For diplomats and U.N. veterans, this week’s conference will be filled with nostalgia. This is the high point of the United Nations, where world leaders have met to discuss the pressing issues of the day for much of its nearly eight years. no longer.

Despite wars in Europe, a series of coups in Africa, natural disasters caused by climate change and friction between China and the United States, this year only one leader of the “P5” – the five veto-wielding permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – – Plan to attend.

U.S. President Joe Biden will address the convention on Tuesday, and like his predecessors, his speeches over the years have often been memorable and sometimes fiery. But the leaders of Britain, China, France and Russia did not attend as the Security Council was deadlocked due to tensions between Western powers and Beijing and Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was never expected to attend, given the sanctions he faces over his invasion of Ukraine. Given the antagonism between Beijing and Washington, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s chances of victory were always slim.

But the absence of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron – who will be attending the UN General Assembly for the first time – reinforced the sense that the Security Council is no longer the forum for resolving geopolitics. The primary location for fault problems. For both countries, a leader’s absence this week would normally be unthinkable.

“This may reflect what they believe is the value of the organization,” said Matthew Kronig, senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security. “Leaders come here and give public speeches but don’t actually do anything meaningful.”

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping
Vladimir Putin (left) and Xi Jinping will not attend this week’s UN General Assembly ©Sergey Bobilev/Sputnik/Kremlin/AP

He added that international institutions made up of like-minded countries, such as NATO and the G7, work because they bring countries with common interests together to solve problems. By comparison, more inclusive institutions such as the United Nations, which include a range of hostile forces, “are not functioning.”

The question is whether this is just one of the United Nations’ intermittent lows or whether it reflects a profound shift in the way the world works. There is no shortage of impostors to take its place. In the past month, two “new” multilateral institutions – the Group of 20 (G20), which has just joined the African Union, and the BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – are also expanding. Leaders, headlines and wide-ranging debate. world order.

Diplomats with long memories remember this as the deadlock of the 1970s and 1980s, when the Security Council rarely rushed through resolutions during the Cold War. Even in the 1990s, the height of post-1960s UN interventionism, the world body was divided by heated debate.

They also stressed that while the G20 is a good forum for debate, it has neither binding regulations nor an executive body to implement UN resolutions. United Nations officials carry out missions in developing countries but often stay out of the headlines. This week’s United Nations meeting will feature a series of important sessions on fighting climate change and how to finance it.

But Western officials are deeply frustrated by the paralysis of the Security Council, particularly what they see as obstruction by Russian officials aimed at undermining its role.

They stressed that Russia has traditionally never wanted to give civil society much opportunity to participate in Security Council debates, but since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine it has invited dozens of outsiders to speak about the war, including the former Pink Floyd Bassist Roger Waters, who blamed the West for instigating the invasion.

“They have lowered the level of the Security Council debate by inviting unqualified briefers and conspiracy theorists and making it look like a circus,” a Western diplomat said. “It makes onlookers feel it is not worth listening to.”

Musician Roger Waters appears on screen at UN Security Council meeting
Musician Roger Waters speaks at UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine ©Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

“You have to work very hard to get things done. Russia is trying to overwhelm us and drain our energy. My concern is that this will leave the Security Council weak.” Diplomats from developing countries emphasized that the United States and its allies have sometimes It also grossly tramples on United Nations conventions.

While U.S. officials are frustrated with the U.N. system, they say they still see value in a body that can organize collective action in areas such as food security and climate.

“Countries around the world are sending a signal of need for us in the United States to lead responsibly, which means… trying to make the United Nations and other international institutions more effective,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an interview with Pod Save America .

He added: “I would like to see the Security Council play a role, but in an era where we have confrontation with Russia and competition with China, it is very challenging.”

In many parts of the world, there is growing fervor that the five permanent members, established in 1945, should be expanded to better reflect the world. Western officials support calls for reform while also knowing that the most visible new members are at loggerheads with each other over who to promote or will be blocked by one of the current members.

At the same time, the United States and its allies have been nurturing new organizations, such as the G20, or more recently the Quad or the ORCOS defense agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. In the latest such move, the Atlantic states announced a new partnership on Monday.

“It’s really hard to reform old institutions,” Kronig said. “Essentially, this is why the Group of Seven and the Group of 20 were established to avoid the fact that the United Nations system is not functioning well…” . It’s much easier to create new ones. “

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who served as Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations from 1998 to 2003 and is a firm believer in the organization’s founding values ​​and principles, acknowledged that the organization risked following the mistakes of many international institutions. gradually become ineffective.

But he believes it remains invaluable as the only place where global rules are set. “It has been weakened but it has done a lot of good work in Africa, setting up special representatives and trying to end disputes.”

Somewhere, he said, “the collective spirit has to be reborn. Maybe at the G20 – with the United Nations as the place to do the work.”

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