by John J. Metzler
Weirs Times Contributing Writer
UNITED NATIONS—Dark war clouds swirl from the Middle East, humanitarian crises worsen in Sub-Saharan Africa, and as refugees pour fourth into the developed world, the UN
General Assembly is set to open in New York. The 70th General Assembly will see an unprecedented gathering of Presidents, Prime Ministers and Kings, as well as the Roman Catholic Pope, to a landmark session of the 193 member states.
What many delegates had hoped would be a celebratory Assembly commemorating the 70th anniversary of the UN’s founding, has turned into a reflective session confronting some of the very same problems which bedeviled the world at the end of WWII; refugees and rebuilding. Yet as compared to 1945 when there was a sense of closure after winning the war against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, the impression today is that we may only be at the beginning of wider global disorders as terrorism and entrenched chaos seem to be spreading.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated, “This year’s session of the General Assembly opens at a time of turmoil and hope.” He added, “Turmoil, because conflicts have deepened in so many places, and civilians are paying the price. Hope, because a historic number of world leaders will gather here at the United Nations to forge solutions.”
Addressing correspondents Secretary General Ban warned, “Brutal conflicts, breakdowns in basic governance, economic despair and other factors have generated displacements of people not seen since the Second World War. Sixty million people have fled their homes.”
The session will hold a special summit on the widening refugee crisis from places like Syria and Iraq. Ban praised Germany, Austria and Sweden for their humanitarian efforts in helping fleeing Syrians.
Syria’s civil war offers a poignant case; its a place where “the combatants are defying all norms of humanity.” While UN officials and many diplomats agree that Syria must find a political solution to stop the violence and the ensuing hemorrhage of displaced persons, finding common political ground is easier said than done.
Russia for example, has ramped up weapons deliveries to the Assad regime, officially according to Moscow as a counter the growth of terrorist forces such as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Al Nusra. Ban stresses “there is no military solution” and emphases “I’m concerned about the parties arming and providing arms. This kind of a situation will only help the situation growing worse and worse.”
Over 250,000 people, many of them civilians, have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in 2011. Half of the Syrian population is internally displaced or have fled as refugees.
Thus can there be common ground? Ban Ki-moon concedes,”First of all, Syrian people are divided among themselves. The UN, particularly the Security Council, is not able to find unity, particularly among members. The regional powers, they are also divided, depending upon the countries.” He lamented, “This kind of division really makes this situation unsolvable.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin will be in New York and shall be discussing Syria and Ukraine among other issues with American President Barack Obama as well as scores of other leaders.
In a wider scope the UN is also focusing on the role of Peacekeeping, and a myriad of missions from Cyprus to the Congo, and Sudan. The UN Blue Helmets were long lauded as a positive force protecting post-conflict societies and keeping the lid on wider chaos, or at least stopping the clock as to allow a pause for a possible political solution. Yet a series of enduring crises have tarnished peacekeeping’s reputation with cases of sexual misconduct in the Central African Republic and indifference and incompetence in missions such as Darfur in Sudan.
The Secretary General has called for a series of measures to change the nature of peacekeeping; emphasis on conflict prevention, improving the agility UN peacekeepers and political missions; and deeper partnerships with regional organizations such as the African Union.
Yet, Ban conceded bluntly, “The future of UN peacekeeping also depends on concerted action to rid the UN peace operations of sexual exploitation and abuse. It is shameful when UN and other personnel sent to protect people compound the suffering and become part of the problem.”
Amid the Moral outrage over war, suffering, and the refugee plight, the visit of Pope Francis is expected to bring a moral compass to the Assembly. This is the fifth time a Pontiff addresses the UN to bring a message of Peace to a chaotic world. But is anyone listening?
John J. Metzler is a United Nations corespondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014).