The United States and Britain have a long history of political animosity dating back to the 18th Century War of Independence but the strong cultural ties between the two countries have obscured that record. Modern transatlantic differences first came into focus in August 1941, when Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874-1965) and President Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945) met on a battleship anchored in Newfoundland’s Placentia Bay to declare a set of common war aims. Read More
19 December 2016: In a resolution on the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund the General Assembly expresses concern that it suffered $3.4 billion in losses due to foreign exchange factors during the 2014-2015 biennium. It urges the Secretary-General to "employ suitable procedures and tools to mitigate foreign exchange losses as well as develop an internal mechanism to monitor, evaluate and manage" such losses or gains. Read More
13 September 2016: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein opened the 33rd session of the UN Human Rights Council by complaining about"an emerging pattern: the growing refusal on the part of an increasing number of Member States to grant OHCHR, or the human rights mechanisms, access" when it "is requested explicitly, or in other instances to engage with us." Read more
13 May 2017: The following list reflects information published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
TOP STATE MILITARY SPENDERS
%GDP Per Capita $ Billion % Increase $ 2007-2016
United States 3.3 1886 611 4.8
China 1.9 156 215 118
Russia 5.3 483 69.2 87
Saudi Arabia 10.0 1978 63.7 20
India 2.5 42 55.9 54
France 2.3 862 55.7 2.8
Britain 1.9 741 48.3 12
Japan 1.0 365 46.1 2.5
Germany 1.2 509 41.1 6.8
South Korea 2.7 729 36.8 35
Italy 1.5 467 27.9 16
Australia 2.0 1013 24.6 29
Brazil 1.3 113 23.7 18
UAE 5.7 2504 22.8 123
Israel 5.8 2194 18.0 19
TOP ARMS MANUFACTURERS
Corporation HQ Arms Sales #Employees
Lockheed Martin USA 36.44* 126,000
Boeing USA 27.96 `61,000
BAE Systems UK 25.51 82,000
Raytheon USA 21.78 61,000
Northrop Grumman USA 20.06 65,000
General Dynamics USA 19.24 99,900
Airbus Group Europe 12.86* 136,500
United Technologies USA 9.50* 197,200
Leonardo** Italy 9.30 47,160
L3 Communications USA 8.77 38,000
Thales France 8.10 62,190
Huntington Ingalls USA 6.74 35,500
Almaz-Antey Russia 6.62 N/A
Safran France 5.02 70,090
Harris USA 4.92 21,000
* They have large non-military revenues ** Formerly Finmeccanica
Miroslav Lajčák, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Slovakia, was elected President of the 72nd session of the General Assembly on 31 May 2017. For details see here.
Dates of Assembly Debates Until 2026
The first Information document of the 71st session of the General Assembly lists the dates of annual 9-day opening debates until 2026. A/INf/71/1 of 12 January 2017 provides the following information:
72nd session opens 12 September 2017; General Debate begins 19 September
73rd session opens 18 September 2018; General Debate begins 25 September
73rd session opens 17 September 2019; General Debate begins 30 September
74th session opens 15 September 2020; General Debate begins 22 September
76th session opens 14 September 2021; General Debate begins 21 September
77th session opens 13 September 2022; General Debate begins 20 September
78th session opens 12 September 2023; General Debate begins 25 September
79th session begins 17 September 2024; General Debate begins 24 September
80th session opens 16 September 2025; General Debate begins 23 September
81st session opens 15 September 2026; General Debate begins 22 September
If you read our coverage of the high-level UN proceedings in 2016, it will be clear that they do not add much value to the consideration of various issues. The story on the Outcome document of the 2017 (above) indicates that will be true also of proceedings in 2017.
INDEPENDENT NEWS AND COMMENT ON WORLD AFFAIRS
Tiny satellites are coming into their own as the need for cheap earth observation systems booms.
2 September 2016: A year after the General Assembly adopted “Agenda 2030” as the global plan of action for the next 15 years the project is appearing increasingly Utopian. Read More
Chinese genocide in Tibet draws rare UN protest Read More
Chinese actions recall 1961 General Assembly resolution on Tibet self-determination
August 2016: On 27 July, in a little noted decision on "Cartography," the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) made a change that will have more impact on the future of Sustainable Development than all the meetings of its High Level Political Forum. Read More
ECOSOC Ministers to World :
10 August 2017: The orotund 5,117-word Declaration issued by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) at its high-level political forum in July has now been published, and is notable for not containing a single word about action against drug trafficking, money laundering or organized crime.
