The fizz is missing as UN Assembly convenes amid surging global woes, chaos

Special to

metzlerBy John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — Presidents, Prime Ministers and Kings will convene in New York next week for the opening of the 71st General Assembly of the United Nations.

The annual Autumn  session meets amid trying to solve or at least contain growing conflicts, a surge in refugees, terrorism and a nuclear armed North Korea, also faces the continuing challenge of  empowering economic and social development.  Yet contrary to many of the past sessions, there’s far less political “buzz” or expectation and indeed there’s a hint of dispirited resignation.

Though last year’s celebratory 70th anniversary session presented high profile politicos and even Pope Francis to advance lofty political goals, this Assembly meets in a vaguely melancholic mood, where the undertow of the bloody Syrian war, the entrenched crises in Congo, Libya and Sudan and the looming threat from a nuclear armed North Korean regime remain stubbornly unsolved and elusive.

Outgoing Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.
Outgoing Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

There’s an end of an era mood too, as the ten-year tenure of Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, a South Korean, is ending.  An election campaign has been going on for months with ten candidates vying for the position of the Chief executive of the 193-member state organization.  Though regional geographical representation has deemed this is the “turn” of an Eastern European and preferably a woman candidate, there’s a furious behind the scenes jockeying for favorites which is equally tinged by frosty relations between Washington and Moscow, two key veto holding power brokers.

Syria’s civil war has churned on for five years; over 500,000 people mostly civilians have been killed.  Cities have been turned into rubble.  Millions of refugees have fled the country.  While a tenuous cease fire is finally holding, the crisis begs for a comprehensive political settlement.

Though the UN and international humanitarian relief agencies have done an amazing job in alleviating the symptoms of the conflict, solving the root cause of the problem remains remote.  Political deadlock in the UN Security Council between the USA and Russia makes a lasting settlement more elusive.

Indeed the geopolitical aftershocks of the so -called Arab Spring continue with violence, destabilization and attacks on the ancient Christian communities in Syria, Iraq and even Egypt.  Chaos in Libya and Yemen continues.

Ethnic conflict in Sudan’s now forsaken Darfur region as well as a flareup in fighting in South Sudan, Congo and the perennial Somali tragedy continue.  The dangerously percolating crisis in Ukraine which has killed 9,600 continues to worsen.

On the eve of the Assembly, Ban Ki-Moon outlined three key challenges facing the session,

“First, the international community must come together in a spirit of shared responsibility for the world’s refugees and migrants.”  He stressed the UN is holding a special Summit on Refugees and Migrants to work towards solutions.  There are an estimated 65 million refugees in the world today, a larger number than at the end of WWII.

His second point was Climate Change, “I am using every opportunity to push for the early entry into force of the Paris Agreement before the end of this year… Last week, the world’s two largest emitters, China and the United States, joined the Agreement.  This was a major step forward.”

But despite Ban’s bubbly enthusiasm, the Secretary General seems to forget that though the Obama Administration has eagerly signed on to the climate deal, under the U.S. Constitution any treaty must be ratified by the U.S. Senate.   An inconvenient truth for many.

For his third point he added, “while many conflicts are causing enormous pain, none is causing so much death, destruction and widespread instability as the worsening war in Syria.”

Reflecting on his two terms as UN Secretary General, Ban conceded, “It has been a decade of progress and setback alike.”  Acknowledging the bloody Syrian impasse, Ban again implored all countries “to end this catastrophic conflict.”

When viewing a plethora of political violence especially in Africa and the Middle East, there’s the reality that many of the conflicts are not regionally confined, but through refugee flows, are dangerously spilling over into Europe and the USA.  It’s long overdue to start solving the problems, and not just continue treating the tragic symptoms.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]