haass159_ED JONESAFP via Getty Images_un general assembly ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images

The New World Disorder

The conspicuous absence of leaders such as Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly underscores today’s myriad geopolitical challenges. From the Ukraine war to the AI arms race, the global outlook appears bleak and is about to get bleaker.

NEW YORK – There is an old Soviet joke in which a journalist asks the General Secretary of the Communist Party to assess the country’s economy. “Good” is the short answer. The journalist implores the leader to elaborate so he can complete his story. “In that case,” the General Secretary responds, ‘not good.’”

Much the same could be said of the state of the world today. As many global leaders gather in New York for the 78th annual session of the United Nations General Assembly, with the notable exceptions of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and French President Emmanuel Macron, there are reasons to be concerned.

The US-China relationship, arguably the most important of this era, is in poor shape despite a recent increase in the pace of diplomatic exchanges. The US goal is for the two major powers to establish a floor for bilateral ties. At best, however, the two governments will be able to avoid a crisis. But that is made more difficult by China’s refusal to resume military-to-military communications and establish a crisis communication channel. Even optimists do not foresee a path for the two to cooperate meaningfully on pressing regional or global challenges in the near future.