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PETER YOUNG: This year’s UN General Assembly reveals increasingly multi-polar world


IN previous columns I have drawn attention to the gradual increase of world summit meetings in recent years. But there is, of course, nothing to compare with the UN General Assembly (UNGA) which is the important gathering in New York of its 193 nations annually in September. It claims to provide a unique forum for multilateral discussion of the full spectrum of international issues covered by the Charter of the United Nations, though there are also opportunities for bilateral meetings between individual countries.

This year, the meeting held last week was against a background of unusual division in a UN described by a BBC correspondent as anything but united. The 145 leaders who attended were faced with issues like the Ukraine war, the global cost of living crisis, the worsening climate emergency and disruption of new technologies such as artificial intelligence. In practice, while the agenda included these, some countries reportedly wanted to concentrate on sustainable development goals. In particular, they wanted a greater emphasis on encouraging international financial institutions to focus more on the needs of developing countries.

The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, hosted a separate climate meeting and another to discuss the world’s faltering efforts to reduce poverty. There are disagreements internationally about the relative importance of the issues under consideration, but at UNGA there was recognition that there was a pressing need to seek remedies. Nonetheless, since President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine attended UNGA this year, the Russian invasion of his country and the ongoing war dominated the exchanges.

In his opening remarks, Guterres stressed that “the poison of war is infecting our world”. He said that “geopolitical divisions are undermining our capacity” to respond to global problems and that a new multi-polar world was emerging that was leading to “escalating tensions, fragmentation and worse”.

For his part, Zelensky warned the international community that the invasion of Ukraine and subsequent war, which had been perpetrated by a permanent member of the UN Security Council, was not only evil because of widespread attacks on civilians but was obviously in violation of the rules-based international order, and it was seriously affecting people elsewhere in the world. He urged them to unite in order to bring a halt to Russian aggression; and, after Russia was defeated, no country in the world would dare to attack another in such a way. It was essential to hold Russia to account and punish it for its war crimes, in accordance with the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant for Putin last March which was partly precipitated by the abduction and deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia.

Zelensky went on to say that the war was not just a European security issue but an economic crisis, not least because of the grain supply problem. Although he encountered a measure of war fatigue amongst some Republicans in Washington, he enjoyed a warm reception in Canada. He urged his existing allies – like the US as the leading donor and arms supplier and Germany and Britain - to maintain and increase their support despite concerns about the slow progress of the Ukrainian counter-offensive in the east. Commentators point out, however, that there have been other recent Ukrainian military successes such as its missile strike last week on the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea fleet in Crimea in which senior Russian naval officers were killed.

In praising President Biden’s speech to UNGA in which he warned of grave consequences if Russia was not stopped, President Zelensky also asked for fresh backing from the leaders of countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. He was clearly making a pitch to countries in the so-called Global South like India, Brazil and others. Some of these had so far stayed on the sidelines on the issue of Ukraine. They refused to condemn Russia’s invasion and had even strengthened their economic ties with the Kremlin.

I do not claim to be well informed about this relatively new emphasis on the development of a multi-polar world. But, from everything I have read, it now seems that Western leaders recognise the existence of tensions between their security concerns and the economic worries of what has become known as the Global South.

Meanwhile, commentators are suggesting that formation of the new grouping called BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), which I wrote about in detail in this column on August 29, could be more significant than at first thought, not least because six new countries – Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – are due to join it early next year. They believe BRICS could become influential in creating a new world order to challenge and replace the dominance of the US and its Western allies - and already the group has a combined population of more than 3.2 billion or 40 per cent of the world’s roughly eight billion people

Reportedly, Zelensky realized that many countries at UNGA wanted to focus on climate change and their economic difficulties rather than the war in Europe. For this reason, he concentrated on explaining that there is a real danger of the effects of a sustained conflict in Ukraine spreading further around the world and affecting those countries who have so far stood to one side and refused to condemn Russia. But things are not now going all his way, even with his traditional supporters; for example, Poland, a former steadfast friend, is now no longer supplying weapons to Ukraine.


Having written a couple of weeks ago about two examples of Britain’s help to The Bahamas - in the shape of the Royal Navy’s assistance in the case of hurricanes and Chevening scholarships for aspiring Bahamian students – how good it is to report today another case of the nation’s aid and cooperation that will help Caribbean countries, including The Bahamas.

