The 76th Session of the UNGA and its Implications for the US-Turkey Bilateral Relationship

By THO Team Member, Jimmy Basch

During the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), leaders delivered remarks on the most pressing issues of our time. The COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and counter terrorism played prominent roles in nearly all of the addresses given. Of the week’s many notable speakers, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and United States President Joe Biden spoke to the assembly about urgent global and regional issues, expanding the opportunity for further cooperation between the two countries. 

President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan addressed the assembly with a unique message. In line with the message in the President’s recently released book “A Fairer World is Possible”, he expressed his determination to strengthen the UNGA. Further along those lines, in a swipe at the primacy of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), whose permanent members are the United States, China, Russia, France, and the United Kingdom, the Turkish President emphasized that “the world is bigger than 5”. 

In addition to this message, the Turkish President discussed some of the most pressing challenges facing the world. Among them, President Erdogan discussed human/evolving security threats such as climate change and its appurtenances,  refugee burden-sharing, and the Covid-19 pandemic. He also discussed traditional security threats such as terrorism, the war in Syria and the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. The President pressed for those who have done the most damage to the world’s environment to pay the largest price. He also stressed that Turkey has done its part of refugee burden-sharing, and stated that the rest of the world must take firm action on the existing and emerging refugee crises. Additionally, the Turkish President called on the international community to support the Afghan people regardless of who is in power. 

In addition to the President of Turkey and others, President of the United States, Joe Biden, addressed the UNGA on Tuesday. President Biden began his speech by referring to the NATO alliance as “sacred”, and reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to defending its allies. Further in that direction, the President lauded the country’s strides toward addressing climate change and its appurtenances under his administration. 

The United States President also addressed conflicts, security and alliances. He emphasized his administration’s reengagement with international organizations such as ASEAN, the European Union, the Organization of American States and the African Union. The President also discussed the significance of the Quad alliance, including the United States, India, Japan and Australia. In regards to Iran, President Biden called on Iran to adhere to the JCPOA agreement, and remain open to dialogue with the United States. For his part, President of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, rejected these claims and denounced United States sanctions against Iran. On Afghanistan, the President emphasized the importance of the UNSC resolution passed Friday, setting down expectations for the Taliban and maintaining a United Nations presence on the ground in Afghanistan.  The President also made strong statements against those who would seek to commit acts of terror or otherwise harm the United States or its allies. 

With regard to United States-Turkey bilateral relations, and cooperation through larger organizations, the remarks by both leaders are encouraging. As common members of the NATO alliance, and some of the strongest within the alliance, Turkey and the United States both have much to gain from a strong NATO. Additionally, the two countries share a commitment to stopping the climate crisis, and addressing its pressing appurtenances, such as climate refugees, famine, water shortages, rising sea levels and more. On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there remains more that the two leaders agree on than they disagree on. Both leaders have expressed the need for a two-state solution. On Afghanistan, both leaders have advocated for an inclusive government, strong counter terrorism measures, and holding the Taliban accountable. Additionally, both leaders have expressed their desire for further cooperation with the European Union. Within these two speeches, a wealth of areas of cooperation, and a commitment to common security are evident. Overall, it is a welcome development for United States-Turkey relations. 

The UNGA provided a platform for world leaders to address the world’s most pressing issues. For the United States, the session  was an important, symbolic turning point, as the country shifts back toward international institutions and cooperation under the Biden administration motto, “America is back”. Additionally, leaders of comparatively less influential countries had a chance to be heard by the international community. Countries like Turkmenistan, Qatar and Ukraine contributed valuable recommendations and even criticism to the UN and the international community, making for a thought-provoking and hopefully action-provoking week overall.