RD Webcast: Ahead of the general debate of the 70th UN General Assembly scheduled to start on Sept. 28, the focus is on the ability of the UN to deal with regional crises and conflicts, especially Ukraine and Syria.

Video by Russia Direct Team

This year’s session of the UN General Assembly in New York is expected to be particularly important and symbolic, and not just because it marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. With the outbreak of new regional crises across the world in recent years the role of the UN has started to be questioned more frequently.

With that in mind, Russia Direct recently asked two leading experts, Richard Gowan and Fyodor Lukyanov, to offer a preview of what to expect from the UN General Assembly this year. Gowan is an adjunct associate professor at Columbia University and a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, while Lukyanov is editor-in-chief of the journal Russia in Global Affairs and chairman of the presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.

One of the main questions raised by both experts was the ability of the UN to deal with regional conflicts, especially since their number in regions such as the Middle East and Eastern Europe has only increased. They argued that the UN should not be blamed for everything, although conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine demonstrate certain weaknesses in how it operates.

Lukyanov claimed in this regard that, “The UN is not an actor per se; the UN is a mirror that reflects the ability or disability of major powers to act together. We cannot demand from the UN to be more efficient than the leading powers, in particular the P5 powers, allow them to be.” “The UN is absolutely indispensable as a forum where solutions should be found. If a solution is not yet available, it is not the UN’s fault,” continued Lukyanov.

One of the most pressing and widely discussed issues of the UN is its reform, especially the reform of the Security Council. Gowan expressed a solid skepticism about ongoing discussion of UN reform and especially about the extension of the Security Council’s permanent membership. “India and Brazil along with Germany and Japan keep on arguing that if they would be permanent members of the Security Council somehow the UN would function much better. But the reality is that UN Security Council reform is politically impossible right now,” argued Gowan.

Lukyanov elaborated further on this issue claiming that, in fact, all five permanent members, despite the big differences they have, are pretty united when it comes to the idea of reforming the UN Security Council. “All of them will do everything to prevent it and it is very natural and understandable as no country with a privilege would voluntarily give it up,” suggested Lukyanov.

Lukyanov offered to imagine hypothetically that the P5 members of the Security Council decided to extend its permanent membership. What then are the criteria for which country to include and which not? He argued that it is impossible to find a way of how to formulate those criteria that everybody could agree upon. Thus, he concluded that the Security Council is unable to be reformed.

Discussing the general role of the UN, Gowan sees that power will flow away not just from the UN Security Council but also from the UN as a whole to regional organizations, while Lukyanov argued that in years to come, the UN General Assembly will take much more of a lead and will try to bypass the Security Council because most of the UN members are dissatisfied that five permanent members have monopolized the veto right.

Asked about what to expect from the UN General Assembly session, which will kick off on Sept. 28, both experts agreed that we should not expect any breakthroughs or harsh rhetoric from Putin, Obama or Xi Jinping.

Gowan suggested that, “What we have to see next week is whether President Putin actually has a plan that everyone can accept for dealing with Syria.” He also claimed that the crisis in Syria, the threat from ISIS and refugee flows into Europe would dominate the agenda of the UN General Assembly addresses.

Lukyanov echoed his counterpart, saying that the Middle East will dominate the speeches of leaders on Sept. 28. He suggested further that Russian President Putin will try to convince the rest of the UN General Assembly that everybody should unite in the fight against ISIS, although Lukyanov noted that the counter-terrorism rhetoric of Putin is not enough anymore as the Islamic State threat is not merely a terrorist threat, it is much broader and of a non-traditional nature.

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