The UNGA – First Impressions

A step into the General Assembly hall, feels like a step into history. A lone podium stands at the center, framed by emerald marble that betrays its significance. An arched ceiling curves over the iconic UN emblem, overlooking a stage that has hosted world leaders, dictators, nobel prize winners, war criminals and more.  

On the morning of 20th September 2017, I received the privilege of sitting at the general debate of the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly.  With a central mandate focused on peace and sustainability, the second day of the general debate commenced with Finland advocating for conflict prevention and reiterating its commitment towards peace and women’s rights.

As with any political platform, the focus soon shifted from broad statements about peace and security, to the specific dynamics of international affairs. While Finland and Kyrgyzstan began proceedings by identifying multiple global threats (such as climate change), the general theme of the debate focused on concerns about terrorism and nuclear warfare.

Both Finland and Bosnia and Herzegovina condemned the recent nuclear tests conducted by North Korea and emphasized the importance of preventive diplomacy. Following suit, Panama and Paraguay also criticized North Korea’s nuclear aggression and stressed the need to work towards a lasting global peace. However, the most pressing address on the issue came from the Prime Minister of Japan, who chose to focus exclusively on North Korea. Urging the international community to take immediate action, Japan called for the nuclear disarmament of North Korea and emphasized the need to move beyond diplomatic dialogue. Echoing Japanese sentiment, Britain also urged the international community to exert socio-economic pressure and called for the Security Council to take necessary measures against the Pyongyangian threat.

Amidst concerns about nuclear proliferation, Iran took the stage and shifted focus from East Asia to the Middle East. Preaching moderation, Iran insisted that it stood as an advocate for human rights and called for an inclusive global peace.  Directing criticism towards the United States and Israel, Iran spoke against foreign intervention and the subsequent rise of poverty and terrorism in the region. Following Iran, Palestine also directed criticism at alleged Israeli occupation and appealed for continued aid and support from the international community. Rounding off the session, Britain and the president of the European Council, stressed greater leadership within the UN, continued commitment to fighting terrorism and called for ambitious strides towards achieving sustainable development goals.  

When observing state leaders speak in the hallowed halls of recent world history, one could not help but reflect upon the significance of the UNGA. A vital forum for debate, it provides a platform for divergent dialogue under a banner of humanity and global unity.  As a novice to real world international politics, any grandiose optimism about the UN may indicate naivety. However, sitting at arm’s reach from the symbolic center of the world, I couldn’t help but marvel at the inherent endurance of the human spirit. With thousands of years of war, genocide and turmoil behind us, a lone podium, under an iconic emblem, still represented a history of leadership, and a future of hope.