September 19, 2014
Against the grim backdrop of global terrorism and a deadly health crisis, world leaders are preparing to convene in New York for their annual gathering at the United Nations General Assembly.
The terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State and efforts to control the spread of the Ebola virus are expected to dominate discussions.
The violence in Iraq and Syria which has become a breeding ground for extremist groups — most notably the Islamic State — will be addressed by the international community, said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
“I welcome the growing international consensus to act against this serious threat to global and regional peace and security,” he said.
A centerpiece of that effort will be a U.N. Security Council meeting chaired by President Barack Obama on the rise of foreign terrorist fighters.
New York University Professor Richard Gowan said the meeting sends an important political message.
“President Obama has put together a coalition of 40 countries to fight ISIS [Islamic State group]. At the U.N., he will be reaffirming that struggle, " he noted. "Actually, most of the hard work has been done already, but the U.N. is a good stage to talk about the need to fight the Islamists.”
Also high on the international agenda will be containing the recent outbreak of the Ebola virus, which has killed nearly half of the about 5,000 people infected with it in West Africa.
“This is not just a health crisis; it has grave humanitarian, economic and social consequences that could spread far beyond the affected countries,” Ban said.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said the annual meetings are meant to bring leaders together to address global challenges.
“Both of these threats illustrate the founding purpose of the United Nations and the purpose of bringing the heads of state of the United Nations together every season - which is how do we pool our resources to cooperate, not only to deal with common threats, but to deal with threats that we simply, no single nation, can deal with alone,” she said.
Africa, Ukraine, Gaza
Crises in Africa, the conflict in Ukraine and the aftermath of the 50-day long war in the Gaza Strip are other issues that will be discussed by the leaders. The secretary-general is also convening a summit on climate change to urge countries to make commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
NYU’s Richard Gowan said the past year has been an especially difficult one for the international community.
“This has been a really painful year in U.N. diplomacy, with fights over Syria, fights over Ukraine. The challenge from ISIS and the challenge from Ebola are two things all governments can agree on. And there will be a big push to try to restore some unity at the U.N. after a very, very divisive year," he said.
Some of that diplomacy will be conducted in the newly-renovated General Assembly Hall, the final part of a nearly six-year long, $2.2 billion U.N. campus renovation that has made the nearly 70-year old complex safer and more energy efficient.