Biden at U.N. General Assembly offers little hope for peace
President Joe Biden addresses the 78th United Nations General Assembly in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023. | Susan Walsh / AP

NEW YORK—The United Nations General Assembly opened on Tuesday with the hope that it could move the world closer to an end to war and to building the sustainability needed to diminish the dangers of global warming.

The 78th meeting of the General Assembly is happening against the backdrop of an ongoing war in Ukraine, new political crises in West Africa and Latin America, a lingering coronavirus pandemic, economic instability, widening inequality, and fresh natural disasters in the forms of devastating earthquakes, floods, and fires.

The gathering of world leaders also comes at a time when countries in the so-called “Global South” are showing open resistance to the domineering behavior of not just the United States but of all of the former colonial powers. Many of the representatives of countries that sat on their hands during the speech by President Joe Biden did so because they are determined to throw off the endless economic sanctions sent their way by both the U.S. and their former colonial rulers.

For many countries, it is not easy to applaud the leader of a government that has a history of economic sanctions or military intervention when it did not or does not like what is happening in another country.

Strongly reflected at the opening session of the General Assembly and at the meetings taking place on the sidelines is the positive attitude of developing nations toward the BRICS group of countries, which includes Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. The attractiveness of the BRICS alternative to U.S. domination of the world economy is reflected also in the recent inclusion into that bloc of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Argentina, the United Arab Emirates, and Ethiopia.

Regardless of opinions regarding the governments of some of those countries, it is clear that the growth of BRICS is rattling the United States, the EU, and all of the countries under their influence. Had those countries pursued democratic and progressive economic and political policies rather than imperialist ones—wielding sanctions and threatening military intervention along the way—they would not be faced with the shock waves hitting them now.

At a meeting of leaders of 134 developing countries in Havana last weekend, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel declared that it is now in the hands of those nations “to change the rules of the game.” China’s representative, Li Xi, declared: “China will always be part of the family of developing countries and a member of the Global South.”

It is sad that when Biden spoke he offered nothing that either recognized or grappled with the new realities reflected around the world.

On the war in Ukraine, he never mentioned any efforts at achieving peace. That includes peace plans put forward by China, Brazil, and South Africa and others that include calls for a ceasefire and negotiations. Instead, he insisted that only total defeat of Russia and complete withdrawal must happen before anyone can talk peace. It was clear from Biden’s speech that a ceasefire and negotiations are something the U.S. continues to oppose.

Current U.S. policy, as enunciated by Biden, equals more war, more weapons to add fuel to the fire, and increasing the danger of wider world war. Anyone who disagrees must accept punishing sanctions from the U.S. European countries must increase the amount of weapons they send to Ukraine. He also made no mention of the need to slash the military budgets of the world, a prerequisite to coming up with money to fund the fight against global warming.

To make matters worse, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg went on television around the world Wednesday morning seconding Biden’s formula for continued war and adding, “We must defeat Putin because a victory for him will be a victory for China.” He admitted that NATO considers China an “enemy.”

So, the countries with which the U.S. must cooperate to save the planet, both Russia and China, are enemies that must be defeated, making all the talk about fighting global warming just that—talk. There is no point in ever discussing climate treaties or peace with people who are declared “enemies.”

Happily, voices different from Biden’s and Stoltenberg’s were evident Tuesday at the UN.

One of those was the voice of the president of Brazil. After being elected, Lula promised to re-establish Brazil as a global leader on the environment and bolster the protection of the Amazon rainforest after years of deforestation.

Global leader: Brazilian President Lula da Silva speaks on global warming, peace, inequality, and more at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. | AP

Lula’s remarks fit in with how U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres described the U.N. General Assembly. He described it as “a one-of-a-kind moment each year for leaders from every corner of the globe to not only assess the state of the world but to act for the common good.

“And action is what the world needs now.”

It was Lula, not Biden, who appears to take the U.N. chief at his word.

During Lula’s travels, he pushed for global governance that gives greater emphasis to the Global South and advocated diminishing the dollar’s dominance in trade. He has made clear that Brazil has no intention of automatically lining up behind the United States, even though the U.S. is a huge trading partner for Brazil.

Lula has also refused to join Washington and Western Europe in backing endless war in Ukraine, instead calling for a club of nations to mediate peace talks. Lula’s disagreement with Biden was also on display Tuesday as he denounced Washington’s policy toward Cuba, including the blockade, sanctions, and the inclusion of Cuba on the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The main theme of Lula’s address, however, was tackling economic inequality, particularly as related to climate change. He called on rich nations to finally make good on the promise to contribute $100 billion to the developing world.

With his speech, Lula came across as a leader of the Global South in particular and the world in general. He seriously tackled global warming, economic inequality, democracy, and the war in Ukraine, and he laid out reasonable approaches to solving all those problems.

It is unfortunate, for the U.S. and the world, that Biden’s speech to the U.N.’s General Assembly did not rise to the level of Lula’s.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.

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John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.