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Unilateralism versus Multilateralism at the United Nations

By Prabasi Nepali
UN Secretary-General’s Address to the 72nd General Assembly
In his first state-of-the-world report since taking up the stewardship of the United Nations on January 1 of this year, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres put “nuclear peril” as the leading threat, warning that “we must not sleepwalk our way into war.” In a major speech to the 72nd session of the General Assembly, he exhorted the world’s leaders (monarchs, presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers, among others) this week Tuesday that the threat of a nuclear attack is at its highest level since the end of the Cold War, nearly three decades back, and that “fiery talk can lead to fatal misunderstandings.” This clearly pointed to the ‘war of words’ exchanged between the leaders of the US, the only superpower today, and the comparably small, but nuclearized North Korea.
At the opening of the UN General Assembly’s highest level meeting, the UN chief said unmistakenly that millions of people are living in fear “under a shadow of dread cast by the provocative nuclear and missile tests” of North Korea. Previously, Guterres had already demonstrated that he does not mince words by calling on Aung San SuuKyi to take resolute action to stop the murderous blood-letting in Rakhine State, western Myanmar. At the same time, he did not favour military action. He said a solution to North Korea must be political and stressed to the assembled leaders: “This is a time for statesmanship.”
Beyond the nuclear threat, Gurerres painted a depressing picture of a world facing multiple pressing challenges with many people “hurting and angry” because they “see insecurity rising, inequality growing, conflict spreading and climate changing.” Even a few years back, such words would have been directed solely at the ‘least developed’ and ‘developing’ nations of the world. Today, they are all-encompassing, enveloping the planet earth. The Secretary-General went on to add: “Societies are fragmented” and “Political discourse is polarized. Trust within and among countries is being driven down by those who demonize and divide. “We are a world in pieces”, he said, and “We need to be a world at peace.” Again, these words were directed not only at the so-called ‘Third World’, but also at the ‘Western World’, and Russia and China. Contemplating the mess the world is in, and the utter incapacity of the so-called ‘developed’ world to provide the necessary leadership, one could almost say that the last ‘statesman’ still standing is Guterres himself!
Guterres also chalked out the seven threats and tests of the modern world that have to faced, in order to fulfill the aims and purposes of the United Nations in general, and “to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security” (Preamble of the Charter of the United Nations):
1. Nuclear peril
2. Domestic & International Terrorism
3. Unresolved conflicts and systematic violations of international humanitarian law
4. Climate change
5. Rising inequality (within and among nations)
6. Unintended consequences of technological innovation
7. People on the move (voluntary and involuntary migration).
Can we expect the distinguished delegates assembled in New York to discuss these issues, or will they pursue their own narrow interests, at the cost of multilateral solutions? Guterres clearly incorporates the multilateral approach – the only possible, and in the best traditions of the world body – to master the problems and crises plaguing the world.
Trump Exudes Arrogance of American Power at UN General Assembly
In stark contrast, US President Donald Trump represented the unilateral modus operandi. It seems that he was only interested in persecuting his own narrow and selfish interests when he addressed the world leaders. His speech was disjointed, disquieting and bombastic, not in any case ‘statesman-like’. He had not bothered to hear Antonio Guterres, nor, it seems, had he been briefed by his aides or representatives at the UN about the far-reaching ‘state of the world’ speech. Trump arrogantly propounded his own “America First” doctrine, which his administration erroneously depicts as “principled realism”, but which is nothing more, and nothing less than “American Exceptionalism/Exclusivity/Unilateralism” – the pursuit of perceived American interests, to the detriment of other nations and with a devil-may-care attitude. His comments rattled the international audience, both in the hall and the wider world.
In his speech which had most leaders and commentators shaking their heads, Trump threatened all of America’s foes. He thus boasted: “The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” As loud, startled murmurs filled the hall, Trump continued in an acid tone and disparaged the North Korean leader Kim: “Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and his regime.” North Korea’s foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho dismissed Trump’s speech as “the sound of a barking dog”, in spite of which “the parade goes on”. He continued contemptuously: “I feel sorry for his aides.” Kim Jong-Un himself has now reacted angrily to Trump’s remarks and actions (imposing new sanctions), calling Trump a “mentally deranged US dotard [weak, senile old man]” and his UNGA speech “unprecedented rude nonsense.” Furthermore: “I will make the man holding the prerogative of the supreme command in the US pay dearly for his speech.” Hopefully, the exchange of unnecessary ‘verbal niceties’ will not escalate into unwarranted hot action.
Trump also took aim at Iran’s nuclear ambitions and regional influence and designated the international nuclear deal negotiated by his predecessor, Barack Obama and other world powers (Russia, China, UK, France and Germany) with Iran as an embarrassment and hinted that he may not recertify the agreement when it comes up for a mid-October deadline – as if it was his decision alone. He called Iran an “economically depleted rogue state” that exports violence. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, also speaking at UNGA, said his country would respond “decisively and resolutely” if the agreement is violated by any party. In a carefully crafted speech, Rouhani also warned: “By violating its international commitments the new US administration only destroys its own credibility.” After all, the Iran deal was endorsed in a UN Security resolution. He also called Trump’s remarks an “ignorant, absurd and hateful rhetoric filled with ridiculously baseless allegations.”
Among others, he also took aim at Venezuela’s collapsing democracy and criticized the Cuban government. Moreover: “Major portions of the world are in conflict and some in fact are going to hell.” However, he rejected any collective responsibility and failed to mention other areas of crises, like the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar and climate change, notwithstanding the recent havoc caused by several climate-induced hurricanes in his own country. With Trump’s cock-eyed view of the world, how can one trust a man to understand international crises and problems (let alone find solutions), when he doesn’t even comprehend his own country?!

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