The world seen from the UN

Image: Messala Ciulla


While billionaires go to space, millions starve on Earth

“The lack of results creates space for some of the darkest impulses of humanity”, said, from his high office, the secretary general of the UN, the Portuguese António Guterres, in his address to the General Assembly. A scenario in which, every year, in the month of September, leaders from all over the world shed light on these obscure corners with their views on the destiny of humanity.

With the Covid-19 pandemic in the background, Guterres recalled that most people in the rich world are vaccinated, while 90% of Africans are still waiting for their first dose. On climate change, he highlighted what we are seeing on all continents: high temperatures; terrible losses of biodiversity; contaminated air, water and natural spaces; and weather-related disasters at all times. Then it was the turn of the political leaders of each nation to tell their stories, to describe the world as they see it.

A Pariah in the Presidency

The first was Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. His role in opening the General Assembly is of particular importance. Although Brazil did not manage to be incorporated as a permanent member of the Security Council, as it had then intended, it was one of the founding States of the UN and the first country to join the organization, in 1945. Following a tradition, since the head of its delegation , in the first special session of the General Assembly, former foreign minister Osvaldo Aranha, opened the meeting in 1947, the Brazilian president is the first to speak.

Having just arrived in New York, Bolsonaro heard Mayor Bill de Blasio tell him that, without getting vaccinated, he shouldn't bother visiting the city. Barred from entering restaurants for not being vaccinated, the photo of Bolsonaro and the Brazilian delegation eating pizza standing in the street went around the world. "One humiliation after another". “We have a pariah in the presidency,” wrote Brazilian journalist Vera Magalhães. “Bolsonaro shames the 213 million Brazilians he is supposed to represent,” said former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

After that, Bolsonaro spoke at the opening of the General Assembly. “Brazil has changed a lot since I took office in January 2019. This is no small feat, considering we were on the verge of socialism,” he said. The president asked the world, from the tribune of the General Assembly: “Which other country has an environmental protection policy like ours?”, while deforestation in the Amazon registers the highest rates in recent years, according to data from specialized organizations. “Brazil has a president who believes in God, respects the Constitution, values ​​the principles of the family and is loyal to his people”, he added, not without first defending measures to face Covid-19 not recommended by the world health authorities.

In Brazil, almost 600 thousand people died and the pandemic records more than 21 million cases, while the world, with more than 232 million cases, is on its way to five million deaths. Bolsonaro defends ineffective preventive treatments against Covid-19 and rejects the vaccine, and his health minister, Marcelo Queiroga, tested positive in New York, where he was quarantined. But he wasn't the only one. Eduardo Bolsonaro, federal deputy and son of the president, was also diagnosed with the coronavirus, two days after the delegation returned to Brazil, causing concern among those who met with them in New York, without masks.

The Most Trusted Ally

A week before the General Assembly debate, US President Joe Biden announced an agreement with Britain, known as Aukus, to supply Australia with a fleet of up to eight nuclear-powered submarines. “The United States has no more reliable ally than Australia,” he said shortly before his meeting with Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the context of the General Assembly.

The announcement shook Washington's relations with Paris (and, by extension, with the European Union, which took over the French protest as its own), which had already advanced in a millionaire negotiation to supply 12 conventionally propelled submarines to Australia. “Although China is not mentioned in the agreement, it doesn't take a genius to understand that this initiative is a response to a perceived growing Chinese threat,” said Stephen M. Walt, a columnist for the conservative American publication Foreign Policy and professor of international relations at the Harvard University School of Government. "Equipping Australia with extremely quiet nuclear-powered submarines will allow Australia to play a more active role in the region, along with the other members of the Quadrilateral Dialogue on Security (Quads), the United States, India and Japan," he said.

"Until now," says the article, "Australian public opinion has been ambivalent about the implications of China's growing presence in the region." Entrepreneurs were interested in the possibility of increasing their business, while analysts warned that it was not in Australia's interest to oppose Chinese growth. But China's "increasingly belligerent" behavior, Walt said, "particularly the aggressive response to Canberra's request for an independent investigation into the origin of the coronavirus (in line with former President Donald Trump's proposals on the matter), fed a growing distance between the two countries”.

Farther and faster

The importance of Aukus, in particular the nuclear propulsion model that will be supplied to Australia, is discussed in detail by professor of strategy at the US Naval War College's China Maritime Studies Institute, Andrew S. Erickson. “Propulsion determines how fast and how long a boat can move,” he says. “Advanced models of propulsion, particularly nuclear ones, are carefully guarded by major foreign powers” ​​in this matter.

“This tri-national agreement”, he added, “will take a lot of time, money and efforts to transform itself into a maritime power, but the logic is clear and convincing. Canberra faces a seismic strategic threat from Beijing and has, understandably, opted for one of the most revolutionary military technology deals in decades.” A deal that Erickson is very sympathetic to.

“Nuclear propulsion is not the same as nuclear weapons,” Australia was quick to clarify. "Let me be clear, Australia is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons or establish a civilian nuclear capability, and we will continue to meet our nuclear non-proliferation obligations," said Prime Minister Scott Morrison. But according to Tyler Pager, a reporter for The Washington Post at the White House, experts expressed concern about the impact the measure could have on the nuclear power landscape.

