What I Found Interesting in Biden's UN Speech
There was geopolitical intrigue that most media commentary seem to be overlooking.
This is an odd UNGA in someways. While hundreds of world leaders are in New York for the UN General Assembly, there are fewer than usual presidents and prime ministers from larger or wealthier countries. A relatively paltry number of European countries are being represented by their elected leaders. Several G-20 leaders are also skipping UNGA this year, including the presidents and prime ministers of India, Indonesia, Canada, Mexico, and Australia (among others). And of the Permanent Five members of the UN Security Council, President Biden is the only leader attending in person. France, the UK, China and Russia are represented by foreign ministers and lesser officials.
In his General Assembly address today, Biden clearly saw the absence of more powerful countries as a feature—not a bug— of UNGA78.
Biden’s remarks were squarely aimed at the hundreds of world leaders assembled directly in front of him at the UN, the bulk of whom represented the developing global south. These countries are what The Economist has called the “biggest swing voters in geopolitics.” They want development. They want debt relief. They want cheaper access to financing. They want support for clean energy and infrastructure development. And they are fed up with being on the front lines of a climate crisis no fault of their own, while being denied requisite support to develop their countries in a climate conscious and sustainable way.
Biden’s speech was significant for the fact that it empathized with that position and articulated concrete ways the United States is supporting sustainable development. And make no mistake: while his remarks on Ukraine are what the people on cable TV are talking about right now, the substantial bulk of Biden’s speech —the first two-thirds— directly addressed the concerns of the developing world in ways that I have not seen in 18 years of covering this confab.
That these remarks come on the heels of the recent BRICS summit in South Africa in which 60 countries expressed interest in joining this China-lead bloc, adds a degree of geopolitical intrigue to Biden’s UNGA speech.
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