World leaders are beginning to gather in New York where they will attend the opening of this year’s session of the UN General Assembly. This year is particularly significant as it will be Donald Trump’s first address to the UN General Assembly since becoming President of the United States in January of this year. However, Trump may well be overshadowed by other events and consequently, by other nations.
Here are the things to look out for
Pronounced US isolation
As the least experienced leader of a major world power, Donald Trump has a great burden on his shoulders. He will be facing not only the ire of a world increasingly upset with US attempts to impose its will on the wider world but he will also be facing a generation of fellow world-leaders who came of age on the world stage during the post-9/11 era of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
This is significant as it has been during this time that the US has implemented an aggressive foreign policy which puts into practice, the neo-con agenda which was first developed in the 1990s. America has been constantly at war ever since 2016 and in the process, US actions have led to the execution of two well known world leaders, Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya.
Donald Trump campaigned on a very sensible platform which broadly stated that the neo-con foreign policies of both G.W. Bush and Obama were failures and that the US would change course under a Trump administration.
Thus far, this has not happened. Instead, the US maintains an illegal presence in Syria while Nikki Haley, Trump’s ambassador to the UN, touts regime change in Syria, even now. Beyond this, Trump has approved a troop surge in Afghanistan, a 16 year war which is the longest in US history. It was a war Trump had previously said was a failure and he would withdraw from, during the campaign.
Now, the US is threatening regime change in North Korea, as Nikki Haley goes on yet another anti-Pyongyang rampage. This is happen while Haley’s boss, Rex Tillerson, insists that the US is not after regime change in North Korea. The chaos is no longer amusing for the wider world.
Donald Trump, a man who himself has no foreign policy experience, will have to defend not only the arrogant statements of the permanently unhinged Nikki Haley, but also the deeply unpopular legacy of his two immediate predecessors, a legacy which Trump has failed fully reject in power, even though he promised to do so during his campaign.
The biggest question remaining for Trump is as follows: will he try to re-package the old neo-con policies to make them appear different, or will it be more of the same arrogance, exceptionalism and bellicosity from yet another American leader?
Russia can and almost certainly will walk into this year’s General Assembly with a feeling of confidence and a quiet, understated mood of victory. Syria’s victory against Salafist/jihadist terrorists is now assured and a substantial reason for this has undoubtedly been Russia’s legal intervention in the conflict.
Beyond Syria, Russia’s geo-political leadership has secured new partnerships with Turkey and Pakistan, while economic as well as geo-political cooperation has strengthen Russia’s modern alliance with China.
Even in the part of the Arab world that has traditionally had the least friendly policies towards Russia, the Persian Gulf, leaders throughout the region have praised Russia’s neutral and constructive role in the ongoing crisis between the Saudi led quartet and Qatar.
In this sense, the overarching role of global leadership that the US claims for itself, has been quietly taken by Russia. Russia knows this and the Russian address to the General Assembly will without doubt reflect this.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke before the UN in 2015, he was highly critical of America’s foreign policy, though without specifically naming names. This year, Russia will if anything speak with even increased confidence in this respect, knowing that the US has not taken heed of any warnings previously issued, something which is if anything, magnified by the fact that Donald Trump’s ‘project reconciliation’ with Russia has amounted to little.
Russia might also explain its leadership in respect of East Asia, by affirming its desire to de-escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula through cooperative initiatives involving both Korean states.
Finally, Russia will almost certainly reiterate its calls for a UN peacekeeping force to be sent to Donbass, something which has been widely praised in Europe, particularly in Germany. This could be the beginning of the end of major obstacles between Russia and the European Union, even as Russia’s primary partners are now in Asia.
China will look to emphasise the theme of peace through prosperity in what will amount to a calm elucidation of the benefits of One Belt–One Road to the growing economies of Asia and Africa. In this sense, China will send an implied message to India and other states who remain sceptical of One Belt–One Road, restating that the initiative is purely voluntary and will serve the best interests of all participating states.
China will also almost certainly emphasise its revolution in renewable energy which is being watched by business leaders and environmental activists the world over with great interest, in spite of a near complete blackout in the western mainstream media.
China will likely also touch on its opposition to violence on any side, in respect of the Korean peninsula.
Syria and Iraq
Both Syria and Iraq will, in a unique moment in history, offer similar statements in many ways. Both will speak of the importance of national unity, in a not so thinly veiled opposition to Kurdish nationalism and each will try to reclaim the victory over terrorism from international actors who are often credited with fighting the battle by various elements in the media. In the later instance, Syria will have a stronger case than Iraq, in many ways.
Syria in particular, may use the UN to re-define the Arabism which underpins Ba’athism. President Bashar al-Assad has recently spoken of the fact that all Syrians whether Muslim or Christian are an indefensible part of the fabric of Syria.
Now that Syria is on the verge of victory, Syria will likely be clear in re-stating the fact that it is the last major Arab country to hold true to the revolutionary belief system of Ba’athism and Arab Nationalism more widely.
Both Syria and Iraq will also likely emphasise the importance of the wider world respecting their sovereignty so that conflict can be erased from the lands of each state.
India and Myanmar
Both the internal and geo-political events surrounding India will help to shape an Indian address that seeks to position New Delhi as an economic and also moral leader of the Asian world and wider so-called developing world.
In this sense, the rhetorical pragmatism of China will be countered by a not so subtly ideological speech from India.
In this sense, India will present itself as the Asian power best place to bring prosperity to Africa and settle disputes in South East Asia. None of this will amuse China, but nor will China be particularly surprised.
