The annual “General Debate” at the United Nations General Assembly wraps up today. Looking back, I can hardly think of a more consequential UN Week since the 2005 Summit.
The United Nations demonstrated its value this week as a venue where the world can come together to craft global solutions to some of the world’s most seemingly intractable global problems. Here are three ways the UN proved its relevance last week.
1) The UN provided the venue in which President Barack Obama and President Hassan Rouhani told the world that they were ready for a new chapter in American-Iranian relations. Deeper still, the UN was the platform for the first face-to-face meeting between the US secretary of state and his Iranian counter part, as they engaged in productive negotiations over the nuclear accord. To be sure, these negotiations could have happened anywhere, but the UN Summit provided a ready-made inflection point and both sides–to their great credit — seized it.
2) Just days before the UN summit, it looked like the Russia-USA Syria chemical weapons deal was in tatters. Both sides were holding maximalist bargaining positions. High level negotiations between the Russians and the USA throughout the week chipped away at the distance between the two sides, and by Friday night the Security Council had unanimously approved a resolution authorizing Syria’s weapons be put under international control. The face-to-face meetings at the UN, under the watchful gaze of the world, unstuck two years of paralysis by the Security Council on Syria.
3) Though it did not make many headlines, the UN General Assembly came together in a big way to ensure that environmental sustainability will be fully integrated into the international development agenda when the MDGs expire in 2015. This is a big deal, because leading into a big General Assembly debate on the so-called “Post 2015 Development Agenda” there were some big differences between key member states over whether to keep sustainability separate from traditional anti-poverty and global health goals. At the 11th hour, the General Assembly achieved the necessary consensus to combine the two, providing an international roadmap for the process by which the MDGs will be replaced in two years time.