UN Assembly Session Clouded by War, Natural Disasters

by John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS—Truth has become stranger than fiction even here at the United Nations where the recently concluded annual debate of world leaders was both clouded by threats of conflict in Korea and to a backdrop of natural calamities from Caribbean hurricanes to earthquakes.

Clearly a week of diplomatic drama highlighted the North Korea crisis especially in the wake of Pyongyang testing a sixth nuclear weapon and firing yet another missile over Japan.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres lamented from the iconic marble rostrum, “We are a world in pieces.  We need to be a world at peace.” Alas, easier said than done.

Regarding nuclear North Korea the Secretary General said, “Millions of people live under a shadow of dread cast by the provocative nuclear and missile tests of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea…I condemn those tests unequivocally.”

Nonetheless Guterres warned, “We must not sleepwalk our way into war.”

U.S. President Donald Trump made his first appearance before an anxious if nervous General Assembly. Most of the conventional “wisdom” had foolishly set the template before the President spoke a syllable to the packed Assembly hall. “Tirade, Rant, and Bombastic” were among the words in the quiver of the mainstream media.

Donald Trump’s speech shattered the stereotypes of the usual UN Assembly address; namely it offered substance over style even if the message did not offer the political bromides or warm and fuzzy applause lines.

Hardly in lockstep with decorum but predictably outspoken, President Trump addressed the 193 member General Assembly; “We meet at a time of both immense promise and great peril. It is entirely up to us whether we lift the world to new heights or let it fall into a valley of despair.”

Strong on sovereignty but hardly an isolationist rant, the speech was not anti-UN as many expected, but pro-American sovereignty. Having covered many UN speeches going back to the 1980’s, the Donald, while not offering the polished rhetoric of Ronald Reagan, made his case.

Significantly the address provided an outline of nationalist sovereignty with dollops of Realpolitik in dealing with communist North Korean nukes and the flawed Iran nuclear deal.

Then came the classic line; “The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”

Yet the President’s warning to destroy North Korea IF they attack the United States or its allies such as South Korea and Japan was deliberately misunderstood. If is a big word in the English language.

Sadly much of the major media and some diplomats placed an odd moral equivalency between Trump and Kim Jong-un.

Later in the day EU officials, at a reception I attended, while not mentioning the Donald by name, stressed, “Europe does not threaten to destroy countries,” but rather offers diplomacy and

dialogue. Many offered pious moralizations of what they viewed as a diplomatic dunce.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe focused on the impending danger, “The gravity of this threat is unprecedented. North Korea is attempting to dismiss with a smirk the efforts towards disarmament.”

He warned sternly, “We must make North Korea abandon all nuclear and ballistic missile programs in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner. What is needed to do that is not dialogue, but pressure.”

“Japan will face up to North Korea nuclear and missile threat through the Japan-U.S. Alliance and through Japan the U.S. and the ROK acting in unity. We consistently support the stance of the United States that all ‘options are on the table.’”

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in implored, “North Korea must immediately cease making reckless choices that could lead to its own isolation and downfall and choose the path of dialogue. I urge North Korea to abandon its hostile policies against other countries and give up its nuclear weapons program in a verifiable and irreversible way.”

North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, warned delegates in a bitter anti-American rant stating that “someone called the U.S. President” had “tried to insult the supreme dignity of my country by referring it to a rocket. By doing so, however, he committed an irreversible mistake of making our rockets’ visit to the entire U.S. mainland inevitable all the more.”

Viewing this dangerous war of words across the Pacific, Secretary General Guterres implored, “When tensions rise, so does the chance of miscalculation…This is a time for statesmanship.”

Indeed so.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent overing diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China.

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