Joe Biden’s first speech at the United Nations seemed more conciliatory than Donald Trump’s. But even behind his flowery words there are clear messages from the USA to the world.
Public appearances by politicians are always about symbolism. It was quite noticeable at which point the official protocol foreseen Joe Biden’s first speech as US President before the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York. Unlike last time Donald Trump, the incumbent US President opened the debate at the 76th Assembly as host, but Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
Joe Biden immediately got a vivid example of two of the biggest problems facing mankind at the moment: coping with the Covid-19 pandemic and ongoing climate change.
Because Bolsonaro is a man who stubbornly wants to remain unvaccinated. Meanwhile, around 600,000 people in Brazil have died of Covid-19. Finally, the number of infections exploded again. The day before, a photo brought a lot of ridicule to the president: Jair Bolsonoro has to eat his pizza on the curb in New York.
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro (center) with a delegation in New York: Only people who have been vaccinated at least once are allowed to eat inside restaurants. (Source: Reuters)
There is no evidence that Bolsonaro really wanted to eat inside. But it is a law that unvaccinated people are not allowed to eat inside restaurants in New York. Bolsonaro is not only criticized for its corona policy, but also for the deforestation of the rainforest in Brazil. In his speech, Bolsonaro then vowed to go all out for quick vaccinations in his country as well as for the climate efforts.
After the lectern was sufficiently disinfected, the US President spoke a few minutes later. As expected, he got involved with the pandemic, grappled with climate issues and tried to sell the USA as a global player who was “back at the table”. His country would be giving millions more doses of vaccines to poorer countries, and by 2050 the United States would also be carbon neutral with united innovative forces.
Even if such speeches are usually full of lip service, Joe Biden’s speech was still remarkable. Because as peaceful and obliging as it seemed, it was full of clear “America First” announcements.
For the first time in 20 years, Biden said, a US president who is not at war would speak here. The war on terror, and with it the war against civilians, is by no means over. Drone attacks are to be expanded. Only recently did the US have to admit that numerous bystanders were killed in an attack in Afghanistan, including many children. The withdrawal from Afghanistan means at least the official end of the occupation with ground troops since 2001, but nothing more.
Biden tried to present the USA as a country that no longer tries to solve the world’s problems with violence or to enforce the interests of the USA, but with diplomacy. “US military strength must be our last resort, not our first,” said Biden.
“No New Cold War”
Regarding the global competition with China, the US President said, without naming the country: “We are not striving for one, I’ll say it again, we are not striving for a new Cold War or a world that is divided into rigid blocks.” The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres had warned urgently of this development the day before.
Biden’s words were those of a diplomat. In fact, only a few days ago the USA founded the new security alliance “Aukus” in the Pacific, together with Great Britain and Australia, under which, among other things, nuclear submarine propulsion technology is to be supplied to Australia. With this move, the Biden government had angered not only China, but also its European allies, especially France and Germany.
Joe Biden never tire of talking about the need to look for multilateral solutions. “We need to act together like never before,” said Biden. But Europeans will have to pay attention to the small print. The US president added that, as expected, it was primarily about America’s interests. And that these would only be enforced “whenever possible, together with our allies”.
Biden is not Trump. That makes it easier and harder at the same time. Because there is also power politics behind flowery words.
China remains the main adversary
Joe Biden also spoke very often about the dangers that new technologies would bring with them. These would have to be used for the benefit of the people and to solve problems. “Not to suppress minorities,” said the president. This is also an implicit reference to rival China, which is criticized for suppressing its own ethnic group, the Muslim Uyghurs, by means of digital surveillance. Biden also addressed the ongoing cyber attacks and called for global regulations that all states would then have to adhere to.
Joe Biden’s speech, which lasted around half an hour, was peppered with formulations that listeners already knew from his election campaign speeches, his inaugural speech and his speech to the nation. With “Building back better”, the US president even brought his most important project, the billion-dollar infrastructure deal, into place. Here he is under pressure in particular because he does not threaten to get a majority even among the Democrats.
“We have to act now”, Biden concluded his speech again with regard to the climate issues. No more time should be wasted. After him, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the President of the Maldives, spoke, and that too was probably not an accidental symbolism. The archipelago in the Indian Ocean that is likely to be the first to disappear from the global map if the sea level continues to rise and the Paris climate targets are not met.