If Australia goes down this path and builds nuclear-powered submarines and removes nuclear material from controls, it will set a very dangerous precedent, he told the Post James Acton, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “If it's a US submarine, they have highly enriched uranium in their reactors and that poses a proliferation problem in the terms that Australia has raised this issue. Not just anyone can afford this type of fuel,” Australian Senator Rex Patrick – himself a former submariner – told the local newspaper. ABC. A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, Liu Pengyu, told Reuters that countries should not build exclusionary blocs against the interests of others. In particular, he added, "they should discard Cold War mentality and ideological biases." Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said such cooperation between the United States, United Kingdom and Australia "undermines international nuclear non-proliferation efforts", in addition to "deliberately intensifying regional tension, provoking an arms race and threatening nuclear war". regional peace and stability”.

old alliance

But the alignment of Australia's more conservative sectors with the United States has a longer history. Less celebrated than Aukus was the allegation that the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) cooperated with the United States in the years of Chile's Popular Unity government between 1971 and early 1974 to facilitate the military coup that overthrew President Salvador Allende.

Australians of Chilean descent released a public letter to Foreign Minister Marise Payne in Sydney on 17 September demanding the declassification of documents about ASIS activities in Chile during those years and its role in the conspiracy against the Popular Unity government. This requirement has not yet been answered.

No to the Cold War

Biden's speech was the first delivered in the General Assembly since assuming the presidency of the United States in January. He spoke after Bolsonaro.

The United States will compete vigorously, with its values ​​and its strength, but "we are not looking forward to a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocs," he said. "We will defend our allies and friends and oppose attempts by strong countries to dominate weaker ones, whether through control of territory by force, economic coercion, technological exploitation or disinformation." A list that well characterizes Washington's relationship with Latin America over the years.

“In these eight months in office, I have prioritized rebuilding our alliances,” Biden said. First, the commitment to NATO (discuss new strategic concepts with members to face China); then with the European Union; with Quad, the alliance with Australia, India and Japan that seeks to create a front capable of confronting China's presence in Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific region; and the return to regional organizations. These include the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), but also the OAS.

In his speech, Biden reiterated his decision to uphold “democratic values” around the world. Something to which Chinese President Xi Jiping referred, noting that “a world of peace and development must include diverse civilizations and accommodate diverse forms of modernization. Democracy is not a special right reserved for a particular country, but something that citizens of all countries are entitled to enjoy”.

Skepticism in the face of peace calls

In a commentary on Biden's speech, the British newspaper The Guardian said that “world leaders responded with skepticism to his appeals for peace”, made a few days after the revelation of the agreement, negotiated in secret for months with Australia by the United States and the United Kingdom, to give it a fleet of submarines of nuclear propulsion. “Some people could see in this policy of favoring democracies the hidden interests of the United States”, had said the British newspaper in an editorial of 22 September. There may also be dangers in pursuing these goals with an overly aggressive policy. The editorial warns that presenting Ukraine's eventual membership of NATO, on the Russian border, as a “democratic” measure could provoke a military response from that country; or that defending Taiwanese democracy should not lead to a confrontation with China. “The challenges of our time”, says the editorial, “such as the climate emergency, require international cooperation to offer global measures and avoid policies that harm neighbors”.

Increased regional tension

"President Biden is working closely with allies and partners to compete with China and renew America's role in the world," said Ashley Townsend, Susannah Patton and Tom Corben, three experts at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Australia, on the prospects for US policy in the Indo-Pacific region. The annual Australia-US Consultation Meeting (AUSMIN) in Washington, September 16, offered Biden an opportunity to bolster his presence in the region. The technology partnership agreement between Washington, London and Canberra points in that direction.

But it provoked an angry response from France, which called its ambassadors in Washington and Canberra for consultations to express its rejection of what Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called "a stab in the back". France was negotiating a deal to supply Australia with a fleet of 12 conventional submersibles, a contract estimated to be worth around $66 billion.

AUSMIN offered Australia two opportunities, say experts at the Lowy Institute: to leverage bilateral defense ties to promote a greater US military presence in the region, and to make Washington focus its policies on a greater confrontation with China. Australia is also looking to develop precision missiles as a "deterrent" strategy against China, a move that would give the country greater strategic value vis-à-vis its allies.

All of this, in Beijing's opinion, will contribute to "deliberately intensifying regional tension". The Chinese president was not personally present at the General Assembly. But he sent his message: “the world is big enough for the development and progress of all countries to coexist. Countries don't have to compete with each other; one country's success does not mean another's failure,” Xi said.

 Xi proposed in his speech a Global Development Initiative to revitalize the economy and promote "more robust, environmentally friendly and more balanced" development. “We propose that the world put development at the top of the global macropolitical agenda; strengthen coordination among major economies; and ensure continuity, consistency and sustainability”. “Foreign military intervention and so-called democratic transformation only bring problems,” he added.

*Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR). author of Political crisis of the modern world (Uruk).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves


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