Those are the most important factors fueling conflict and humanitarian crises around the world, and are thus primary obstacles to sustainable development (covered under Goal 16 of Agenda 2030). The Secretary-General's report presented to ECOSOC did not mention them, and the Ministerial failure to rectify that in the Declaration is significant.
Fortunately, in taking note of the Secretary-General's report, the ministers "Reiterate that, while our review in 2017 emphasizes Sustainable Development Goals 1, 2, 3, 5, 9 and 14, as well as Goal 17, the integrated, indivisible and universal nature of the Goals makes it essential that we pay particular attention to leveraging synergies and co-benefits, while avoiding or minimizing trade-offs."
That can be taken as a shot across the Secretariat's bow that Goal 16 better feature in its next report.
Why is the UN Silent?
The reticence of the UN Secretariat in dealing with drug trafficking, organized crime and money laundering is not difficult to explain: they are fiercely protected interests of the United Kingdom, carried over from the days of Empire when it fought two major "Opium Wars."
As its colonies dwindled in the 1960s and 1970s, Britain built up a global system of "tax havens" to launder the proceeds of its extensive drug trafficking network. That system developed into the central element of global organized crime networks, serving gun runners, human traffickers, garden variety smugglers and a wide variety of tax dodgers as revealed in the 2016 dump of 11.5 million "Panama Papers."
Britain can manipulate the UN to protect its interests because it has a superb diplomatic service that is miles ahead of any other in jockeying for bureaucratic advantage. It also has a vulture-like range in detecting corruptible talent. Officials who do its bidding are rewarded with easy promotions and plum assignments; those with integrity find themselves sidelined.
The Segue of Amina Mohammad
The most prominent example of that phenomenon recently has been the segue of Amina Mohammad from coordinating the negotiation of Agenda 2030 to the office of Deputy Secretary-General. As coordinator she ensured that the issues of drug trafficking, money laundering and terrorism were contained to one sub-paragraph of Goal 16. Now, as the official overseeing reports of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Agenda 2030 Ms. Mohammad is in a position to omit all mention of the inconvenient issues.
That has happened at a time when the African Group repeatedly underlined the need to deal with the illicit drain of resources from developing countries, and the Latin American Group mounted a multi-year effort to change the prohibitionist international approach to drugs.
The Potential of Agenda 2030
Agenda 2030 has the potential to present money laundering and drug trafficking as interdependent issues. If governments approach them as legal issues, abolishing "tax havens" (which should be more appropriately called "criminal havens") and decriminalizing drugs, it would pull the rug out from under the entire international economy of crime, violence and war.
Without the current prohibitionist approach, drug trafficking would not be profitable to organized crime for most psychotropic substances are cheap vegetable derivatives not worth pushing. The decriminalization of drugs would thus quickly render the problem of abuse a manageable mental health issue.
As drug trafficking is a major source of income for terrorist groups and all crime is heavily dependent on money laundering, a comprehensive approach to those issues would also quickly make arms trafficking and supporting conflict very difficult.
28 July 2017: One of China's richest men, Ng Lap Seng, was convicted yesterday in a New York federal court on six counts of bribery, conspiracy and money laundering. Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said that Ng had corrupted United Nations officials at the "highest levels" to become his "private band of profiteers."
The prosecution charged that Ng had tried between 2010 and 2015 to hijack to China the role of the UN Office of South-South Cooperation (SSC) in New York. He was accused of paying millions of dollars to the President of the General Assembly, John Ashe, and Dominican Republic Ambassador Francis Lorenzo, in a bid to have the General Assembly endorse his plan to build a South-South conference center in Macau, where he owned a hotel, a marina, a condominium complex, a heliport and a shopping center.
Ashe and Lorenzo were arrested in October 2015; both were released on bail, the former pleading not guilty and the latter pleading guilty. Ng was also arrested and has been under house arrest in his luxury Manhattan apartment. After the conviction, Ng's lawyer announced that it would be appealed.
Meanwhile: Another Deal that Needs Attention
While the Ng case been in the courts, the UN Development Program (UNDP) has signed a "Partnership Agreement" on South-South Cooperation with a Chinese law firm (sic). On 21 November 2016, UNDP and the Beijing Yingke Law Firm, which describes itself as "the biggest own-operated law firm in Asia Pacific," agreed "to support the global coalition of think tank networks to expand research and knowledge production and sharing for South-South Cooperation underpinning the implementation of the 2030 Agenda."
