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UNGA 76:  Biden pledges ‘relentless diplomacy’ to tackle global challenges

President Joe Biden of America addressing the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York
President Joe Biden of America addressing the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York

By Cecilia Ologunagba

New York, Sept. 21, 2021

U.S. President,  Joe Biden on Tuesday, called for a new era of global unity against  COVID-19, climate change and insecurity.

Biden made the call in his inaugural address to the annual gathering of world leaders at the UN General Debate of the 76th session of the General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York.

“Simply put, we stand at an inflection point in history. We must work together as never before,” he said.

Biden assured the leaders that the U.S. intended  to partner with allies to help lead the world towards a more peaceful, prosperous future for all people.

Noting that governments must continue to work together to build on international law to “deliver equitable prosperity, peace and security for everyone”, he described the endeavour as being “as vital and important today as it was 76 years ago”.

President Biden defended his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, driving home a message that this had opened a new chapter of intensive American diplomacy.

The use of force should be “our tool of last resort, not our first”, he said, arguing in favour of recalibrating priorities away from two decades of wars toward newly emerging threats.

He underscored that the world must choose between democracy and autocracy, indicating the stark difference since the Taliban again, took control of Kabul and reversed 20 years of democratic gains.

“Today, many of our greatest concerns cannot be solved or even addressed by the force of arms”, he stated, reminding that “bombs and bullets cannot defend against COVID-19 or its future variants”.

Lamenting some 4.5 million COVID-19 related deaths worldwide, the President referred to each as “an individual heartbreak” and upheld the need to “act now to get shots in arms as fast as possible and expand access to oxygen, tests, treatments to save lives around the world.”

He noted that U.S. planes carrying vaccines,  landed in more than 100 countries, offering a “dose of hope”, and said that he would be announcing additional vaccine commitments soon.

Biden also called for a new global health mechanism to finance global health security and a global health threat council to stay ahead of emerging pandemics.

Without criticising his predecessor, the President stressed that the Biden administration had shifted away from an ‘America first’ style of diplomacy toward one of multilateralism.

“We’re back at the table in international forums, especially the United Nations, to focus attention and to spur global action on shared challenges,” he said.

He pointed to the U.S. re-engagement with the UN World Health Organisation (WHO); participation in the COVAX vaccine initiative “to deliver life-saving vaccines around the world”; re-joining the Paris climate agreement; and preparing to run for a seat on the Human Rights Council in 2022.

Zeroing-in on the “borderless” climate crisis, Biden said that all nations needed to bring “their highest possible ambitions” to the UN climate conference (COP26) in November.

He also elaborated on a new U.S. goal under the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gases to 50 per cent,  below 2005 levels by 2030 and talked about investments under discussion with Congress, including for “green infrastructure and electric vehicles”.

The U.S. President said that the world faced a choice between the democratic values espoused by the West and the disregard for them by authoritarian governments.

He upheld that the U.S. was moving into a “new era of relentless diplomacy” as it tackled emerging technological threats and the expansion of autocratic nations.

While vowing not to pursue “a new Cold War, or a world divided into rigid blocks”, Biden maintained that the U.S would oppose attempts by “stronger countries to dominate weaker ones”.

The U.S would “lead with our values and our strength to stand up for our allies and our friends,” he said.

And as the U.S. sought  to rally the world to action, Biden assured, “we will lead not just with the example of our power, but God willing, the power of our example”.

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