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Our Friday News Analysis | What the World Reads Now!
Can We Work Together and Honor, Respect, and Dignify the Other?
The Hague, 29 September 2023 | If you know of any story that is decisive, tell the world. We're still searching.
When Donald Trump spoke at the UN, everyone laughed. Now, Uncle Sam is just sad
US President Joe Biden addresses the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) at UN headquarters on 19 September 2023 in New York City. © Adam Gray/Getty Images
22 September 2023
Bradley Blankenship is an American journalist, columnist, and political commentator. He has political science and philosophy degrees, has reported for various international news agencies, and has worked in political strategy, including field organization and communications. In addition to RT, he is a regular contributor to CGTN and Global Times and an occasional contributor to US and European media outlets. Follow him on X @BradBlank_
Ahead of the latest UN General Assembly meeting in New York City, where US President Joe Biden gave a speech, the X (formerly Twitter) account of Republicans against Trump invited users to remember when the world laughed at Donald Trump five years ago. Representatives worldwide erupted in laughter as the president boasted about his administration, which he said had accomplished more than any other in history – which he didn’t intend as a punchline.
“When we see a behavior or listen to arguments or notions that seem so far-fetched, unreasonable, or insane, there is [an] almost natural reaction of laughing, ”one diplomat told BuzzFeed News at the time, the account noted. This situation creates a natural juxtaposition that begs the question, is American leadership respected now more than it was under Trump? A cursory glance at the official White House transcript of Biden’s own General Assembly speech this week suggests the answer is ‘no.’
Just into his second sentence, we see him having said about his latest journey to Vietnam: “And I met a small group of veterans, Americans, and Vietnamese, who (sic) wit- – and I wa- – I watched an exchange of personal artifacts from that war – identification cards and a diary. It was deeply moving to see the reaction of the Vietnamese and American soldiers.”
We also see later that the White House had to correct Biden's misspeaking: “... And this year, we’re proud to rejoin UNESCO. But we also recognize that to meet the new challenges of our decades-old institutions and approaches, they must be updated to keep (sic) peace [pace] with the world.”
If you watch the speech, it’s clear that the 80-year-old president bumbled his way through it. Not only did he stutter, misspeak, and generally demonstrate his visible decline in recent years, but he sang the same old US platitudes that don’t resonate with the rest of the world. For example, when referring to the UN’s work, he said, “We avoided the renewal of global conflict while lifting more than one billion people – one billion people – out of extreme poverty.” He didn’t give credit to the principal nation responsible for poverty eradication, China.
Given Biden’s extensive political career, having served in the Senate’s foreign affairs committee for decades and as vice president in the Obama administration, many diplomats and leaders in attendance certainly know him. They are familiar with him and probably saw him when he was much sharper. So, the prevailing attitude when they see a visibly diminished Biden stammer through his address is perhaps one of pity. I know that when I see the 80-year-old, it just feels like elder abuse at this point.
The American people certainly feel this way. An April Associated Press/NORC poll found that 26% of respondents would like to see Biden run again in 2024 versus 73% who said he shouldn’t. Most people feel the president is too old to seek reelection, even though he’s already pledged to run again. Most also think that Trump, who is facing a litany of criminal charges related to his attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election, shouldn’t run either. This feeling is more pronounced with casual observers abroad, who are left asking among themselves: is this the best America has to offer?
This situation before the UN, thus, feels like a microcosm of where America stands in the world today: The world laughed at the US under Trump, as he single-handedly destroyed some of Washington’s most precious political and military partnerships, and now, it can’t help but feel pity for America and its waning prestige. The Trump years were more dramatic and bombastic; the Biden years were filled with quiet shame.
If elected again, Trump could pull the US out of NATO, which would suit an antiquated institution with no severe justification for its existence. At the same time, Biden, who was expected to unite the world under the American banner, has seriously fallen short of expectations. In either case, US leadership is in irreversible decline, leaving the world and its emerging poles to fill this vacuum with new and innovative structures.
