MARCH 7, 2020


Nelson Mandela was the last unifying national leader with international credentials. An emerging number of heads of state and government seem more inclined to selfies.

A recent meeting of the United Nations General Assembly witnessed a fundamental contradiction of basic perceptions between senior participants who traditionally may differ on foreign policy issues, yet agree on the main principals of the U.N. Charter. An inclusive framework of balanced international collaboration negotiated after a devastating World War seems challenged in a new divisive world disorder. Making public policy is increasingly replaced by taking a personal posture.

In a wider international context, however, selfies will need to consider practical facts. Winning a needed perceptive audience from different continents of varied cultures requires dealing jointly with pressing issues of mutual concern across national borders, like climate change, drug smuggling, armed conflicts, natural disasters and terrorism. Vested national interest over decades will always have an impact on any leader's presentation, however personal. Brazil, for example, earned its spot as traditional first opening Assembly speech because of its habitually positive role in collaborating effectively with all other countries, while maintaining its national sovereignty.

President Bolsonaro, who gladly warmed the audience for the next speaker, the U.S. President, had to consider the public perception of his own position as head of a traditionally highly-regarded "U.N. country". Whatever his previously announced view of the U.N, President Trump officially represented the Host Country, a Founding Member that helped draft the U.N. Charter and is a Permanent Member of the Security Council. He also happened to be the first President from New York, the Host City which, in addition to the leverage and prestige of having the Headquarters on its East River, gains billions of dollars from rentals and expenses of agencies, staff, inter-governmental organizations, delegates from 193 member states, officials attending meetings and visitors holding events or staying at residences including the Trump World Tower across the street.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson had an opportunity to hold a first meeting with his admiring U.S. president and with President Erdogan of Turkey, his grandfather's homeland. Regardless of populist rhetoric, the UK is a Permanent Member with outstanding contributions to the U.N. which held its first meeting in London. It has essential political commercial and cultural links worldwide, particularly with Commonwealth Countries, including Nigeria which is ably represented by the President of the General Assembly Ambassador Tijjani Mohammad, who gave him the forum to speak.

There is more to the U.N. than meets the eye of the camera. When key countries decided to work together, its relevant Peacekeeping won a Noble Prize. Lack of agreement is blatantly reflected in the Field. Tragic conflicts are hopelessly extended by internal proxies for external competitors. Lobbyists and contracted fighters are more interested in continued payment than terminating settlement. Over 80 envoys in various continents have been trying in vain to accomplish a semblance of truce. Over Libya, six mediators have changed in less than five years. Five rotated on Syria starting with top Algerian negotiator Lakhdar Brahimi and the highly accomplished former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who swiftly perceived an impossible internal task in the absence of an international consensus.

Obviously, there are no victors; only victims yearning for decent life with human dignity.

While more selfies and no halos would play a relevant role in handling increasingly challenging issues at the U.N., a main practical question for New Yorkers remains about road traffic.