The UN GA debate tackles … What?!
There is no fooling the clock. Every September, every year, the Big Apple turns into a beehive buzzing with leaders from all over the world. Manhattan streets, already overflowing with tourists, clog up completely.
“Yes, it is inconvenient for New Yorkers. Yes, it does snarl traffic. Yes, it does make it harder to get good restaurant reservations, but it's also one of the things New York City a fascinating place,” said news commentator TJ Walker.
Over 190 countries make up the UN General Assembly. Delegations from those countries – often made up of dozens of diplomats – flock to New York for the annual gathering of great minds that make the world go round.
“They ride around in town cars, eat at the Four Season. When I see the suits on some of these diplomats, I think – isn't that the country where I just saw 40 children died last night? These are the leaders of that country wearing Gucci suits and eating foie gras at the UN?” said McCormack.
Traditionally, there is at least one diplomatic point of contention. From Iran, to Libya, to Palestine and Israel – concerns rotate on this international arena, but some see the Assembly sessions seen as a ritual rather than a forum for real exchange.
“The elite meet and greet, and come to New York and shop, and then they go home at tremendous costs to their own taxpayers, without very much done,” said author Danny Schechter.
Those closely following the UN GA developments wonder if political crises will be tackled at the annual hoopla.
“The UN is increasingly unable to solve, even not the highest-profile problems, problems which you would expect the un to be able to play a role on,” said Inner City Press journalist Matthew Lee.
This year, Syria is the elephant in the room.
“Syria gives them a reason to be here. There will be lip service paid, and ultimately money will go, and there will be skirmishes and arms, and there will be Ahmadinejad throwing rhetoric”, said TJ McCormack.
While the raging Syrian crisis may be stealing headlines, few expect it to be resolved as leaders meet behind these walls.
“The sides on Syria are so far apart, there is no reason to think just bringing them – they tried it in Geneva – to New York in September is less likely to reach any kind of common output. At this point, the proponents of change in Syria are just hoping they can win it on the ground,” said Matthew Lee.
Accusations, passions and theatrics fly high during speeches made during the general debate.
“They are not really coming here with the idea of singing ‘Kumbaya’ and promoting world peace. It's a show and tell arena, where people get up, say the right things, there is no follow up, there is no real urgency,” said Schechter.
From minutes to hours long, speeches are mostly broadcast in the country of the leader addressing the Assembly, with cases of some often remaining oblivious. Journalists from around the world follow their country’s leaders’ ever step. Meanwhile, with each passing year, the US mainstream media dedicates less airtime to the UN.
“One thing that's different this year and makes it an even less effective General Assembly is the US election. So Obama – not that he is a magic man or anything – but he is coming for even less time than the previous years,” said journalist Matthew Lee.
Curious details can largely go unnoticed.
“There have been a couple of coup d’états in a year, and some of these coup leaders are trying to come in. Either by mistake or not, Ban Ki-Moon is going to be greeting the coup leaders,” said Matthew Lee.
Delegates flock to the Big Apple every autumn for an array of reasons: to get face time, for pure symbolism, to wreak havoc and create scandal, or to push through a political agenda. But as drama unravels at the podium, it’s unclear exactly how efficient this annual extravaganza actually is.