BY ALEX BALUKU
UNITED NATIONS, September 19, 2023 – President Joe Biden’s address to the United Nations General Assembly not only underscored the importance of global unity in defending Ukraine against Russian aggression but also emphasized the need for international cooperation on pressing issues such as climate change and diplomacy. In his speech, President Biden sought to rally support for Ukraine, promote responsible competition with China, and highlight the urgency of climate action while reaffirming the United States’ commitment to democratic values.
Defending Ukraine and Global Unity
President Biden opened his address with a passionate plea for the international community to stand united in defense of Ukraine against Russia’s ongoing aggression. He warned that allowing Ukraine to be “carved up” would threaten the independence and security of all nations. The U.S. President argued that Russia’s obstruction was the primary obstacle to a resolution and urged world leaders not to let support for Ukraine wane.
His forceful rhetoric on Ukraine was not only directed at a global audience but also aimed at Washington, where a growing isolationist sentiment within the Republican Party poses a challenge to securing additional aid for Ukraine. President Biden’s administration has requested an additional $24 billion in security and humanitarian aid for Ukraine, but the Republican-controlled House has largely ignored the request, highlighting the divisions within the U.S. government regarding support for Ukraine.
While some House Republicans oppose increased aid to Ukraine, President Biden emphasized the need to deter future aggressors and reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to standing with Ukraine in its fight for sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Challenges Beyond Ukraine
President Biden’s message extended beyond the conflict in Ukraine. It included a broader focus on the geopolitical challenges faced by the United States and the world. The President pointed to the South China Sea, where competing territorial claims have led to tensions, and China’s desire to reunite with Taiwan, which raises concerns about potential conflicts.
Biden acknowledged the need for responsible competition with China rather than outright decoupling, emphasizing cooperation on climate change as a common ground. The President stressed the importance of climate action, referencing recent natural disasters worldwide as a stark reminder of the consequences of failing to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
Despite his commitment to addressing climate change, President Biden chose not to attend a special climate summit hosted by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. Instead, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry represented the United States at the summit, reflecting the administration’s approach to climate diplomacy.
The Value of International Institutions and Democracy
Throughout his speech, President Biden reaffirmed the value of international institutions and coalitions in addressing global challenges. He highlighted the role these institutions have played in combating poverty, disease, and other critical issues. Additionally, President Biden emphasized the importance of defending democracy as a cornerstone of his presidency.
“We will not retreat from the values that make us strong,” Biden asserted. He reiterated the United States’ commitment to democracy, framing it as the best tool to confront global challenges effectively. This theme underscored the President’s belief in the power of diplomacy and cooperation to resolve international conflicts and crises.
A Message to Domestic Audiences
While addressing the global audience at the UN General Assembly, President Biden also had domestic considerations in mind. His speech aimed to demonstrate to U.S. voters that he has effectively managed a complex foreign policy agenda, leveraging his extensive experience to address global challenges.
At 80 years old, President Biden is keen to counter skepticism about his age, particularly within his own Democratic Party. By showcasing his foreign policy prowess and commitment to democratic values, he aims to reassure voters that his leadership remains steady and competent.
Key Absences and Emphasis on Participation
Notably absent from the General Assembly were British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, French President Emmanuel Macron, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Russian President Vladimir Putin—the leaders of the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. U.S. officials downplayed their absence and highlighted President Biden’s commitment to participating in the annual diplomatic forum.
For President Biden, the significance of his address lies in demonstrating U.S. leadership on the world stage, which he believes diminished during the previous administration. His attendance at the UN General Assembly serves as a testament to his commitment to international cooperation and diplomacy.
Strengthening International Partnerships
President Biden also outlined the partnerships that the U.S. government has been fostering globally, spanning from Africa to the Indo-Pacific. These partnerships, he argued, have led to advancements in economic cooperation and security. However, he clarified that these relationships were not about “containing any country,” a reference to concerns about China’s expansion.
Biden underscored the need for responsible competition with China, emphasizing the importance of managing competition to prevent it from escalating into conflict. He reiterated his support for de-risking rather than decoupling with China, underscoring the need for cooperation on climate change and other global challenges.
Focus on Diplomacy and Climate Action
In his 30-minute address, President Biden sent a clear message: diplomacy, international cooperation, and climate action are at the forefront of his administration’s agenda. While acknowledging the challenges posed by global conflicts and climate change, Biden’s speech reinforced the United States’ commitment to upholding democratic values and engaging with the world on critical issues.
As President Biden continues to navigate complex international relations, his address at the UN General Assembly serves as a reminder of his vision for a united and cooperative world, where diplomacy and collaboration prevail over aggression and isolationism.