The international order that the United Nations enshrined is splintering.
“Our world is in big trouble,” is how Secretary-General António Guterres put it in opening the annual General Debate on Tuesday.
The UN has rarely lived up to its loftier goals. But it’s hard to remember a time when its fundamental principles of forging common solutions for peace, supporting human rights and promoting international law have been so threatened.
Member state Russia has trampled the UN charter with its invasion of Ukraine. Neither Russian President Vladimir Putin nor Chinese President Xi Jinping will bother to show up for the meeting of leaders in the Big Apple — though they did get together last week separately. And recent floods in Pakistan suggest the UN’s efforts to broker deals curbing carbon emissions are already too late for some nations.
Once, the UN was a hotbed of diplomacy in times of war. But those days are gone as Beijing and Moscow wield their Security Council vetoes to hobble efforts to mediate in places like Syria and Ukraine. Following its invasion earlier this year, Russia turned council meetings into a theater of the absurd.
US President Joe Biden will extend his streak of frank talk when he calls on the world Wednesday to stand up against “naked aggression” from Moscow, national security advisor Jake Sullivan said. Biden’s warnings that the world is dividing into a duel between despots and democrats look on the money.
Of course, America’s critics point out that it has often appeared to infringe the principles of the United Nations itself, with its wars in Vietnam and Iraq, for example. And any return to power by former President Donald Trump, who spun US diplomacy on its head by dissing Western allies and coddling tyrants, could obliterate Biden’s efforts to save international law.
All this explains the extraordinarily bleak tone of the Secretary-General’s speech, as he lamented that there was “no cooperation, no dialogue, no collective problem solving” while warning, “the reality is that we live in a world where the logic of dialogue and cooperation is the only path forward.”
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