Warning against those who advocate authoritarianism and a return to the era of “might makes right” in the face of global disorder, United States President Barak Obama today gave a ringing endorsement of the lasting universality of the United Nations principles of freedom, prosperity and equality for all.
“There are those who argue that the ideals enshrined in the UN charter are unachievable or out of date – a legacy of a post-war era not suited to our own,” he told the General Debate on the opening day of the high-level segment of the Assembly’s 70th annual session, citing what he referred to as Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the call by some to support “tyrants like Bashar al-Assad, who drops barrel bombs to massacre innocent children,” since the alternative is worse.
“Effectively, they argue for a return to the rules that applied for most of human history and that pre-dated this institution: the belief that power is a zero sum game; that might makes right; that strong States must impose their will on weaker ones; that the rights of individuals don't matter; and that in a time of rapid change, order must be imposed by force,” he said.
“But I stand before you today believing to my core that we, the nations of the world, cannot return to the old way of conflict and coercion. We live in an integrated world – one in which we all have a stake in each other's success, and we cannot turn those forces back,” he stressed.
“It is this international order that has underwritten unparalleled advances in human liberty and prosperity. It is this endeavour that has brought about diplomatic cooperation between the world's major powers, and buttressed a global economy that has lifted more than a billion people from poverty.
“It is these international principles that have helped constrain bigger countries from imposing our will on smaller ones, and advanced the emergence of democracy, development, and individual liberty on every continent.”
Turning to specifics, Mr. Obama said the US imposed sanctions on Russia when Ukrainian sovereignty is “flagrantly violated” since doing nothing would encourage the violation of the territorial integrity of any UN Member State.
“Now, imagine if Russia had engaged in true diplomacy, and worked with Ukraine and the international community to ensure its interests were protected,” he declared.
“That would be better for Ukraine, for Russia, and for the world – which is why we continue to press for this crisis to be resolved in a way that allows a sovereign and democratic Ukraine to determine its future and control its own territory; not because we want to isolate Russia, but because we want a strong Russia that is invested in working with us to strengthen the international system.”
On the contradictory territorial claims by China and neighbouring countries in the South China Sea, he appealed for a recourse to international law, not the law of force, for a peaceful resolution.
He recognized that diplomacy is hard, but highlighted the recent international nuclear agreement with Iran and the rapprochement between the US and Cuba as examples of the primacy of dialogue.
Mr. Obama touted the role the UN can play in countering climate change, eradicating extreme poverty, and slashing preventable diseases, called for compassion in dealing with the current flood of refugees, and stressed the need for genuine democracy and respect “for the universal values this institution is supposed to defend.”
“Some universal truths are self-evident,” he declared. “No person wants to be imprisoned for peaceful worship. No woman should ever be abused with impunity or barred from going to school. The freedom to peacefully petition those in power – without fear of arbitrary laws – these are not ideas of one country or one culture. They are fundamental to human progress, and to the ideals of the United Nations.”