Biden, alone at the top table as the UN withers

Global power shifts to smaller groups

By The Economist

US President Joe Biden addresses the 78th United Nations General Assembly
image: Getty Images

Come September, come the gridlock to Manhattan as leaders gather for the UN General Assembly. This year, though, there was less grandeur to it. President Joe Biden was the only leader of the big five permanent members of the Security Council to show up. This gave him more freedom to show a way through what he calls “an inflection point in world history”. And Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, took the spotlight, warning that Russia’s invasion threatened all: “Many seats in the General Assembly Hall may become empty if Russia succeeds.”

Granted, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin rarely attend the talkfest. The Russian leader is anyhow indicted for war crimes. The surprise was that Rishi Sunak and Emmanuel Macron, the British and French leaders, passed up the un stage. Blame summit fatigue—both European leaders were in Delhi earlier this month for the g20 summit hosted by Narendra Modi (who also skipped New York). Or blame concerns at home, as Mr Sunak weakened green pledges and Mr Macron hosted the pope and the British king.

Yet the no-shows point to deep malaise at the un, paralysed by the war in Ukraine, the rivalry between America and China and the outdated but unreformable Security Council. “Our world is becoming unhinged,” lamented the un secretary-general, António Guterres. “Geopolitical tensions are rising. Global challenges are mounting. And we seem incapable of coming together to respond.” His cry barely caused a stir.

Some think the looser g20, whose economies account for four-fifths of global output, is the better venue to seek global solutions. America regards the smaller g7 group of industrialised countries as “the steering committee of the major democracies”, where its allies can best respond to Russia and China. And though China seeks to bend the un to its liking (see Chaguan), Mr Xi is keen to bulk up the brics group of developing countries.

“The real political value is moving to other places,” says Richard Gowan of the International Crisis Group, a think-tank. “Reform of the UN is blocked, so other political clubs inevitably become more important.” America has been creating ad hoc groups, notably in Asia. This week Mr Biden hosted a new summit with five Central Asian leaders. Antony Blinken, his secretary of state, launched a new “partnership for Atlantic co-operation” including African and Latin American states. Coalitions of the willing are part of diplomacy but lack “universal endorsement”, notes Mark Malloch-Brown, a formerUN deputy secretary-general; the un will endure, but will “busy itself with second-tier issues as it did during the cold war”.

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7 responses to “Biden, alone at the top table as the UN withers”

  1. […] Biden, alone at the top table as the UN withers […]

  2. Subhuti37 Avatar

    Zelenski’s speech was attended by only about a third of those UN delegations, far lower than last year. The world outside the West is no longer impressed by him.

  3. Robert Billyard Avatar

    The UN is going the same way as the League of Nations.into the gutter. It is too much an American franchise.

  4. Harry Avatar

    Totally agree, the UN is a US tool to rule the world. It is worthless. The ICC is a US tool and the US is not even a member; the indictment against Putin is laughable, taking abandoned children out of harms way in a war zone where nazi bombs are flying is a war crime. The IEAE is a US tool and Grossi would not even condemn Ukraine for shelling the ZNPP. HRC, totally political tool of the US, condemning those it sees as its enemies and ignoring gross human rights violations by Israel and Ukraine. I am sure that members of organisations don’t realise in what dire low esteem they are held.

  5. Spender_CGB Avatar

    “The UN is going the same way as the League of Nations.into the gutter. It is too much an American franchise”

    America has been a franchise of World Jewry sin Woodrow Wilson and the Federal Reserve Act..

  6. philosophyofgoodnews Avatar

    Without preferences, objectively, this was an interesting speech…

  7. Disadvantaged Avatar

    Biden is unfit to be President of any country. Eighty million people made the mistake of voting for him along with the vote fraud that went with it.