Each new session of the United General Assembly in September opens with much fanfare. Not much is achieved at the UN except that leaders of different countries get an opportunity to talk about their pet subject. Few people, whether inside or outside the assembly chambers, pay the slightest attention.
Each new session of the United General Assembly in September opens with much fanfare. Not much is achieved at the UN except that leaders of different countries get an opportunity to talk about their pet subject. Few people, whether inside or outside the assembly chambers, pay the slightest attention. It is understandable for Western rulers to come and prattle on about the world order and their superior place in it. After all, it is they who crafted this “order” and they who want to make sure those potentially uppity others know their place in this hierarchy. But what attracts leaders from “Third World” countries, especially in Africa and Asia to the UN General Assembly? They could save much cash by staying away from this spectacle. Why do they want to be seen rubbing shoulders with other world leaders?
For most “Third World” leaders, presence at the UN is a way to boost their sagging popularity at home. Without exception, every ruler is accompanied by a huge entourage of cameramen that record their every word and movement as they strut about the UN. This is projected back home to show how important they are. Being photographed with the US president or the UN Secretary General can work wonders for most rulers that ordinarily would not be allowed anywhere near the White House outer gate. Thus, a visit to the UN is a ritual they must participate in to enhance their standing at home.
Each year, the UN session also has an overall theme. This year, the main talk was about reducing global poverty. There is nothing wrong with it except that those who talk about reducing poverty in the world are the biggest contributors to such inequalities and polarization. The extravagant lifestyle of the West led by the US and the endless wars they wage to grab the resources of other people are directly responsible for this sorry state. In 2000, it was announced at the UN that world poverty would be halved by the year 2015. Last month, it was announced with much fanfare that the plan to halve global poverty was on target. How and why was not explained.
There are at least 1.2 billion people living in absolute poverty globally today. There are also different scales of poverty assessment. In the US, poverty is defined as a family with an annual income of less than $30,000. For most people in the “Third World”, this would be a life’s dream. Poverty in places like India, Pakistan or Africa is defined as people earning $2 per day, a grand total of $730 annually. For these people even one meal a day is a huge blessing.
Rattling off statistics about poverty reduction while sitting in the plush surroundings of the UN plaza can please those reciting this mantra, the reality on the ground is lived by real people. The recent recession in most Western countries has also led to a major rise in food and fuel prices. Several of the original eight goals, such as slashing maternal and child mortality, will probably not be met. There are other caveats as well: global population does not remain static. Population growth will add to the number of absolute poor. There is a racist notion in the West that people in “Third World” countries produce too many children. While it is true that there are more people in the “Third World”, their total consumption is insignificant compared to those living in the West. It is the extravagant lifestyle of the West — for instance, North America with a 5% population, consumes 40% of the world energy resources — that is directly responsible for growing global poverty and inequality.
To make real progress in the world economically and politically, some practical steps need to be taken immediately. First, the unjust system of permanent members of the UN Security Council must be abolished. Who gave these warmongers the right to determine how the rest of the world should behave? Second, there should be an immediate agreement to cut food and fuel consumption in the West. Third, there should be a total ban on all nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. This must be complied with by all countries, starting with the US and its militaristic allies. The trillions of dollars spent on weapons production are the single most important contributor to wars worldwide. Violators should be tried as war criminals. Without these basic steps, all pronouncements about poverty reduction are smoke signals substituting for substantive action.