially with the U.S. on the sidelines.

There is no question that multilateralism is under assault from the growing threat posed by the rise of authoritarianism. Leaders of good conscience must unite to combat this dangerous trend in the interest of solving many of the issues taking center stage at the 74th UNGA in the week ahead.

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