In this upcoming election, the American people are left in a ‘damned if they do, damned if they don’t’ situation over their nation’s position as the leading hegemon. No matter who wins next year, Uncle Sam will not be the world’s dominant power within the next five years.
What is the Side of the Story that is Not Yet Decisive? Edited by Abraham A. van Kempen.
EDITORIAL | Trust but Verify and Move Mountains
If you think the Americans are divided – tribe against tribe – look no further. The entire world is going to pot.
It’s one thing going three steps forward and five steps back. It’s another when a war splits the world apart. And what a world it has become.
Years ago, one could set one’s watch to the comings and goings of the German trains. They were always on time. A few weeks ago, my train – the ICE of the Deutsche Bahn arrived in Frankfurt one hour late AGAIN. Switzerland is no longer as efficient as it was. Neither is Japan. And China? It better shapes up—many internal battles, some explicit, others hidden from sight.
And then the US. My goodness! Once, people refer to America as the country of milk and honey. Now, both have become almost unaffordable. The prices have gone through the roof. Donuts that in the 60s and 70s cost 10 cents each now cost $1.70 a piece.
What about Africa, South America, the Middle East, and Australia? Try buying or renting a place in Sydney. You’ve got to be rich. Sidney, too, has become too expensive for itself. Saudi Arabia is doing okay, but it could do better. Israel, once the self-anointed sole democracy in the Middle East, must reinvent its ethnocracy if it wants to become a democracy again.
Oh yes, don’t worry. Big China (the mainland) won’t gulp up little China (Taiwan). It’s bad for business. Plus, “blood is thicker than water.” A Chinese from the mainland and a Chinese from Taiwan are Chinese. The Chinese will, someday, become one again, but only when Taiwan is ready for China.
So, how can we, as a broken humanity, heal ourselves? We’ve got to work together. We must trust each other because trust is the thrust that can move mountains. None needs to trust blindly. To quote a Russian proverb, “Trust but Verify.”
Let’s trust but verify rather than mindlessly follow mindless sheep.
Are Ukraine's allies abandoning Zelensky? Poland has decided to stop sending weapons to Ukraine. Slovakia and Hungary have agreed to ban Ukrainian grain imports. Has Europe become tired of Ukraine's demands? Here's what Molly Gambhir has to say.
The conspicuous absence of leaders such as Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the 78th United Nations General Assembly session underscores today’s geopolitical challenges. From the Ukraine war to the AI arms race, the global outlook appears bleak and is about to get bleaker.
Richard Haass, President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations (a daughter organization of the Trilateral Commission), previously served as Director of Policy Planning for the US State Department (2001-03) and was President George W. Bush's special envoy to Northern Ireland and Coordinator for the Future of Afghanistan. He authored The Bill of Obligations: The Ten Habits of Good Citizens (Penguin Press, 2023) and the weekly Substack newsletter “Home & Away.”
Project Syndicate, A George Soros Publication
22 September 2023
NEW YORK – There is an old Soviet joke in which a journalist asks the General Secretary of the Communist Party to assess the country’s economy. “Good” is the short answer. The journalist implores the leader to elaborate so he can complete his story. “In that case,” the General Secretary responds, ‘not good.’”
Much the same could be said of the state of the world today. As many global leaders gather in New York for the 78th annual session of the United Nations General Assembly, with the notable exceptions of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and French President Emmanuel Macron, there are reasons to be concerned.
The US-China relationship, arguably the most important of this era, is in poor shape despite a recent increase in diplomatic exchanges. The US goal is for the two major powers to establish a floor for bilateral ties. At best, however, the two governments can avoid a crisis. But that is made more difficult by China’s refusal to resume military-to-military communications and establish a crisis communication channel. Even optimists do not foresee a path for the two to cooperate meaningfully on pressing regional or global challenges soon.
