“The division is getting deeper and deeper. Inequality is growing. The challenges are expanding,” Guterres said at the annual meeting of leaders at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
“We have a duty to act. And yet we are stuck in colossal global dysfunction,” he said.
The diagnosis was echoed by some of the more than 100 leaders who attended the week-long event, but little consensus emerged on how to bridge the divides between countries deeply in conflict over how to respond to the war in Ukraine.
The United States is trying to pressure and isolate Russia from the world stage because of the violence and destruction that has taken place in Ukraine since Moscow’s troops invaded on February 24. The fighting has resulted in tens of thousands of casualties and millions of refugees, as has Russia. captured and then withdrawn from Ukrainian territory to the south and east.
Many developing countries in Africa and Latin America, meanwhile, resent global pressure to condemn Moscow as they bear the brunt of rising food and energy prices caused by the war.
Washington this week is trying to address those concerns by prioritizing cutting global food costs and by moving toward reforming the UN Security Council — a long-term goal set by developing countries that see the institution as outdated and unrepresentative.
“For the West, this week’s goal is to win the hearts and minds of non-Western leaders,” said Richard Gowan, a UN expert with the International Crisis Group.
In theory, the UN meeting provides an ideal platform for the West to advance its agenda following the decisions by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping not to attend.
But many countries that had resisted condemning Russia remained so during the first day of the speeches.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, the first head of state to speak, remained neutral on the conflict, instructing both sides that a solution “can only be reached through negotiations and dialogue.”
Macky Sall, the president of Senegal, also called for de-escalation and negotiations in a speech in which the word “Russia” was not used once.
Some criticism of Moscow came from Chile’s President Gabriel Boric, who objected to Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine and also criticized the US’s trade war with China for negatively impacting the global economy, a jab that was seen as a balanced perspective between Moscow and Washington.
“You have a lot of countries that were willing to criticize Russia earlier this year, but that have developed Ukraine fatigue and are trying to stay out of the war,” Gowan said.
This is especially true for countries that have political and military ties to Russia or are facing particularly severe economic pressures.
Even before the outbreak of war in Ukraine, a slow-growing global food crisis, caused by conflict, climate change and the coronavirus pandemic, caused malnutrition in the Horn of Africa, Haiti, Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan, among others.
Putin’s invasion has dramatically exacerbated those problems, causing world markets to lose a major grain supplier. Rising prices have pushed up the cost of the UN’s World Food Program by nearly 50 percent, meaning existing funds can feed fewer people. About 50 million people are on the brink of famine.
It is just one of many issues that Guterres said are being overlooked as leaders focus on the daily gains and losses on the battlefield in Ukraine.
“Much of the world’s attention continues to be focused on the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” he said. “At the same time, conflicts and humanitarian crises are expanding – often far from the limelight.”
He highlighted less publicized concerns, including Afghanistan’s economic collapse, the proliferation of armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the deteriorating human rights record in Myanmar and the “cycles of violence” in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The United States’ efforts to earn the benevolence of the developing world this week are manifesting itself in several ways.
President Biden is expected to discuss Security Council reform during his visit to New York, but U.S. officials have not yet determined whether he will do so publicly or privately, the president’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Tuesday. .
Since its inception, the Security Council has vetoed five countries: the United States, China, Britain, France and, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia.
While other countries occupy rotating seats, countries from the south of the world are calling for a revision that would result in a council that better reflects today’s diversified centers of world power.
“Abuse of the veto has virtually paralyzed the council in numerous crises by preventing substantive action — against Syria, Russia’s abuses in Ukraine and Myanmar,” said Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch. Russia is the most active user of the Security Council veto, while the United States has vetoed motions targeting Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
He said a new rule requiring permanent members of the Security Council to justify their vetoes before all member countries is a step in the right direction towards accountability.
Biden’s aides are also organizing a food security summit with the European Union and the African Union on the sidelines of the general assembly, as well as meetings on the coronavirus and a conference for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Those gestures will coincide with a hard push from Biden during his speech Wednesday for nations to unite against Russia and “stand against the naked aggression we’ve seen in recent months,” Sullivan said.
In his remarks, the president is expected to portray the challenge of the 21st century as a contest between “democracies and autocracies.” The chorus, which Biden often uses, offers an easily digestible view of the world, but also threatens to exclude some non-democracies from which the United States seeks cooperation, such as the monarchies of Singapore or the Persian Gulf.
Other Western leaders have tried to take a more inclusive approach. French President Emmanuel Macron, for example, has scheduled a dinner on Tuesday evening to bridge the “North-South divide” with invited guests, including the leaders of Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Colombia, Argentina and the European Council, and India’s foreign ministers. Egypt and Indonesia.
“Our aim is not to perpetuate the idea that the West is against the rest,” said a French official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss Macron’s diplomatic discussions. “A collapse of the world order is in nobody’s interest.”
Guterres said there were some signs of hope for solving world problems through multilateralism.
A Turkey-UN brokered deal to end the Russian blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports and resume Ukrainian exports in July has helped alleviate global food and grain supply problems and created vital silo space for Ukrainian farmers’ next crop.
“Some might call it a miracle at sea,” Guterres said. “In reality, it is multilateral diplomacy in action.”
But major challenges remain, as economists warn that the global economy could remain in the throes of inflation and weak growth for years to come.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said some countries are committing less than they could to reduce the food crisis. Officials in the United States, the largest funder of UN efforts to tackle hunger, often say that Russia and China have contributed far less than their share in tackling the problem.
“That has to change,” Blinken said during a food safety meeting on the sidelines of the UN meeting. “And whatever countries have done so far, every country is being called upon to do more.”
Also on Tuesday, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said the proliferation of global sanctions, a byproduct of competition between powerhouses like Russia and the United States, was partly responsible for problems with global supply chains, prices and food security.
“The security architecture is eroding,” he told the General Assembly. “Mutual mistrust between world powers is on the rise.”
Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, France’s development and international partnerships minister, said the key to tackling long-term food challenges is to help developing countries reduce their dependence on imports, an effort Paris and others support. She rejected Russia’s and its allies’ claim that the West’s response to Russia’s actions was to blame, citing the exclusion of food and fertilizers from global sanctions.
“We have to be honest that Russia has chosen to arm access to food, just as it has chosen to arm its energy supply,” she said in an interview. “Of course the countries most affected are the most vulnerable.”