"The partnership will also support deepening the understanding of legal environment and policy coordination related to South-South and Triangular Cooperation." At a signing ceremony in New York, Sarah Poole, Deputy Director of UNDP’s Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, emphasized the "importance of strengthening the legal environment and policy coordination for effective South-South and Triangular Cooperation, saying “In South-South Cooperation, it is often the public-private partnership at play that implements strategic programmes across developing countries.”
China's Disrespect of Law
Ms Poole did not address the issue of China's disrespect for law in its domestic governance and in its relations with other developing countries in iSout-East Asia, the Tibetan plateau and South Asia.
According to a UNDP Press release, "policy coordination and the legal environment for South-South cooperation is one of the priority research pillars of the South-South Global Thinkers Initiative -- the Global Coalition of Think Tank Networks for South-South Cooperation supported by UNDP and the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC)."
"The Global Coalition was established to foster engagement of the think tank networks of the South on harnessing knowledge and innovative solutions to advance frontier thinking and policy advocacy in South-South Cooperation for sustainable development."
Mr. Xiangrong Mei, Chairman of Yingke Global Board speaking at the signing ceremony, expressed gratitude at "the opportunity to partner with the South-South Global Thinkers initiative., and said his firm would continue contributing "support, knowledge, and expertise to South-South Cooperation" for sustainable development goals ."
Also present at the ceremony was Mr. Jorge Chediek, Envoy of the UN Secretary General and Director of the UN Office for South-South Cooperation.
No one present expressed an opinion on whether the United Nations should be opening the door to a critically important international development process for a "law firm" from a brutally lawless country. Given Mr. Ng's criminal conviction and the clear effort by the Chinese government to gain a potentially deeply negative strategic role in South-South Cooperation, the matter deserves focused attention at the next meeting of the General Assembly's High-Level Committee on SSC.
27 July 2017: A global town hall convened yesterday by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to reassure UN staff about his stewardship of the Organization proved roundly counterproductive. If anything, his performance made it clear they should buckle their seatbelts.
The red lights began to flash with Mr. Guterres' opening statement in which he declared dislike of reform and preference for being "in the field" where he thought the real work of the Organization was done.
His view of the United Nations as "a field-based Organization" was based on the fact that "two-thirds of [UN] staff are in the field." That is a massive misinterpretation, for the disproportionate field presence merely reflects the UN's consistent failure to maintain international peace and security that has made peacekeeping such a large and staple activity.
Reform Issues Seen as Logistical
Several other assertions reflected a similar lack of cognizance. One was his belief that the primary problems to be addressed by reforms were managerial and logistical. He enumerated them as over-centralized management, slow program delivery, structural fragmentation, weak performance, ineffective implementation and lack of transparency.
There was no mention of the Organization's precarious political predicament during a period of global economic, social and technological change. A murky reference to the visit to Moscow of Under-Secretary-General Shiv Khare for "negotiations" might have have been a reference to Mr. Guterres' current predicament -(see 21 July story below) but it is difficult to say.
Lack of Trust
One political concern Mr. Guterres did mention as meriting attention under the rubric of reform was the "lack of trust" of Member States in UN Management. He did so without noting its genesis or significance. The problem is rooted in the traditional unresponsiveness of UN brass to the concerns of developing countries which constitute the preponderant majority of UN membership.
Under his predecessor and on his own watch, the phenomenon has been most blatant in the UN's disregard for the linked issues of terrorism, drug trafficking and money laundering that are of high concern to developing countries. Just last week the Secretary-General's benchmark report on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda omitted all mention of those issues despite the fact that Goal 16 requires it.
Failure to See Basic Realities
Mr. Guterres signalled his incognizance of basic UN realities in a number of ways. Why couldn't the UN budget process be annual as in "every country," he asked; the Organization's biennial cycle is to accommodate the unsynchronized budgetary appropriations processes of 193 Member States.
Another eyebrow raiser was his declaration that some peacekeeping forces should be replaced with peace enforcement action under Chapter VII of the Charter. The problem with that suggestion, of course, is that the conflicts involve the interests of permanent members of the Security Council.
