Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Gordon Brown’s address to the UN General Assembly

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown addressed the UN General Assembly on 23 September 2009.  As a citizen and resident of the UK, I’d hoped to jot down my thoughts on his address earlier but you know, life sometimes gets in the way.  My post on US President Barack Obama’s speech can be found here: Obama addresses the UN General Assembly.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown addresses the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly

[Photo source]

A transcript of his speech can be found at the Labour Matters site.

PM Brown began his speech by taking account of the global economic crisis and immediately asserting his belief that this is a global crisis that can only be solved by nations working together on a global basis and that growth can only be sustained if it is shared. 

It is incredibly curious to me that he would start his speech in such a manner.  I am not a fan of Gordon Brown and I find him to be one of the worst leaders I have ever encountered.  Precisely because he doesn’t lead, he follows, and he is a man desperate for approval from others.  So this opening statement seems to be an attempt to ingratiate himself with the various nations before he begins his address. 

Despite what was a weak start (in my opinion) PM Brown then highlighted the main areas that he wanted to address:

  • climate change
  • terrorism
  • nuclear proliferation
  • global economic recovery
  • poverty and shared prosperity

While he shared nuclear proliferation, climate change and the economic crisis with President Obama, I found it interesting that he included terrorism and poverty as well.

Climate Change

“If the poorest and most vulnerable are going to be able to adapt; if the emerging economies are going to embark on low carbon development paths; if the forest nations are going to slow and stop deforestation - then the richer countries must contribute financially” - Prime Minister Brown, address to UN General Assembly, 23 September 2009 [transcript]

This is so interesting.  While Obama was drawing the line and setting boundaries as to how far the US was prepared to go in solving the world’s problems, Brown was diving right in there.  He said that proposed financing from the British government, drawn from public and private sectors, would be around $100bn a year by 2020.


Or, more accurately, “Why I continue to support an expensive and futile war in Afghanistan”.  He starts off this section by saying that “a safer Afghanistan means a safer world” which sounds good on paper but it doesn’t change the fact that terrorism is still alive and well while innocent civilians and well-intentioned soldiers are getting slaughtered out there.

“It shames us all:

* that the people of Somalia and Sudan are still subject to the most terrible violence.

* that Israel and Palestine have still not found a way to live side by side in security and peace.

* and that for the people of Burma, their elected leader is subjected to a show trial and decades of incarceration.

There is more we can do; there is more we must do. And we must carry forward our efforts to take a more strategic, coherent and effective approach to peacekeeping and peace-building”- Prime Minister Brown, address to UN General Assembly, 23 September 2009 [transcript]

I hope it’s okay to quote so much of the speech but I actually did like this section of the Prime Minister’s speech.  It was powerful but I fear that he has lumped gross violations of human rights, war time conflict and humanitarian crises under the umbrella term “terrorism”.  It is not helpful at all to do that as it implies the legitimacy of one party over another illegitimate and criminal party.  I’m virtually speechless (as in, I have no more words to blog) as my mind goes into the ramifications of the use of the term ‘terrorism’ versus genocide, ethnic cleansing, political oppression and state sanctioned persecution.  The wording of this section was, as I say, powerful but the issues are sorely muddled in this section of his speech.

Nuclear Proliferation

“Once there were five nuclear-armed powers. Now there are nine, with the real and present danger that more will soon follow. And the risk is not just state aggression, but the acquisition of nuclear weapons by terrorists…

…all nuclear weapons states must play their part in reducing nuclear weapons as part of an agreement by non nuclear states to renounce them. This is exactly what the Non Proliferation Treaty intended. In line with maintaining our nuclear deterrent I have asked our national security committee to report to me on the potential future reduction of our nuclear weapon submarines from 4 to 3” - Prime Minister Brown, address to UN General Assembly, 23 September 2009 [transcript]

He started out so well and then he utters that last sentence.  Great, should we reduce terrorist’s access to nuclear weapons by 25% (by the same ratio as 4:3) and then see how the world feels about that?  What you are saying is that Britain will basically sacrifice a token submarine but you expect the entire states of Iran and North Korea to complete disarm. 

Don’t get me wrong, I greatly support nuclear disarmament; I just wish Gordon Brown had not even uttered that last sentence.

Global Economic Recovery

“The great lesson of the last year is that only bold and global action prevented a recession becoming a depression. We have delivered a co-ordinated fiscal and monetary response that the ILO estimates has saved 7 to 11 million jobs across the world” - Prime Minister Brown, address to UN General Assembly, 23 September 2009 [transcript]

Okay, I have to say at this point that I'm getting a little tired.  Unemployment in the UK is at its highest since 1995 and yet Brown is citing global successes in global economic recovery?  It just seems to me that Brown is sometimes unaware of the 2 million unemployed in the UK and the fact that banks are calling in loans left, right and centre.  Britons are in for a lot more misery before they start to see improvements. 


The unyielding, grinding, soul-destroying, so often lethal poverty I saw in Africa convinced me that - unless empowerment through trade justice is matched by empowerment through free education and free health care – then this generation in sub-Saharan Africa will not have the opportunity to rise out of poverty - and will never be fully free” - Prime Minister Brown, address to UN General Assembly, 23 September 2009 [transcript]

After a mixed and at times bizarre address Brown closes by stating that several of the Millennium Development Goals could not be achieved in 50 years never mind the remaining 5 years of the undertaking.  This is depressing and morale-destroying in a way that only Gordon Brown can manage but in a way, I do appreciate his honesty.  He does end on a high note though by citing the inception of universal free health care in Burundi, Sierra Leone, Malawi, Nepal, Liberia and Ghana and by calling on other nations to do the same.  Hmmm, perhaps he could implement that in the UK?

© A Passion to Understand

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