World leaders dwelled on the topic consuming this year’s UN General Assembly meeting: Russia’s war in Ukraine.
A few, like Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, prodded the world not to forget everything else.
“The ongoing war in Ukraine is making it more difficult,” Buhari lamented, “to tackle the perennial issues that feature each year in the deliberations of this assembly.”
He went on to name a few: inequality, nuclear disarmament, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the more than 1 million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar who have been living in limbo for years in Bangladesh.
The United States’ UN ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, made a point of previewing Washington’s plans to address climate change, food insecurity, health and other issues during the diplomatic community’s premier annual gathering.
“Other countries have expressed a concern that as we focus on Ukraine, we are not paying attention to what is happening in other crises around the world,” she said, vowing that it wasn’t so. Still, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken complained at a Security Council meeting days later that Russia’s invasion is distracting the UN from working on other important matters.
Giving equal weight
Certainly, no one was surprised by the attention devoted to a conflict with Cold War echoes, oblique nuclear threats from Russian President Vladimir Putin, shelling that has endangered the continent’s largest atomic power plant, and far-reaching economic effects. The urgency only intensified during the weeklong meeting as Russia mobilized some of its military reserves.
President Andrzej Duda of Poland — on Ukraine’s doorstep — stressed in his speech that “we mustn’t show any war fatigue’” regarding the conflict. But he also noted that a recent trip to Africa left him pondering how the West has treated other conflicts.
“Were we equally resolute during the tragedies of Syria, Libya, Yemen?” he asked. “While condemning the invasion of Ukraine,” Duda added, “do we give equal weight to fighting mercenaries who seek to destabilize the Sahel and threaten many other states in Africa?”
Over seven months of war, there have been pointed observations from some quarters about how quickly and extensively wealthy and powerful nations mobilized money, military aid, General Assembly votes to support Ukraine and offer refuge to its residents, compared to the global response to some other conflicts.
To be sure, most leaders made time for issues beyond Ukraine in their allotted, if not always enforced, 15 minutes at the mic. And some mentioned the war only in passing, or not at all.
Ukraine is undeniably a dominant concern for the European Union. But foreign policy chief Josep Borrell insisted the bloc hasn’t lost sight of other problems.
“It’s not a question of choosing between Ukraine and the others. We can do all at the same time,” he said on the eve of the assembly.
Yet diplomatic attention and time are precious, sought-after resources. So, too, the will and money to help.
September 24, 2022