World will hold its breath as Trump gives his first ad­dress to the United Na­tions

US pres­i­dent could dom­i­nate agenda, given his habit of veer­ing off script

The Irish Times - - World News - Suzanne Lynch

World at­ten­tion will turn to New York next week when the Gen­eral Assem­bly of the United Na­tions meets for its 72nd ses­sion.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from more than 190 coun­tries – in­clud­ing Ire­land’s Min­is­ter for For­eign Af­fairs Si­mon Coveney and Min­is­ter of State Ciarán Can­non – will at­tend the an­nual event, although al­ready there have been some high-pro­file can­cel­la­tions.

Aung San Suu Kyi has an­nounced she will not at­tend, as in­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion of Myan­mar’s treat­ment of its Ro­hingya Mus­lim mi­nor­ity grows. The UN has de­scribed the vi­o­lence in the coun­try as eth­nic cleans­ing, and the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil is due to de­bate the is­sue on Wed­nes­day.

Although Myan­mar is likely to be one of sev­eral in­ter­na­tional crises to top the agenda, much of the fo­cus is ex­pected to be on US pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who will give his first ad­dress to the UN on Tues­day. Given his pre­vi­ous com­ments on the UN – in De­cem­ber he dis­missed the or­gan­i­sa­tion as a “club” for peo­ple to “have a good time” – his first speech to the assem­bly has been highly an­tic­i­pated.

Given his habit of veer­ing off script, Trump’s re­marks could dom­i­nate the agenda at next week’s meet­ing. Any re­marks about North Korea or in­sight into his think­ing on the Iran nu­clear deal will be watched closely.

Much spec­u­la­tion has been made about Trump’s lo­gis­ti­cal plans. It ap­pears that the US pres­i­dent will not stay at his home in Trump Tower, on Fifth Av­enue, but re­side in­stead at his golf club at Bed­min­ster, in New Jer­sey.

It is un­clear how many na­tional del­e­ga­tions will be keen to make the trip across the Hud­son river for face time with the pres­i­dent – for many the real point of the an­nual gath­er­ing.

Small states

But while Trump’s com­ments are likely to shape the agenda for the week, the Gen­eral Assem­bly of­fers an op­por­tu­nity for all mem­bers, in­clud­ing small states such as Ire­land, to set out their stall and try to in­flu­ence global pol­icy. This year’s net­work­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties will be par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant for Ire­land, which is seek­ing to se­cure one of the 10 seats on the se­cu­rity coun­cil in 2021 and 2022.

UN mem­ber­ship has long been a cru­cial strand of Ire­land’s for­eign pol­icy. Like the EU, the UN is seen as an im­por­tant mul­ti­lat­eral fo­rum that al­lows small states to have a voice in global pol­i­cy­mak­ing. Ire­land’s in­volve­ment in UN peace­keep­ing ef­forts and its work with UN agen­cies on de­vel­op­ment aid have been two of the most tan­gi­ble ways it has in­ter­acted with the in­sti­tu­tion since join­ing, in 1955.

Through­out the decades it has also worked to ad­vance and make an im­pact on nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment, peace­keep­ing, hu­man rights and other pol­icy pri­or­i­ties. Next week Coveney will at­ten d a sign­ing cer­e­mony for the Treaty on the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Nu­clear Weapons. The cer­e­mony, on Wed­nes­day morn­ing, is an im­por­tant mo­ment for Ire­land. Along with Aus­tria, Brazil, Mex­ico, Nige­ria and South Africa, it cospon­sored the res­o­lu­tion, which was adopted in July by the UN, with the back­ing of 122 coun­tries.

Build­ing on the prin­ci­ples of the UN Treaty on the Non-Pro­lif­er­a­tion of Nu­clear Weapons of 1958 – it­self a re­sult of an Ir­ish-led ini­tia­tive – the new agree­ment pledges to out­law nu­clear weapons. Its lim­i­ta­tions are ob­vi­ous. Given the ten­sions be­tween North Korea and the US, talk of abol­ish­ing nu­clear weapons seems ab­surd. All five per­ma­nent mem­bers of the se­cu­rity coun­cil, as well as Nato coun­tries, voted against the res­o­lu­tion in July. In a joint state­ment af­ter the vote, the US, France and Bri­tain said: “We do not in­tend to sign, rat­ify or ever be­come party to it,” adding that it “clearly dis­re­gards the re­al­i­ties of the in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment”.

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The pres­i­dent will not stay at his home in Trump Tower on 5th Av­enue, but will in­stead re­side at his golf club

Nu­clear weapons

But the new agree­ment is the first legally bind­ing treaty out­law­ing nu­clear weapons, putting them on a par with chem­i­cal and bi­o­log­i­cal weapons. By for­mal­is­ing op­po­si­tion to nu­clear weapons through a res­o­lu­tion backed by 122 coun­tries, the treaty also brings in­ter­na­tional pres­sure to bear on nu­clear-armed coun­tries, forc­ing them to jus­tify their re­ten­tion of their arse­nals.

In this sense the nu­clear-pro­hi­bi­tion treaty is a good ex­am­ple of both the lim­i­ta­tions and the pos­si­bil­i­ties that char­ac­terise an in­sti­tu­tion like the United Na­tions, where smaller coun­tries some­times find it dif­fi­cult to in­flu­ence and shape the pol­icy de­ci­sions of larger na­tions, par­tic­u­larly the five per­ma­nent se­cu­rity-coun­cil mem­bers.

Treaties such as the new nu­clear-pro­hi­bi­tion agree­ment show the soft power that all mem­bers of the UN can bring to bear when they work col­lec­tively, and how the UN can help hold the world’s big­gest for­eign-pol­icy play­ers to ac­count.

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