Don't back away from globalisation, Obama urges leaders

In final address to UN, he tells them to press on with better model of cooperation, integration

President Barack Obama has called on world leaders not to back away from global integration, even as he admitted that the current path required a course correction.

Making his final address to the United Nations General Assembly as United States president yesterday, Mr Obama acknowledged issues such as inequality which have been caused by the push for globalisation in recent years, but stressed that this should not mean reverting to isolationism and nationalism.

Noting that globalisation has improved lives while also exposing fault lines, he said: "This is the paradox that defines our world today. A quarter-century after the end of the Cold War, the world is by many measures less violent and more prosperous than ever before, and yet our societies are filled with uncertainty, unease and strife."

He added: "I believe at this moment, we all face a choice. We can choose to press forward with a better model of cooperation and integration or we can retreat to a world sharply divided and ultimately in conflict along age-old lines of nation, tribe, race and religion... We must go forward and not back."

At several points in the speech, Mr Obama appeared to make references to the sort of politics that has fuelled the rise of Republican nominee Donald Trump. And while he said that those sentiments cannot be dismissed, they would ultimately be self-defeating.

He noted that those pushing the benefits of global integration have "ignored inequality within and among nations, have ignored the enduring appeal of ethnic and sectarian identities, have left international institutions ill-equipped, underfunded and under-resourced, in order to handle transnational challenges".

CRITICAL CHOICE
 

I believe at this moment, we all face a choice. We can choose to press forward with a better model of cooperation and integration or we can retreat to a world sharply divided and ultimately in conflict along age-old lines of nation, tribe, race and religion.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, on why world leaders should not back away from global integration

And that has led to alternative visions of the world, like religious fundamentalism and a crude populism "which seeks to restore what they believe was a better, simpler age free of outside contamination".

He said: "We cannot dismiss these visions. They are powerful. They reflect dissatisfaction among too many of our citizens."

He added that the existing path to global integration requires a course correction, and called for capitalism to be reined in so that the global economy does not just benefit those at the top.

Mr Obama's wide-ranging address also touched on issues like the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the conflict in Syria and Russia's annexation of Crimea. He accused Russia of trying to "recover lost glory through force" and said that a peaceful resolution in the South China Sea was more important than "arguing over rocks and reefs".

Outgoing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, who also gave his farewell address to the assembly yesterday, made similar calls for international cooperation, especially in ending the conflict in Syria and for swift action on climate change. Like Mr Obama, he also voiced concerns about divisive politics.

He said: "I say to political leaders and candidates: Do not engage in the cynical and dangerous political maths that say you add votes by dividing people and multiplying fear."

Then, reflecting on his tenure as the head of the UN, he said he was convinced of the ability of the organisation to be a force for good.

"After 10 years in office, I am more convinced than ever that we have the power to end war, poverty and persecution."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2016, with the headline 'Don't back away from globalisation, Obama urges leaders'. Print Edition | Subscribe