In a sign that the United States is listening to the Global South, President Joe Biden addressed a myriad of their concerns even as he rallied support for Ukraine in his address before the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.
“Russia believes that the world will grow weary and allow it to brutalize Ukraine without consequence,” Biden said. “But I ask you this: If we abandon the core principles of the U.N. Charter to appease an aggressor, can any member state in this body feel confident that they are protected? If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure?”
Biden spent the majority of his speech highlighting progress made in global poverty reduction, education and health care, while acknowledging the need for continued progress and reform. He underscored the importance of multilateral institutions like the U.N. and called for expanded leadership and capability to address the complex challenges of the 21st century.
Biden addressed the climate crisis, global development needs, the conflict in Haiti, peace prospects between Israelis and Palestinians, and struck a sober but conciliatory note on U.S. strategic competition with China, before denouncing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a violation of the core tenets of the U.N. Charter — the clear prohibition against taking another nation’s territory by force.
U.S. President Joe Biden leaves the restaurant Il Cantinori with his daughter Ashley Biden in New York, on Sept. 17, 2023.
Shift in tone
The beginning of Biden’s speech signaled a shift in tone. The president spoke of his recent visit to Hanoi where he said he witnessed a “culmination of 50 years of hard work on both sides to address the painful legacies of war” and work towards peace.
“It’s a powerful reminder that our history need not dictate our future,” he said. “With concerted leadership and careful effort, adversaries can become partners.”
Avoiding the phrase “as long as it takes,” often used by Western officials to emphasize lasting support for Kyiv’s war efforts, Biden, who has galvanized a broad international coalition and marshaled billions of dollars for Ukraine, emphasized his support for Kyiv’s efforts to bring about diplomatic resolution that delivers a “just and lasting peace.”
He tempered that with a warning that, right now, the price for peace demanded by Russia is “Ukraine's capitulation, Ukraine's territory and Ukraine's children.”
This is the second time Biden has condemned Russia’s war on Ukraine in front of the world body. In September of last year, in his first UNGA address since the invasion, Biden accused Russia, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, of attempting to “erase a sovereign state from the map.”
Leaders from at least 145 countries are attending the annual UNGA meeting this week in New York, with a few notable exceptions — China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom will be represented by senior officials.
This means that the United States is the only permanent member of the U.N. Security Council whose top leader will be present.
Global South concerns
More than 140 U.N. member countries last year supported a General Assembly resolution that condemned Russian aggression against Ukraine.
But with the protracted conflict continuing to inflict a toll on global energy and food prices, there are growing calls from lower- and middle-income nations, often grouped as the Global South, to fast-track peace negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, incoming chair of the 20 largest economies — known as the G20 — and a politician who has cast himself as a leader of the Global South, underscored that there is no “sustainability or prosperity without peace.”
“We do not underestimate the difficulties in achieving peace, but no solution will be lasting If it is not based on dialogue,” he said through an interpreter. “I have reiterated that work needs to be done to create space for negotiations.”
As part of Ukraine’s diplomatic outreach to the Global South, it has supported the broadest peace initiative to date from Saudi Arabia. In August, the Saudis hosted senior officials from some 40 countries including the U.S., China, and India, but not Russia, to work toward a broad agreement on key principles for a peaceful end to the war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will have a chance to make his case later Tuesday, speaking directly to the General Assembly. It will be his first in-person appearance in front of the world body since Russia’s invasion.