Meanwhile, China faces significant economic challenges, primarily due to its policy shortcomings. But even if the problems are homegrown, it does not mean the consequences will remain confined to China. At a minimum, what happens there will impede global economic growth. At worst, there is the possibility that China’s leadership will be tempted to act more aggressively abroad to distract from its domestic financial woes.
North Korea continues to expand its nuclear arsenal's size and quality in the Indo-Pacific. The Pyongyang regime continues to test increasingly advanced ballistic missiles and has unveiled a nuclear-armed submarine, which would increase the survivability of its nuclear capabilities. There are no indications that North Korea is prepared to discuss, much less compromise on, its nuclear or missile programs.
Another concern is that Ukraine’s counteroffensive launched roughly three and a half months ago, has made limited progress. Well-fortified Russian forces still control large swaths of Ukraine’s east and south. This reality, along with Russia’s ability to boost its wartime weapons production – despite the US-led sanctions – and import arms from Iran and North Korea, suggests that the war, now well into its second year, will continue for some time.
Ukraine is understandably disinclined to compromise on its goal of reclaiming its territory. It continues to believe that the military tide will turn in its favor as more advanced arms arrive from the West. For his part, Putin thinks he will be able to ride out the costs of the war and that waning American and European support for Ukraine is a matter of “when,” not “if.” None of this gives would-be peacemakers much to work with.
In Afghanistan, it is increasingly clear that the new Taliban resembles nothing so much as the old Taliban. The real question is to what degree they will again allow their country to become a launchpad for terrorism. Then there is the question of how much the Taliban will contribute to the instability that has exacerbated Pakistan’s vulnerabilities. Speaking of weak states suffering from poor governance, weak institutions, and limited capacity, their number is growing in Africa and Latin America.
From a global perspective, the world is not doing much better. Following a worldwide pandemic that claimed roughly 15 million lives, the past summer was the hottest on record. With just over two months remaining until officials from across the world convene for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) in the United Arab Emirates, there is little reason to believe that governments are prepared to prioritize climate concerns over near-term economic priorities.
Finally, as artificial- and augmented-intelligence technologies rapidly evolve, there are no signs of an emerging international consensus on taking advantage of their constructive dimensions and reining their potentially destructive applications.
There is some good news. The solid Western response to Russian aggression and, more broadly, the renewed vitality of American-led partnerships and alliances in the Indo-Pacific aimed at deterring Chinese adventurism are prime examples.
In the Middle East, Iran recently released five American prisoners in exchange for Washington giving Tehran access to $6 billion in frozen assets on the condition that the funds be used only for food and medicine. The two countries also appear to be working on an arrangement – albeit not a formal pact – whereby Iran would accept some limits on its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief.
Similarly, negotiations appear to be making some headway on a US-brokered deal that would normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. This agreement can strengthen Saudi Arabia’s defenses against Iranian aggression and provide Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy with much-needed momentum.
There is no getting around the reality that the bad news outweighs the good. International development goals are not being met. The recent G20 summit in India accomplished little, and the UN General Assembly meeting appears to follow in its footsteps. The UN’s most important component, the Security Council, is sidelined and will remain so, given that one of its veto-holding members is waging a war that violates the UN Charter’s most fundamental principle. At a time when the demand is high for effective international cooperation, it seems to be in woefully short supply.
The war in Ukraine has accelerated both the fracturing of the world order and countries’ scramble to establish new alignments that can secure their interests. Unless the G7 clarifies its direction, it risks losing its influence, with potentially far-reaching consequences for democratic values globally.
MONEY SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images
ANA PALACIO, a former minister of foreign affairs of Spain and former senior vice president and general counsel of the World Bank Group, is a visiting lecturer at Georgetown University.
Project Syndicate, a George Soros Publication
18 September 2023
MADRID – If anyone had doubts about the fractured state of global rule-making, they should now be dispelled. The just-concluded G20 summit in New Delhi attracted as much attention for who was not there – Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping – as for the discussions among those who showed up. But the real takeaway from the summit, as well as the gathering of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) that preceded it, is that global rule-making is set to become increasingly uneven, shaped by small groups, swing states, and fluid coalitions.
