Every September, the United Nations General Assembly brings politicians from around the world to Manhattan to discuss key issues on a global scale, from education and the environment to trade and globalization.
The General Assembly, one of the six main branches of the UN, kicked off on Sept. 12 and runs through Sept. 25. But the part of the General Assembly that most New Yorkers are familiar with – the General Debate, when many world leaders come to town – began Tuesday.
This year marks the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly and the General Debate’s theme is “Focusing on People: Striving for Peace and a Decent Life for All on a Sustainable Planet.”
Scroll down to learn more about the UN General Assembly and this year’s General Debate.
A brief summary of the UN General Assembly
The General Assembly was created under the United Nations charter in 1945. The assembly’s 193 members, each representing one country, are considered the chief deliberators and policymakers for the United Nations. It is the only UN body that has equal representation from every member nation and often has a hand in the codification of international laws.
Where and when the General Assembly takes place
The General Assembly convenes at UN headquarters, 405 E. 42nd St. in Manhattan, from Sept. 12 to Sept. 25, 2017.
The General Debate runs from Sept. 19 through Sept. 25. Per rules, it should last nine days, but the debate’s goals can typically be accomplished in a shorter amount of time. There are two sessions per day, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., though end times are flexible depending on how closely speakers stick to their time allotment.
What will be discussed at this year’s General Debate
The General Assembly has released summary agendas for eight topics, separated into three groups: Education, Environmental Conventions and Social Development; Trade, Gender and Human Development; and Globalization and 2030 Agenda, Technology and Innovation, and Water and Sanitation.
Will President Donald Trump attend?
Yes. Trump traveled from his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf course to Trump Tower in midtown on Sunday. He has UN events and meetings through Thursday, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said.
Trump addressed the General Assembly during the opening of the debate on Tuesday. The president warned that the U.S. would "totally destroy" North Korea unless the nation backs down from its nuclear challenge, mocking leader Kim Jong Un as a "rocket man" on a suicide mission.
"The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea," Trump said.
On Monday, he hosted a meeting of UN leaders on how to reform the international organization.
"In recent years the United Nations has not reached its full potential because of bureaucracy and mismanagement, while the United Nations on a regular budget has increased by 140 percent and its staff has more than doubled since 2000," Trump said. ""I am confident that if we work together and champion truly bold reforms the United Nations will emerge as a stronger, more effective, more just and greater force for peace and harmony in the world."
More than 120 countries were invited to attend Monday's reform meeting after signing on to a U.S.-drafted 10-point political declaration backing efforts by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres "to initiate effective, meaningful reform."
General Debate speakers
There are dozens of speakers from member nations scheduled on each day of the General Debate, including Trump, Guterres, of Portugal, and General Assembly President Miroslav Lajčák, of Slovakia.
Each speaker is generally given about 15 minutes to deliver their statement. Brazil has been the first member nation to speak at the General Debate since 1955, a tradition mainly because it had historically always offered to speak first while other member nations were reluctant to start the dialogue. The United States is always second since it is the host country, and the speaking order from the third slot on is decided is based on myriad criteria, including preference, level of representation and geographic balance.
NYC traffic due to the General Assembly
Aside from the politics, the General Assembly has gained a reputation in the city for the traffic it causes. With so many notable world leaders in the same place at the same time, security on the East Side of Manhattan near the UN building is beefed up and the NYPD regularly closes streets for short periods of time throughout the day while presidents, prime ministers and other dignitaries are ferried back and forth between where they’re staying and UN headquarters. For a list of street closures broken down by day, click here.