Whether overtly or subliminally, India will almost certainly come out in favour of the actions taken by the government of Myanmar, more strongly than any other country.
Look out for many anti-terrorist cliches combined with an almost holier than thou attitude which implies that India is Asia. This will be a clear indication of the speech being a kind of self-coronation of India’s Premier Modi, one which likely won’t be received quite as warmly as Modi hopes.
While Prime Minister Modi will almost certainly deliver the Indian address, it has already been confirmed that Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi will skip the event. Myanmar can nevertheless use the General Assembly to calmly explain the situation regarding the Rohingya crisis in a manner which sheds light on the complex realities of the situation while offering genuine sympathy for the deaths that have been caused in the fog of a long civil war.
Myanmar thus far has not had the best public relations tactics in respect of the crisis. The combination of insularity on behalf of Myanmar’s military leadership, known as the Tatmadaw, combined with Aung San Suu Kyi’s inexperience in a genuine position of needing to be a communicator, has often let the country down.
Myanmar must be calm in rejecting the more outlandish claims about its internal conflict while also not callously brushing aside the fears of the wider Muslim world, which are genuine even when based on half-truths. In this respect, Myanmar could help to create a new diplomatic narrative on the crisis, but it is doubtful this will happen and India in trying to help, might only do harm in portraying the conflict as a ‘Muslim versus everyone else’ conflict, which the Civil War in Myanmar is most certainly not.
Pakistan’s speech may catch the United States off guard more so than any other. The tentative US ally has been very public with its anger over Trump administration claims that Pakistan harbours terrorism and that in this sense it presents a problem for Afghanistan. All political parties in Pakistan consider these remarks to be gravely insulting to the country which has suffered the most due to the largely US authored instability in neighbouring Afghanistan.
The threat of cutting off economic aid to a country that has sacrificed a great deal to placate the United States has added insult to injury.
Pakistan’s most important ally is undoubtedly China and the larges sums of monetary and infrastructural investment that China has poured into Pakistan, have given Islamabad both the courage and an economic insurance policy, which has already allowed Pakistani leaders to say what they really feel about the United States.
For those who do not realise that Pakistan now looks to Beijing for partnerships rather than Washington, Pakistan’s speech may be a rude awakening.
Iran’s address will almost certainly be a combination of confidence and anger. Where former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once used his General Assembly speech to argue the case for US involvement in the 9/11 atrocities, today’s Iranian leadership will likely focus on the broader issues of Iranian development and geo-political relations.
Being on the winning side of the wider Middle East war against Takfiri terrorism, has already greatly enhanced Iran’s prestige in many parts of the Arab world and its growing partnerships beyond in Arab world with China, Russia, Turkey and even Pakistan, mean that Iran is more connected to the wider world than at any time since the Revolution of 1979.
With the Trump administration tearing up the 2013 JCPOA (aka nuclear deal) in all but name and with threats from the White House to formally reject the JCPOA at any moment, Iran ought to take the high road and demonstrate how Theran has been in full compliance with the deal according to the US State Department, the UN and the EU.
A calm approach to explaining how the US is guilty of violating the deal while Iran has acted in good faith is essential.
Even if Iran is impassioned in its expressions of disappointment with the US over the deal, this will still achieve largely the same effect.
Interestingly, the US could use Iran’s decidedly anti-Myanmar narrative in respect of the Rohingya crisis to try and exploit a possible schism between Iran and its non-Muslim partners. But as things stand, America’s tunnel-vision on Iran will prevent Washington from exploiting this openly.
Turkey and Israel
Both powers who share a common Eastern Mediterranean region are moving in entirely different directions. Turkey is moving closer to Iran and its regional partners while Israel is moving closer to Saudi Arabia and its regional allies. Furthermore, with Israel coming out unambiguously in favour of a Kurdish state on Turkey’s borders, it only remains to be seen which country can restrain its passions more on the Kurdish issue.
In the event, Turkey will almost certainly refer to its security concerns in respect of a Kurdish state and in doing so, will be speaking in an ironically singular voice with Syria and Iraq, while Israel will almost certainly allude to sharing similar ‘ideals’ with Kurdish nationalists.
WIth America’s two traditional regional allies coming out on opposite sides of key issues, the US State Department will need to engage in heavy behind the scenes damage control. The fact that Donald Trump is having several meetings with the leader of the Israeli regime but none with President Erdogan of Turkey, is itself, telling of the fact that the US will continue to do little to assure Turkey of its very legitimate fears on the Kurdish issue.
Popular Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has crossed swords with the UN on many occasions, particularly in relation to his law and order approach to the dangerous drug problem in his country. With the armed forces of Philippines on the verge of a military victory against ISIS aligned terrorists in the country which itself has shown the dangerous connections between the narcotics trade and the financing of terrorism which Duterte had previously warned about, it will be imperative for Philippines to use the General Assembly to drawn an unambiguous connection between drugs and terrorism.
In 2006, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez famously called George W. Bush “the devil” and remarked that the podium of the General Assembly Hall.
This year, Venezuela’s predictably harsh criticisms of the United States will likely be a slamming of unilateral US sanctions which in recent weeks and months have been passed on the oil rich South American nation.
Look for Venezuela to invite other nations to begin trading their national commodities in currencies other than the US Dollar while praising allies who have stood by Caracas against the US onslaught.
There are of course many other nations that will speak at the UN General Assembly, but this piece has covered those which have been in the news due to their participation in wider geo-political conflicts or conflict resolution.
While Donald Trump is making his UN debut, the real star of this years show will undoubtedly be multi-polarity.