Without Putin and Xi, palpable divisions marked the G20 summit, belying its optimistic theme: “one earth, one family, one future.” While India, which has worked hard to position itself as a unifying diplomatic force and a spokesperson of the Global South, managed to secure consensus on a final declaration, this was no easy feat, owing not least to disagreements over how to refer to the Ukraine war.
The compromises this demanded were reflected in the summit’s final declaration, which featured far softer language on the Ukraine war – particularly Russia’s culpability – than the declaration issued in Bali last November. In 2022, G20 leaders acknowledged that perspectives on the invasion differed but also strongly condemned Russia’s actions and called for the withdrawal of its troops. In 2023, they lamented the “immense human suffering and the adverse impact of wars and conflicts around the world,” issued a pro forma appeal to abjure the use of nuclear weapons, and touted the hallowed principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity – all without mentioning Ukraine by name.
Not surprisingly, Russia hailed the declaration, while Ukraine decried it for containing “nothing to be proud of.” Meanwhile, analysts wondered about the potential costs of Western leaders’ decision to accept the watered-down declaration to salvage the summit.
As for China, deepening global divisions and escalating superpower rivalry likely drove Xi to skip the summit. However, China’s prolonged border dispute with India and its recent economic travails were probably also considerations. For US President Joe Biden, Xi’s absence provided an opportunity to present the United States as a reliable partner to the developing world. But the US pledge to reform the World Bank and increase its lending capacity to $25 billion will likely ring hollow to low- and middle-income countries.
As for the developing world, it wasn’t left empty-handed. G20 leaders formally decided to make the African Union, with its 55 member states, a permanent member, thereby putting the AU on equal footing with the European Union. This will go a long way toward amplifying the Global South’s global influence.
The decision to extend a formal invitation to the AU might partly reflect the sense among Western powers that alternative groupings are breathing down their necks. After all, the BRICS bloc, which China is openly attempting to position as a rival to the G7, had just expanded its ranks to include six new members (Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates).
Much to China’s satisfaction, the longstanding dominance of the G7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the US – plus the EU) does seem to be weakening. While the G7 still plays a vital role on the world stage, few today would echo US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan’s 2022 assessment that it is the “steering committee of the free world.” On the contrary, with the US gearing up for next year’s presidential election and the EU preoccupied with questions about enlargement and reform, the G7 lacks unity of purpose, undermining its traction in world affairs.
This is not to discount the achievements of this year’s G7 summit, carried out under Japan’s capable leadership. Beyond securing a consensus on the Ukraine war and China, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida convincingly advocated combining the transatlantic and Indo-Pacific regions into a single strategic space. More broadly, Japan – the first to sound the alarm about the military threat posed by China – has rallied its allies and beefed up its defenses while maintaining a balanced policy stance based on economic realism.
Nonetheless, assessments like that of Princeton’s John Ikenberry – who hails the G7 as a “power player” and argues that with Biden in the White House, “alliance cooperation across the liberal democratic world has entered a period of remarkable innovation and creativity” – are probably too sanguine.
The war in Ukraine has accelerated both the fracturing of the world order and countries’ scramble to establish new alignments that can secure their interests. Suppose the G7 – whose members comprise less than 10% of the world population – does not clarify its direction. In that case, it risks losing its influence, with potentially far-reaching consequences for the values that unite its members.
The G7’s calls for greater inclusivity and reform of multilateral institutions are well-reasoned and sensible. But they have come late. Only with a combination of political will and geopolitical acumen can Western leaders ensure the survival of a rules-based order that reflects democratic values. In the meantime, the alphabet soup of new global coalitions will continue growing.
The US and its allies are beating a drum that isn’t finding receptive ears. Most states have other priorities
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) speaks to empty rows of seats at the general debate of the UN General Assembly in New York, USA, on 19 September 2023. © Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images
Fyodor Lukyanov is the editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs, chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, and research director of the Valdai International Discussion Club.
