Chaos Reigns as the 74th UNGA Opens

September 16, 2019

The 74th regular Session of the UN General Assembly opens tomorrow in the wake of the drone attacks which knocked out more than half of Saudi Arabia’s oil output raising the risk of further regional confrontation. It will close on December 16 after thirteen weeks. World’s attention will focus on New York only during the week of “General Debate” which starts on September 24 because that is when world leaders are there to address the UNGA and hold their bilateral and group meetings. The rest will be business as usual.

According to the draft program of work, the UNGA will even discuss the “question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council”, but that is scheduled for late November when everybody of global public recognition will be gone. Likewise, the “question of Palestine” and “the situation in the Middle East” will be taken up in early December. These have been on the UN agenda for years, proven their intractable quality and debated ad nauseam. In terms of public diplomacy their deletion from the agenda carries unbearable PR cost undermining the relevance of the Organization.

A cursory look at the real world would be dotted with dramatic scenes of human suffering, self-serving and unfulfilled commitments to peace and prosperity, a goal that has eluded humanity for millennia. A sharper focus will show that the Middle East remains in turmoil. Libya is a war zone. Israel has attacked targets in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. A confrontation in Syria’s Idlib is looming. Iran’s nuclear program has become a divisive issue even within the West. The Taliban is getting closer to achieving its objectives. Recent airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition supported by the West have destroyed a detention center in Yemen killing more than 150 people. Saturday’s drone attacks have exposed yet again the failure of the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, the vulnerability of the Kingdom and world oil supply, a worrisome development especially for major Asian importers of Saudi oil like China, Japan, India and South Korea.

The latest summit of the G7 in Biarritz which again excluded Russia was not a ground-breaking meeting.  A week later, President Putin speaking at an economic forum in Vladivostok said he could not imagine an effective international organization without China or India. “Like the UN?” one may ask. Because, “effective multilateralism” is more than a get-together. It requires more than agreement on lowest common denominators and a will to move forward.

As the war in Syria has amply shown for almost a decade, none of the external interventions aimed at putting an end to bloodshed there. The first meeting of the now vanished “Group of Friends of the Syrian People” was held in Tunis on 24 February 2012, with the participation of more than 60 countries and representatives from the United Nations, the League of Arab States, the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Arab Maghreb Union and the Cooperation Council for the Arab Gulf States. Regardless of what was said at the end of the meeting on the aspirations of the Syrian people for dignity, freedom, peace, reform, democracy, prosperity and stability everybody knew that this was about forced regime change. Russia’s military intervention pulled the plug on the project. Today, nobody refers to those “noble aims” because it would sound ludicrous.

Despite its loss of territory, the Islamic State is trying to regroup in Syria and Iraq.

Are the US, Russia, China and the EU allies in the fight against ISIS? They should be. But the reality is they are allies only up to a point. They don’t want ISIS to engage in terrorist acts in their country, radicalize Muslims all over the world and aggravate the refugee problem.

Beyond that, for Washington and its principal regional ally Israel, ISIS is an excuse to remain in Syria. After enfeebling Iraq and a dividing Syria, their next target seems to be Iran.  For Russia, ISIS provides added justification for its military presence there until, if ever, the Assad regime can survive on its own. Because, Syria has always been close to Russia. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be two “peace processes” one in Geneva and the other in Astana and the 74th UNGA would witness a summit of the P5 and Syria’s neighbors preceded by diplomatic groundwork.

In brief, major powers’ shared interests in Syria still have not gone beyond lowest common denominators.

Part of the problem is some leaders’ aversion to conventional diplomacy and preference for a self-centered, self-serving approach to foreign policy prioritizing military power or intervention through proxies. For others, international relations are about one-to-one summit meetings and cutting deals. Regrettably, the impact of foreign ministries on policy is waning. This means the loss of decades and decades of accumulated experience and institutional wisdom. The NPT, the INF Treaty and the JCPOA were negotiated for years. They were more than “deals”.

Add to self-centered approaches, foreign policy becoming a tool of internal politics and domestic rhetoric in some countries, prominently among them the US, Israel and Turkey and the picture becomes bleaker.

Of interest to Turks would be the meeting between the Turkish and US presidents. Provided that all goes well, Mr. Trump may allow Ankara to purchase Patriots on top of the S-400s we have started receiving from Russia. And if that were to happen, Turkey would breathe a deep sigh of relief because this would provide us with a unique air defense system against foreign attack: The Patriots will protect us against Russia and its partners and the S-400s against the US and its allies.

 

 

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