Perhaps the most conclusive indication that the UN now has a leader quite out of his depth was the Secretary-General's placid mention of the mess of a report he has submitted to ECOSOC on UN reform (see 19 July story below).
As for staff participation in the Global Town Hall, it reflected a general anxiety about salaries, pensions and incompetent management. The final staff participant, ostensibly chosen at random from the New York audience, made a point that anyone who has worked for the UN would endorse: that accountability cannot exist in a system that does not hold individual managers responsible for their actions.
21 July 2017: Is Secretary-General Antonio Guterres facing an embarrassing situation over the appointment of one of his important senior staff members, the Under-Secretary-General of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA)? Has the incumbent Wu Hongbo of China refused to leave the post despite a replacement being named? The UN has said nothing on the situation, but there are a number of indications that things are all not well.
On 8 June, the Secretary-General announced the appointment of Liu Zhenmin, China's Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs as the next UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs. In the same announcement, he complimented Mr. Hongbo on "his commitment and dedicated service to the Organization, and for successfully guiding the preparations for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the third International Conference on Small Island Developing States, third International Conference on Financing for Development and the United Nations Ocean Conference."
In reality, Mr. Hongbo has cut a Shrek-like figure at the UN, congenial but not exactly at the cutting edge. He has exercised little quality control over documents over which he has final authority, a recent case in point being the report celebrating the 70th anniversary of the UN Economic and Social Survey. (See Few lessons from Misbegotten 70-Year Review of UN Development Policy.) Following publication of our critical review, he issued a defense of the offending document, noting the singular virtues of the Economic and Social Survey it celebrated. It was a bit of untruthful propaganda typical of Beijing, but hardly in the tradition of the UN.
Other Straws in the Wind
Another factor that indicates something is not normal in the Secretary-General's cabinet is a draft letter circulated to all UN diplomatic missions by American Ambassador Nikki Haley that would urge Mr. Guterres to fulfil his role as Chief Executive.
Also strange is the action Mr. Guterres has taken to box the Head of DESA by putting Deputy-Secretary-General Amina Mohammed in charge of his Department and naming the Assistant-Secretary-General under him the UN's Chief Economist.
There is no word of what Mr. Hongbo's replacement, Mr. Liu is doing. He is a 30-year veteran of the Chinese diplomatic service deeply involved over the last decade in climate change negotiations including the conclusion of the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement. Before becoming Vice Foreign Minister he was China's Ambassador to the UN Office at Geneva.
19 July 2017: 4. In one of the most confused reports ever issued on UN reform, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres makes a complete hash of responding to the General Assembly's call to enhance the coherence and efficiency of the UN Development System and improve "its capacity to address ... the full range of development challenges of our time."
The report makes clear its authors have no idea of the range of contemporary development challenges or even what it takes to enhance coherence and efficiency today: incredibly, its 24-pages make not a single reference to "Information Technology" or even to "network."
A minimal reference to the perilous world economic situation would seem to be essential to a presentation on the UN Development System, but there is none. Nor is there any mention of the dire problem of the loss of integrity in that system, including, and especially, DESA, UNCTAD, the IMF and the World Bank, all of which have been cozening the truth about the world economic situation.
The report itself acknowledges this deficit. After declaring that the "UN development system has a proud history of delivering results (paragraph 10), and that we "have come a long way in strengthening UN coordination," (paragraph 11), the Secretary-General declares "I am convinced, nonetheless, that the current model has reached its exhaustion point and is insufficient to match the ambition, effectiveness and cohesion required by the new agenda."
Oblivious of Real Issues
The situation is actually worse than stated. The current economic model of world development, which is to say, the capitalism of the industrial era, has been pushed to the brink of collapse by massive corruption. It cannot be rescued by a coordinated dance of Central Bankers or by the collaboration of billionaires, oligarchs and appartchiks that seems to be taking place under cover of a tweet storm.
The sub rosa effort adds the dangers of war and massive criminality to general economic collapse, for its primary aim is not the rescue of the world economy but of the repository of corrupt wealth, the multi-trillion dollar global black market. It should be seen as an effort to stave off the far more democratic capitalism of the Information Age (see our paper on the next generation UN).
Farcical UN Report
Against that background the report on reforming the UN Development System is farcical. Its "three guiding principles" (Reinforcing national ownership and leadership; Ensuring country-contextual responses rather than a 'one size fits all approach'; and Making country level delivery for all the litmus test for success), seem like something out of Alice in Wonderland.
