President Joe Biden summoned the world’s nations to forcefully address the festering global issues of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and human rights abuses in his first address before the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday. He decried military conflict and insisted the U.S. is not seeking “a new Cold War” with China.
But while stressing to fellow world leaders the urgency of working together, Biden avoided addressing criticism from allies about the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and a diplomatic tempest with France.
Instead, Biden used his address before the annual gathering of world leaders to make his case that the United States remains a reliable international partner following four years of President Donald Trump’s “America first” foreign policy.
“We’re opening a new era of relentless diplomacy, of using the power of our development aid to invest in new ways of lifting people up around the world,” Biden said.
The president offered an impassioned plea for cooperation, to friends and adversaries, arguing that overcoming a daunting list of crises “will hinge on our ability to recognize our common humanity.”
Biden said the U.S., under his watch, had reached a turning point with the end of military operations in Afghanistan last month, closing out America’s longest war. That set the table, he said, for his administration to shift its attention to intensive diplomacy at a moment with no shortage of crises facing the globe.
“Today, many of our greatest concerns cannot be solved or even addressed by the force of arms,” he said. “Bombs and bullets cannot defend against COVID-19 or its future variants.”
Biden offered a robust endorsement of the U.N.’s relevance and ambition at a difficult time in history, and sought to reassure wary allies of US cooperation.
He pledged to double U.S. financial aid to poorer countries to help them switch to cleaner energy and cope with the “merciless” effects of climate change. That would mean increasing assistance to about $11.4 billion a year – after five months ago doubling the amount to $5.7 billion a year. The Biden administration set a 2024 goal to reach the $11.4 billion mark.
As part of the fight against climate change, rich nations for many years have promised to spend $100 billion a year in climate help, but a new study shows that they’re $20 billion a year short. Biden said his new commitment would help rich nations reach their goal.
In climate negotiations there’s a dramatic rich-poor nation gap. Developing nations and others are reluctant to curb emissions further of heat-trapping gases without help from developed nations, which – in the words of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson – are “the guys that created the problem.”
Biden seemed to look past the mounting skepticism he’s faced from world leaders in the early going of his presidency, including criticism that Biden has given too little weight to allies’ concerns on issues that have ramifications for America’s friends on the world stage.
Eight months into his presidency, Biden has been out of sync with allies on the ending to the US war in Afghanistan. He has faced differences over how to go about sharing coronavirus vaccines with the developing world and over pandemic travel restrictions. And there are questions about the best way to respond to military and economic moves by China.