It was announced last week that the UK is launching a new insurance scheme to support Caribbean water companies through extreme weather conditions by providing a disaster insurance subsidy to them. This subsidy, which the British High Commissioner said last year was $3m, has now been increased to $25m. With a separate contribution from the IDB, water utilities companies in the Caribbean will reportedly now be able to access insurance coverage through CCRIF SPC – formerly called simply the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility - to protect themselves financially against extreme weather events such as hurricanes and tropical storms.

As so often, there is insufficient space today to go in to more detail about this. But it looks to me to be another fine example of the UK’s determination to play its part in helping SIDS (Small Island Developing States) build resilience to extreme weather events by contributing to their being able to access fair and reliable funding.

The British Minister for the Americas and Caribbean at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in London is quoted as saying that ‘The people of the Caribbean are on the frontline of natural disasters, which are increasing in frequency due to climate change. This first-of-its-kind scheme will enable Caribbean countries to maintain essential services in the face of storms and floods, while greatly reducing the financial burden on individual governments’.

It is the case, of course, that SIDS are responsible for very low levels of carbon emissions but have to deal with the effects of climate change including hurricanes and rising sea levels and are vulnerable to biodiversity loss. So, the UK’s subsidy for this new insurance scheme seems to be money well spent, since the evidence shows that following natural disasters the infrastructure and equipment of water utilities may be damaged or destroyed and the availability of potable water affected.

In studying this, it is also interesting to note that the UK’s International Development Strategy places development at the heart of British foreign policy. According to official briefing which is publicly available, this Strategy sets out a new approach to development, anchored in long-term partnerships tailored to the needs of the countries with which Britain is working.

Is another election in Britain now in prospect?

Judging from the feedback I receive, some readers want to be kept informed about developments in Britain as they like to know what is going on in the former colonial power - and they seem to be interested, in particular, about political issues affecting the running of the country.

With this in mind, it might be interesting to examine the current speculation about an early general election being held in Britain as early as May next year. Some commentators in the UK press are saying that recently there has been a change of pace, or rather gear, in politics. This is not just because it is the season for political parties to organise their annual conferences - with the Conservatives holding theirs next week in Manchester - but because of various pointers towards an early election which has to be held at the latest by the end of January, 2025. The most recent one was in December, 2019 when the Tories under the leadership of Boris Johnson won a landslide victory and a majority of 80 seats.


With the first anniversary of Rishi Sunak’s tenure as prime minister coming up at the end of October, some analysts are talking about a new, rarefied political atmosphere in which he has moved up a gear. During the course of the past year he has successfully overcome the chaos and demoralisation following last autumn’s political upheaval and has steadied the government and the country.

Reportedly, he has sketched out a map for the months ahead, saying that the “real choice confronting us is do we really want to change our country and build a better future for our children or do we want to keep carrying on as we are? I’ve made a decision. We’re going to change, and in the coming months I’ll set out a series of long-term decisions to deliver that change”.

So, despite the opposition leader, Keir Starmer, and his Labour Party being well ahead in the polls, Sunak has now taken the bull by the horns after seeing that his government is not about to collapse but is instead gaining strength. The lesson for election watchers seems to be that he has carefully studied the situation, weighed things up and decided to go on to the offensive. But clearly the challenges he now faces will be huge.

The prime minister has made several important decisions recently that indicate a new firmness in governing in accordance with Tory principles. First, he has shifted policy on “green” issues by delaying the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles until 2035, saying that moving too fast on green policies “risks losing the consent of the British people”. This seems to have tapped in to the mood of Conservative voters who are averse to banning anything and like a commonsense approach to environmental change. Polls show that a majority of the public favour cutting carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 but are reluctant to make lifestyle changes to achieve this. Nonetheless, it remains to be seen whether other measures to reduce emissions may be introduced.

In addition, Sunak has unveiled plans to slash the much-disliked inheritance tax; retain the so-called triple lock for assessing public pension increases; consider whether to leave the controversial European Court of Human Rights if his policy for handling illegal immigrants is thwarted by legal challenge; and, possibly, cancel part of the excessively costly rail extension called HS2. He also, of course, has plans to tackle other major issues, but this alone is a heavy agenda in the UK context and the signs are that taking on the eco-zealots is a bold move that could transform Tory fortunes at the ballot box.

Meanwhile, for many people Keir Starmer does not inspire much confidence as a potential prime minister. Regarded by some as a somewhat dull and unattractive figure, he leads a divided party and therefore finds difficulty in taking a clear and firm line on policy matters.

It remains to be seen how all this will pan out. But, suddenly, politics in Britain has become top of the agenda again with renewed uncertainty and intrigue as election speculation - if not fever - is in the air once more. All concerned will surely await the coming Conservative Party conference with particular interest and anticipation.