War in Ukraine, impending nuclear disaster and attention to UN divisions at the heart of the General Assembly

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United Nations — United Nations officials had hoped that this year’s General Assembly in New York — the first annual meeting held by the global organization’s nearly 200 countries since the coronavirus pandemic struck – would require a broad focus on the many crises humanity is currently facing. But with the war on Ukraine threatening to add a nuclear disaster to that long list, it’s hard to imagine the UNGA paying much attention to the other burning issues.

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After two years of video and hybrid encounters, the World Series of diplomacy returns to New York this week as representatives from 193 governments gathered in the iconic General Assembly Hall, including more heads of state than ever before, the White House said.

This year, they meet as the ongoing war in Ukraine destroys Europe very real nuclear threat. On Monday, Ukraine again accused Vladimir Putin’s regime of “nuclear terrorism” hit a russian missile close to a nuclear power plant in the south of the country.

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Leaders gathering at UN headquarters in the coming days will hear a direct video call from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for help in defending his nation against Russian aggression.

UN delegations had to vote on whether Zelenskyy should even address the meeting from his home country, as speakers must attend in person this year. Russia objected, but the other members voted to allow it because of “ongoing foreign invasion, aggression, military hostilities that do not allow safe departure from and return to Ukraine”.

Putin is not present at the General Assembly.

However, Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, will be in New York this week. Underlining its focus on Ukraine, she plans to launch her charity, the Olena Zelenska Foundation, to raise funds for medicine, education and humanitarian aid for Ukraine at an event Thursday night at the Metropolitan Opera.

“Never before has Ukraine sent a representative to the US to ask the American people for help,” said historian and TNZT news contributor Dr. Amanda Foreman.

Climate change

Despite its sharp focus on the war in Ukraine and the world food crisis it has fueled, world leaders will also meet as a record floods in Pakistan continue to take a heavy toll, both economically and in human lives, and soon after Hurricane Fiona smashed into the Dominican Republic, causing “catastrophic” damage. A huge storm also hit Alaska earlier this week.

“Don’t flood the world today; don’t drown it tomorrow,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters last week, warning that his recent visit to flood-ravaged Pakistan had given him a disturbing glimpse into a “future of permanent and ubiquitous climate chaos on an unimaginable scale.”


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Guterres is expected to underline the climate crisis in his opening address to Tuesday’s high-level debate, noting that geopolitical divisions are “crippling the global response to the dramatic challenges we face.”

Reforming a Stuck UN

UN General Assemblies have brought news – and traffic jam — since 1945. Since then, 13 US presidents have used pre-session speeches to determine America’s place in the world — as President Biden is expected to do with his address on Wednesday.

The US is leading the chorus for UN reform at a time when the global body seems to be getting caught up in the structure created when it was established after World War II. UN rules – which give permanent members of the Security Council the unilateral ability to block resolutions – have prevented them from stopping the war in Ukraine, or preventing it from wreaking havoc on global supply chains and food distribution.

On Wednesday, Mr. Biden will focus on renewing engagement with all regions of the world with a message that emphasizes that “respect for the core principles of the international order is needed now more than ever,” said John Kirby, the US National Security Council. Coordinator Strategic Communication.

“Right now, the United Nations is experiencing a crisis of confidence,” said U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield. “It is a crisis of confidence caused by Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine. Even when the world was faced with the threat of climate change, a pandemic, a global food crisis, one of the permanent members of the Security Council invaded his neighbor .”

“This war is testing the fundamental principles on which the UN is founded, but our response to Russia’s flagrant violations cannot be to give up the founding principles of this organization that we believe so strongly,” she said, adding that the General Assembly “not dominated” by Ukraine.

Guterres would open the high-level sessions on Tuesday with a “sober, substantive and solution-oriented report on the state of our world, where geopolitical divides endanger us all,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

The UN Security Council will hold a side meeting Thursday on Ukrainian sovereignty and Russian accountability, in the presence of the US Secretary of State and the foreign ministers of Ukraine and Russia. The US will try to publicize the atrocities committed in Ukraine, to further isolate Russia.


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But Guterres did not express optimism about potential breakthroughs at that meeting.

“Anything that can help restore confidence is helpful, but it would be naive to think we are close to the possibility of a peace deal,” he told TNZT News at a news conference.

Former UN chief Dag Hammarskjöld once said, “The United Nations was not created to take us to heaven, but to save us from hell.”

This week, world leaders will give time to reflect on the urgency of that goal.

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