"Moving forward, I see a United Nations that is a valued partner for all countries - North and South alike - as they advance on the path to meeting the SDGs," the Secretary-General writes. "Our shared vision is a United Nations that advocates for the excluded and vulnerable and works with national partners in the advancement of all human rights: economic, social and cultural as well as civil and political rights. We want an Organization that is a trusted impartial advisor to Governments – one that does not prescribe solutions, but helps to broaden the options available for our partners as they seek solutions to old and new problems alike."
He asks that the report "be seen as the first milestone in reporting to member states on the direction we will be taking, as we move towards a comprehensive set of recommendations by December. I am determined to ensure that the process continues to remain inclusive and transparent as we move forward."
14 July 2017: Almost every part of Africa is still struggling with the bitter legacy of colonial rule but the region seems to have forgotten every lesson of that experience.
How else to explain the lack of any murmur of protest from the African Union as Djibouti’s corrupt maximum leader Ismaïl Omar Guelleh lets China build a military base in the tiny territory? (Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, is the former French Somaliland; it has less than 870,000 population in its 8958 square miles.)
The colonial period in Africa began when Portuguese traders, following the example of Arab slavers, made the population of West Africa a commodity, but were not satisfied with periodic raids: they and then other Europeans, established permanent settlements. That was the foundation of the enormous wealth-creating enterprise of the transatlantic slave trade, which made colonialism profitable in the Americas. The 19th Century European “scramble for Africa” subsequently deprived the entire continent of its freedom.
The first lesson to be remembered from that experience, surely, is:
DON’T LET FOREIGNERS WHO COME TO TRADE ESTABLISH STRATEGIC POSITIONS OF POWER IN AFRICA.
But isn’t a Chinese base in Djibouti going to be just the same as the American base already there?
NO IT IS NOT.
America is a conscientious democracy that ties itself up in knots about the human rights practices of its own military. It is loudly self-critical. It has multiple checks and balances in the operations of its power. It is difficult to see the United States using its base in Djibouti for any anti-African purpose. On the contrary, it is being used to support the training of African peacekeepers.
None of that is true of China. It is a repellant tyranny that oppresses its own people and commits genocide in Tibet against a gentle and pacific population. Its leaders are so completely unaccountable, even to the demands of common human decency, that they think nothing of letting Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo die of cancer in prison for no other crime than nonviolently demanding democratic rights for the Chinese people.
Unlike the United States, China is hungry for African land and its great wealth of raw materials. Instead of “balancing” the American base in Djibouti, the main effect of a Chinese base on African soil will be to unbalance African sovereignty.
Looking to the Future
Once China’s Djibouti base is established and the People’s Liberation Army can project its power at will with its rapidly growing blue-water navy, it is likely that Beijing’s relations with African nations will undergo a shift. Djibouti initially, and then other economic partners in Africa are likely to find that they do not enjoy the same respect from China for equitable “South-South Cooperation.”
If the experience of China’s Asian neighbors is any guide, Beijing will soon appear as Big Brother and bully. With a nuclear armed aircraft carrier standing by their shores, demands for “equal treatment” for Chinese nationals in African countries are likely to be made much more insistently. Negotiations over commodity trade and investments are likely to have an altogether different dynamic.
African States will have to take seriously – as they do in Asia – the prospect that China will interfere in their internal affairs. Chinese armed and funded opposition groups will undoubtedly become a new reality.
If push comes to shove amidst a global economic crisis, there is nothing at all to prevent Beijing from completely disregarding African sovereignty. We can probably look forward to Chinese-majority populations emerging in resource-rich areas; unlike Europeans, who now control those areas with covertly funded conflicts, Beijing has the manpower and lack of scruple to exercise direct control. It has provided ample proof in Asia that no civilizational values, no rule of law, no code of human decency will stand in the way of its power. Neither African public opinion nor Western threats can change that reality.
20 May 2017: Reading the draft Outcome document of the second High-Level ECOSOC Forum on Financing for Development (22-25 May) brings to mind Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. Both are essentially tragic but shot through with the dark comedy of cant, myopia and insanity. Commenting on it makes me feel like a Tralfamadorian trying vainly to communicate impending danger to a bar filled with merry drunks. (For those who have forgotten or have never read the book, a Tralfamadorian is a two-foot alien shaped like a toilet brush and able to see the future.)