21 September 2023
The UN’s High-Level Week – an annual gathering of senior representatives of member states who address the General Assembly – is taking place in New York. It is a period of speeches of varying length and intensive contact between ministers or even heads of state, depending on the status of the leaders of the delegation. The more tense the international situation, as it is now, the more valuable the opportunities presented.
The issue that has resonated is the reform of the Security Council. It is not the first year, or even the first decade, that people have been talking about the subject, but the current revival of interest is understandable. In conditions of confrontation, the body's work is highly complicated – the opposing sides among the permanent members block each other.
This irritates other states without special status, as the big five have given themselves veto power. They are now more concerned about how they compare, and the problems of the rest of the world matter less.
The decisions of the General Assembly are not binding but accurately reflect the actual distribution of opinion. Yet, conflict also spills over there. For example, Western countries, led by the United States, have considerable opportunities to influence developing countries. Ultimately, however, there is more room for maneuver, which means the space for the democratic expression of will is somewhat broader.
The disagreements between members are innumerable, but more and more states are united by one particular position: the rejection of an arrangement based on the balance of power from the middle of the last century, as it emerged after the Second World War.
It is hard to argue with that. Even the size of the United Nations has almost quadrupled, and the diversity of states has increased immeasurably. Hence, the calls began soon after the end of the Cold War to adapt the institutional design to the new realities.
However, the practical implementation of this wish faces several problems. Firstly, any reform of the Security Council is only possible with the consensus of the five permanent members; it is impossible to bypass at least one of them. And they a) are not eager to share their privileges, b) have different ideas about the nature of the transformation of the UN’s highest political body. Second, even if we imagine a compromise between the five prominent members on principles, there will be an endless debate on the parameters of enlargement: who is worthy of joining the ranks of the “immortals” and why. What should the main criteria be: geographical location, population, economic size, and military strength? And which specific countries should represent their regions and communities – Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Arab world, and so on? It is difficult to imagine agreement on all these issues even in peacetime, let alone today.
All in all, reform of the UN Security Council seems unlikely. But that does not mean the debate on the issue will not become more assertive. Rising centers of influence from India to Turkey, Saudi Arabia to Indonesia, Argentina to Nigeria, and others are increasingly pressing the justice issue.
Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s slogan, “The world is bigger than five,” is, as you might expect, in tune with the wishes of the majority of the General Assembly.
And there is now fierce competition for the sympathies of this majority (usually referred to in the West as the Global South). This is the context in which high-level calls for the expansion of the Security Council should be seen. It has inspired US President Joe Biden to make such an appeal – by proposing that the long-discussed quartet of India, Brazil, Germany, and Japan be admitted as permanent members.
There is no point in seriously considering implementing such an idea because it’s merely a slogan and is not meant to be realized.
However, it is not unimportant. In a situation where the entire international system has begun to unwind, a purely protective position of defending the status quo at all costs is unpromising. It will most likely result in the situation changing spontaneously or collapsing.
Russia has never opposed reform of the Security Council, but until recently, its proposals were somewhat ritualistic. Now, they are taking on a more concrete form: for example, remarks that Western countries are already over-represented on the Security Council, so any expansion should not increase that community’s proportional representation. At the same time, we have traditionally expressed the fear that enlargement, and even more so the granting of veto rights to new members, will lead to the devaluation of the Security Council.
It probably will. But, to repeat, it will not be possible to preserve its value as they have been measured for decades. Like anything, the UN and its structures are bound to its time. Exclusive status is, of course, a pleasant phenomenon. But it is also conditioned by changing circumstances. Leaving aside the question of prestige, Russia is interested in a significant expansion of the Security Council based on the principle of fair proportionality – so that the whole world is represented.
As the events of the last year and a half have shown, except for a particular segment (by far a minority), most of the world is not hostile to Russia but relatively neutral and focused on its interests.
Nevertheless, the resentment of the US-allied states makes diplomatic work more difficult. But it’s still better than a deadlock.
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