World leaders butt heads at the UN General Assembly

By Martha Muir

The 72nd session of the UN General Assembly provided an opportunity to assess the capability and direction of the organisation, which was founded to manage and prevent conflict, and reduce poverty. However it’s notable failures and shortcomings have led to calls for reform from major world leaders.

Theresa May left a difficult political climate in the UK for a similarly frosty reception in New York. The Prime Minister delivered her speech to a room which was mostly empty, but included Boris Johnson, presumably for moral support. She pledged to make 30% of the UK’s contribution to the UN conditional on the organisation proving their efficacy and efficiently, called on internet firms to remove extremist content within two hours of it being posted, criticized Syria and North Korea and took a thinly veiled swipe at Donald Trump for exiting the Paris Climate agreement.

Donald Trump took a less measured approach. He went off script to mock the image-conscious Kim Jong-Un by referring to him as “Rocket man”, and threatened to “totally destroy” the pariah state if they threaten the United States and its allies. His speech, according to North Korea’s foreign ministry, was a declaration of war. He also decried the nuclear deal with Iran and invented an African country, “Nambia”. If the President aimed to appear statesmanlike all he achieved was bombasticity. He offered no solutions or alternatives to the problems he railed against, and reaffirmed the perception that he is not a safe, or informed pair of hands to hold nuclear codes.

However an area which he and Theresa May appear to agree on is reforming the United Nations. It has faced many criticisms since its inception, but Trump is focused on costs, complaining that the United States is paying far more than its fair share. Although it is true that the UN is bureaucratic and has issues with corruption, it is hard to see how compromising their ability to carry out peacekeeping missions and enable economic development would be helpful for Trump. If the UN had more funding it could step in to prevent and manage situations which would otherwise fall to the United States. Therefore increasing accountability and stripping back unnecessary parts is a needed reform, however cutting the organisation would be unwise.

The structure of the Security Council also needs reform. Currently permanent positions are held by Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States. However considering that the Asia-Pacific region holds 55% of the world’s population and 44% of its income, it is underrepresented at the UN. In order to be relevant and representative the UN needs to consider expanding the Security Council to include India and ASEAN.

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