By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer
At the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York, 193 global leaders met for the 70th session of the UN General Assembly. Talks focused largely on climate change and chaos in the Middle East, as the effects of manmade pollution on global warming accelerate and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) wages all-out war.
Established in 1945 to encourage international teamwork, the UN replaced the League of Nations, which had formed in 1920 after World War I and failed to prevent World War II. With the defeat of the Nazi-led Axis nations (Germany, Japan, and Italy) in World War II, the five ‘great powers’ of the victorious Allies (America, Russia, Britain, France, and China) were chosen as permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC).
As one of the UN’s five active branches, the UNSC is charged with maintaining peace and security. It has a total of 15 members, 10 of which are non-permanent and serve two-year terms. Meanwhile, the UN General Assembly is the only branch where all member states have equal representation, kind of like the USA’s Senate in Congress. The three other active bodies of the UN are the Economic and Social Council, the International Court of Justice, and the Secretariat, led by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of South Korea since 2007. The UN Trusteeship Council is the sixth branch, but it has been inactive since 1994, after fulfilling its purpose of managing territories that were taken from the nations defeated in World War II.
At the 70th session of the UN General Assembly, Western leaders like President Barack Obama and his European allies clashed with Russian President Vladimir Putin over territorial conflicts in Ukraine and Syria. For the past 2 years, Putin has been taking over neighboring Ukraine, where he swallowed up its Crimea region with political muscle and armed rebels to fight the pro-Europe government. He’s also backing President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who unleashed chemical weapons on his own people in 2013. Syria is now torn apart by a civil war between Western-backed rebels and al-Assad’s regime, while ISIS takes advantage of the unrest to seize power with its own soldiers. This tragic conflict has resulted in hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees flooding European borders, causing a humanitarian crisis. It doesn’t help that the Islamic State has a strong grip on nearby Iraq, where American troops withdrew in 2011 and former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki had angered much of the population.
So, why is Putin wrestling with the USA and Europe over Ukraine and Syria? Well, it’s looking a lot like the Cold War from 1947 to 1991, when the pro-communist government of Soviet Russia competed with the pro-capitalist USA for global influence.
Communists believe the government should heavily control businesses and spread wealth more evenly among people, whereas capitalists believe in trade and industry that is privately owned for profit.
Cold War bickering nearly led to global nuclear destruction during the Cuban Missile Crisis, where Soviet-allied Cuban dictator Fidel Castro harbored nukes a mere 110 miles from American soil. The Soviet Union eventually crumbled in 1991, thanks to the efforts of presidents like John F. Kennedy, who defeated the Russians in a high-tech Space Race to the Moon, and Ronald Reagan, who helped bring down the Berlin Wall that split Germany into communist and non-communist halves. Putin had served for 16 years as a KGB agent, the hardcore spies of the Soviet Union, before rising to power over the past 2 decades. Now, he’s making moves that resemble Cold War era drama, and he’s even teaming up with other countries like communist China. Putin also stirred the pot during the UN General Assembly, when he ordered Russia’s first airstrikes in Syria. He claimed the attacks eliminated ISIS targets, but American officials disagreed with his true intentions.
On the bright side, USA-Cuba diplomatic relations were re-established recently, following a decades-long ‘trade embargo’ that restricted commerce between the two countries. Obama and President Raúl Castro, who took over for his sick brother in 2006, held historic talks last fall thanks to behind-the-scenes efforts that involved Pope Francis. Their embassies were officially reopened this summer, as John Kerry became the first American Secretary of State to visit the island nation in 70 years. Obama and Castro met at the 70th UN General Assembly, deepening ties as they shook hands and smiled for the cameras.
While Obama didn’t shake hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, they recently negotiated a historic nuclear deal after decades of cut ties and economic warfare. However, Obama reportedly did shake hands with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The nuclear deal has caused controversy among critics in both the USA and Iran, but supporters say it will limit Iran’s ability to create a nuclear weapon over the next 10 years while boosting their economy with reduced sanctions.
During his speech at the UN, Rouhani said, “We will not forget the past, but we do not wish to live in the past. We will not forget war and sanctions, but we look to peace and development.”
If there’s one goal most of the UN members agreed on, it’s the ambitious 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which hopes to reduce mankind’s impact on the environment and end poverty.
“We owe this and much more to the vulnerable, the oppressed, the displaced and the forgotten people in our world,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “We owe this to a world where inequality is growing, trust is fading, and impatience with leadership can be seen and felt far and wide.” Chinese President Xi Jinping, who made his first state visit to the USA ahead of the 70th UN General Assembly, explained that “we should care for nature and not place ourselves above it. We should reconcile industrial development with nature.” Then, French President François Hollande pledged $5.6 billion by 2020 to battle climate change, and he believes there is “a great deal of work” to be done when nations gather at the upcoming Paris climate summit in November. Pope Francis also pushed for greater resources to heal the planet and uplift the impoverished, during his visit to the USA. See, as pollution increases global warming by trapping the Sun’s heat like a blanket in the atmosphere, wild weather patterns have swept across the Earth, causing everything from polar vortexes to record-breaking heat waves. This climate change is especially harsh on developing countries, where citizens are hardest hit by environmental upheaval.
Images courtesy of the United Nations.