#UNGA70 General Debate digest Part I.

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A promise, now overdue, but better late than never. I will post my review of the general debate in two parts and of miscellaneous events of the 70th session of the UN General Assembly so far in a third.

This year I followed more speeches than in previous years, as the refugee crisis in Europe puts many countries in the spotlight that otherwise would not be of interest in terms of world affairs.

The theme of the general debate of the 70th session was „The United Nations at 70 – a new commitment to action”, but besides the theme, the appeal of these speeches are always how they reflect different states’ views on world affairs.

Opening the general debate, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hailed the achievement of the Sustainable Development Summit: the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and called for further such cooperation on climate change. He reminded that after WWII it was the Europeans that required assistance, now it is their turn to provide refuge and help. He noted the role of the Syrian conflict and extremist groups in the Middle East in the situation, and mentioned other conflict zones around the world. Regarding the Syrian crisis, he named five countries that could specifically work towards improving the situation, the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey.

Mogens Lykketoft, president of the 70th session of the UNGA in his opening remarks noted how timely the sustainable development agreement was and also reflected on recent challenges ahead of the UN.

The US traditionally being the second speaker of the UNGA after Brazil, President Obama’s speech emphasized how diplomatic means should be the solution to many current crises. He went in to detail about Russia’s actions in the Crimea, and also mentioned Syria, ISIL, Iran, and the South China Sea. He countered the democratic features of the USA with some less democratic countries, indirectly implicating Russia.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin took the podium after being absent from the UNGA in the past ten years. It was also a long time ago when Russia was last represented by a head of state. Honestly, I expected a special, perhaps Quadaffi-like performance from President Putin to make up for the past ten years, but he did nothing of that sort. Although, I found bringing up Yalta as one of the cradles of the United Nations a bit distasteful, as it now once again belongs to Russia after the annexation of Crimea, but other than that, it was a rather modest speech, quite telling of the differences between Russia’s desired approach to solve the crisis in  the Middle East and that of Western states. I might even say the speech sort of set the table for Russia’s military actions in Syria later that week.

Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran of course reflected on the freshly signed nuclear agreement, saying that “a new chapter had started in Iran’s relations with the world”. He emphasized the role of the United Nations, as well as that of the world powers participating in the negotiations. He expressed his country’s view that today’s crises, most of which he blames on past illegal actions of the US and Israel, could and should be solved through diplomacy and cooperation as well.

France’s speech is always interesting as one of the P5, but now also as a major power of the EU, heavily affected by the refugee crisis. President Francois Hollande accordingly took time to reflect on that crisis and the situation in Syria being the root cause of it. And as a host country of the Climate Change Conference in December, he also expressed hopes of a global climate agreement.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke on the second day of the general debate. He took his time to elaborate on the current illegal activities of Russia in Ukraine. In Ukraine’s view the United Nations is unable to fulfill its mission, until such crimes are allowed if they are committed by one of the P5, that can use its veto power to stop any counteraction.

European Council President Donald Tusk, speaking on behalf of the European Union, talked about the unprecedented challenges Europe is now facing. He talked about the plans of quotas, emphasizing that Europe is not the only place that is available for refugees, there are certain features and values that attract refugees there, but other states and regions also have responsibilites. He also stressed that the solution must include a peace plan for Syria that would provide a normal life for those in the region.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, compering his country to a bridge between Africa and Europe also elaborated on the refugee crisis, heavily affecting his own country. 

Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi Mansour, President of Yemen, now affected by a serious internal conflict mostly reflected on that situation in his speech. He blamed Iran for training and supporting Houthi militia who are threatening the legitimate political order in his country. He mentioned the measures already taken by the United Nations, but also stressed that much more is needed to be done.

I was disappointed to find that the United Kingdom was represented by Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Commonwealth Affairs Philip Hammond this year, as Prime Minister Cameron is always among my favorite speakers. The Secretary also talked about the Syrian crisis as the most urgent of current challenges. He mentioned his country’s role in countering ISIS in the Middle East, but stressed that military victory would not be enough to solve the problems of the region. He also mentioned the role of the United Nations and its current lackings, like certain states blocking decision making in the Security Council and the plans to reform the selection process of the next Secretary General.

Picture source: http://united-nations.tumblr.com/

For more information and videos: http://gadebate.un.org/

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