UN General Assembly Week 2009: What to Watch

UN General Assembly Week 2009: What to Watch

My sympathies are with those who have to drive anywhere in Manhattan this week as the General Assembly gets underway.  In past years I have experienced the privilege of being inside the security cordon and also the inconvenience of being outside it.  But now we can all experience being inside the main public events through the UN Webcast!  The link is here (real player installation needed).  If you are wondering what to watch for, Mark Leon Goldberg has a useful guide over at Foreign Policy.  His top five: The climate change meeting today; President Obama presiding over the Security Council’s Thursday meeting on non-proliferation (the U.S. holds the SC presidency this month); Obama’s address to the GA on Wednesday; Muammar Qaddafi’s appearance at the GA (for antics-watching value, but also to see how Qaddafi fills Libya’s seat on the Council this week); and Hu Jintao’s presence at — indeed, the ubiquity of China’s engagement in — all the events of the week.

President Obama will be watched particularly closely, as it is his first UN GA meeting and the first full roll out of the administration’s UN policy. The “scene-setter” from U.S. UN Ambassador Susan Rice outlining U.S. objectives for the week and the administration’s re-engagement with the UN is here.  Ban-Ki Moon can also expect to be watched closely by both his critics and supporters — particularly for any signs of success at the climate change meeting, an issue on which he has staked a great deal of his political capital.

As Churchill famously said, it is better to “jaw-jaw” than “war-war.”  And there will be plenty of jaw-jawing this week — from the climate meeting, to the GA plenary, to the many bilateral, trilateral and multilateral meetings on the “margins” of the GA, to the G-20 summit opening in Pittsburgh on September 24. One of the core strengths of the admittedly flawed institutional architecture of the UN is its role as the global diplomatic forum.  There is no place in the globe or a date on the calendar that offers the U.S. — or any other state —  the ability to engage more efficiently in the art of face-to-face, high-level diplomacy than the General Assembly week.

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As a Manhattan resident, I have no sympathy for those who have to drive anywhere in Manhattan this week or any week. I suppose that I should pity the feeble-minded, but even I do not have that level of empathy.

(I have even less sympathy for those who ride bikes anywhere in Manhattan, but that’s a different matter.)