UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The world’s problems seized the spotlight Tuesday as the U.N. General Assembly’s yearly meeting of world leaders opened with dire assessments of a planet beset by escalating crises and conflicts that an aging international order seems increasingly ill-equipped to tackle.
After two years when many leaders weighed in by video because of the coronavirus pandemic, now presidents, premiers, monarchs and foreign ministers have gathered almost entirely in person for diplomacy’s premier global event.
But the tone is far from celebratory. Instead, it’s the blare of a tense and worried world.
“We are gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, adding that “our world is in peril — and paralyzed.”
He and others pointed to conflicts ranging from Russia’s six-month-old war in Ukraine to the decades-long dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. Speakers worried about a changing climate, spiking fuel prices, food shortages, economic inequality, migration, disinformation, discrimination, hate speech, public health and more.
Priorities varied, as did prescriptions for curing the humanity’s ills. But in a forum dedicated to the idea of bringing the world together, many leaders sounded a common theme: The globe needs cooperation, dialogue and trust, now more than ever.
“We live in an era of uncertainty and shocks,” Chilean President Gabriel Boric said. “It is clear nowadays that no country, large or small, humble or powerful, can save itself on its own.”
Or, as Guterres put it, “Let’s work as one, as a coalition of the world, as united nations.”
It’s rarely that easy. As Guterres himself noted, geopolitical divisions are undermining the work of the U.N. Security Council, international law, people’s trust in democratic institutions, and most forms of international cooperation.
“The divergence between developed and developing countries, between North and South, between the privileged and the rest, is becoming more dangerous by the day,” the secretary-general said. “It is at the root of the geopolitical tensions and lack of trust that poison every area of global cooperation, from vaccines to sanctions to trade.”
While appeals to preserve large-scale international cooperation — or multilateralism, in diplomatic parlance — abound, so do different ideas about the balance between working together and standing up for oneself, and about whether an “international order” set up after World War II needs reordering.
“We want a multilateralism that is open and respectful of our differences,” Senegalese President Macky Sall said. He added that the U.N. can win all countries’ support only “on the basis of shared ideals, and not local values erected as universal norms.”
After the pandemic forced an entirely virtual meeting in 2020 and a hybrid one last year, delegates reflecting the world’s countries and cultures are once again filling the halls of the United Nations headquarters this week. Before the meeting began, leaders and ministers wearing masks wandered the assembly hall, chatting individually and in groups.
It was a sign that that…