At the end of UNGA78 (The last countries speak on Tuesday, including Tunisia which is of interest to Italy and India, the most populous country in the world) there will be a sad assessment. This assessment will not be on the Sustainable Development Goals that should have been the focus of the General Assembly. The SDGs are progressing, even if at a snail’s pace. Rather, the assessment will be on the drama that has remained the “elephant in the room” of all bilateral meetings by UNGA78 (with the exception of those of the Italian duo Meloni-Tajani who preferred to focus on the migrant crisis).
Indeed, the war between Russia and Ukraine is the gigantic specter that has been haunting the UN for more than 19 months. While members of the UN fear escalation, no one seems to be able to push for peace between the contenders. In fact, at the end of the opening week of UNGA78, peace appears further away than it was at the end of UNGA77. The dangers of escalating the war seem closer, especially after President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to the White House where Joe Biden promised to provide ATACMS long-range missiles capable of striking deep inside Russia.
In President Biden’s speech at the UN on Tuesday we had not grasped anything new on the peace front. Likewise, after listening to Putin’s “spokesman” Sergei Lavrov at the Security Council, Saturday at the General Assembly, and immediately afterwards at a press conference, peace appears increasingly distant.
Little or nothing of what was hoped to come out of the United Nations Headquarters in recent days has been realized. There is a tenser attitude from all member countries towards conciliation between Russia and Ukraine through concrete peace proposals. This is despite the fact that in the Russian Foreign Minister’s speech from the podium, as well as during the press conference, there were signs that Russia would always be ready for a serious negotiation, “President Putin has been repeating this for some time.”
Lavrov added, however, immediately afterward that “with what Zelensky has presented…” referring to the 10-point program presented by the Ukrainian, “…it is not possible to implement. It’s unrealistic and everyone realizes it, but at the same time they continue to argue that this is the only basis for negotiations.”
Secretary General Antonio Guterres had also recently spoken about “compromises,” and Lavrov recalled this by praising him during the press conference but then attacking the UN head for the accusations against Russia made during the recent Security Council meeting. If you are not now ready to always agree with Russia, you are part of the “Western empire of lies” he said during his speech from the podium of the General Assembly.
The paths to peace are infinite, while those leading to a Third World War remain few but seem to be multiplying.
For those who think that such a difficult task as peace does not fall to the UN, the UN was created in San Francisco in 1945 with a fundamental objective: to avoid the Third World War. After seeing the failure of UNGA78 due to the inertia of its 193 member countries, it is the “observer by choice” member that remains in the fight for peace. The Vatican State is represented at the United Nations by its “ambassador” Archbishop Gabriele Caccia.
Yes, Pope Francis now appears to be the only leader left to knock on doors and not give up even when they remain closed, at least until the reasons for peace are heard. The Holy See appears to be the only one left who is perceived as a “neutral” interlocutor, an indispensable role for those seeking a peace compromise. Francis is the “head of state” who, for months now, has been sounding the alarm much more loudly than the other 193 about the dangers of the war expansion and the danger of nuclear Armageddon.
Thus Pope Bergoglio, without a care about the chances of failure, is betting everything on peace and has made Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi spin like a top for several months. Just today, speaking in Bologna, the President of the Italian Episcopal Conference, who had recently been in Ukraine, Russia, China and the USA, wanted to reiterate, “Peace is possible and necessary, but we must seek it. And you have to look hard for it. It’s a play on words, but it’s true: you cannot give yourself peace for peace. To dream you don’t have to sleep.” He continued, “war is a fire and cannot but make us worry wherever it is. Even more so in the heart of Europe.”
Zuppi will return to Moscow in a few days. Pope Francis is not giving up on what should be the work of the United Nations. When he came to New York 8 years ago, he himself celebrated the UN as the greatest institution ever created to defend peace.
Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, addresses the general debate of the 78th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations (New York, 19 – 26 September 2023).