United Nations braces for fiery Trump speech

Big budget: The UN’s top expense is peacekeeping operations, which cost roughly £5 billion a year.

Do we still need a United Nations? As the UN General Assembly begins in New York City today, some are saying that the organisation is outdated, confusing and irrelevant.

“It’s going to be the will of the American people, not the will of the international community,” said Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the United Nations (UN), as more than 120 world leaders gathered in New York.

They are there for the UN’s biggest event of the year: its annual General Assembly.

Today all eyes will be on President Donald Trump’s opening speech, his second to the body. Last year, he aggressively promoted his “America First” agenda and threatened to wipe North Korea “off the map”.

Since then, relations with North Korea have improved, but Trump has continued his campaign against the UN, pulling the US out of the UN Human Right’s Council and UNESCO, its cultural body.

During his presidency, Trump has slammed the UN as an “underperformer” prone to “utter weakness and incompetence”.

And after Haley’s comment, diplomats are braced for a new attack on the organisation’s international, liberal values.

The UN has come a long way since it was created to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” in the aftermath of the Second World War. At that time, 50 countries joined up.

Now it has expanded to 193 members. Its annual budget is around $30 billion (£23 billion). There are 15 specialised UN agencies, ranging from the World Bank to the World Health Organisation, and a host of other bodies. By 2030, it hopes to have ended poverty and gender inequality.

But the UN also receives much criticism. Its Security Council is accused of weakness. Its peacekeepers are blamed for failing to protect people.

And when former Assistant Secretary-General Anthony Banbury left in 2016, he said: “If you locked a team of evil geniuses in a laboratory, they could not design a bureaucracy so maddeningly complex, requiring so much effort but in the end incapable of delivering the intended result.”

Do we still need a UN?

United we stand

No, say some; the UN has become irrelevant. It was created to spread peace and prosperity, but the world feels more dangerous and unequal than ever. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have been expelled from Myanmar; the brutal Syrian war is in its eighth year; famine has returned to Africa. For all its ambitious talk, the UN has very little action to show for it. It is time to admit that it has failed.

Don’t give up yet, argue others. The UN is working incredibly hard to solve those complex problems. Its core idea — that countries should solve problems by talking, not fighting — is a good one. Its organisations helped to halve the number of people living in extreme poverty in just 20 years. And even if it does not meet its ambitious goals for 2030, it will still do an enormous amount of good while trying. We must protect it.

You Decide

  1. Has the UN failed?
  2. If you were UN secretary-general, what would you change about the organisation?


  1. Trump is giving his second annual speech to the UN General Assembly tomorrow. Imagine you are his chief speechwriter and write the opening 300 words of his speech, addressing some of the world’s biggest problems.
  2. Create a timeline showing the history of the UN, including its main successes and failures since 1945.

Some People Say...

“More than ever before in human history, we share a common destiny.”

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
More than 120 world leaders have traveled to New York City’s Turtle Bay neighbourhood for the annual UN General Assembly, the UN’s most important meeting of the year. This time there are some notable absences, as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping — who is embroiled in a trade war with Trump — are not attending.
What do we not know?
We do not know what Trump plans to say in his speech tomorrow. While his speech last year made headlines for its attack on North Korea, this year the most vitriolic language will probably be reserved for Iran. Relations between the US and Iran have soured this year after the US pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal — which froze Iran’s nuclear programme — to the dismay of Western allies.

Word Watch

Trump will also chair a meeting of the UN Security Council tomorrow. Haley says the meeting will “address Iran’s violations of international law”, but the UN has said the meeting will have more general aims.
America First
The slogan of Trump’s foreign policy, which is focused on pursuing US national interests over international cooperation. Recently, Trump escalated his trade war with China by introducing more tariffs on Chinese imports in the hope of boosting US business.
Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held a historic summit in June. Last week, Kim also met South Korean president Moon Jae-in in a huge boost for inter-Korean relations.
$30 billion
In 2016, the actual spend was $48 billion (£36.6 billion) according to official figures.
Security Council
There are five permanent members of the UN Security Council: the UK, France, China, Russia and the US.
UN soldiers and security forces. In the last few years, peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere have been accused of rape and child abuse.
Extreme poverty
Surviving on less than $1.25 a day.


PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.