Facing a range of global challenges, President Obama made an impassioned plea to world leaders Wednesday to strengthen the international security system to confront a complex and unpredictable modern world.
Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Obama referred to the advance of the terror group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Russian aggression in Ukraine, and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The president’s speech was sandwiched between U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria, which hit a dozen oil refineries that the terror group ISIS controls.
“Each of these problems demands urgent attention,” Obama said. “But they are also symptoms of a broader problem—the failure of our international system to keep pace with an interconnected world.”
“We have not invested adequately in the public health capacity of developing countries,” Obama continued. “Too often, we have failed to enforce international norms when it’s inconvenient to do so. And we have not confronted forcefully enough the intolerance, sectarianism, and hopelessness that feeds violent extremism in too many parts of the globe.”
Obama said that despite technological advances, “there is a pervasive unease in our world – a sense that the very forces that have brought us together have created new dangers, and made it difficult for any single nation to insulate itself from global forces.” He urged U.N. members to “affirm our collective responsibility to confront global problems.”
Also speaking at the United Nations Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the U.S. would donate an additional $40 million to the opposition in Syria, $25 million of which will be used to support the civilian opposition’s efforts to create a new government.
On ISIS, Obama said the terror group—which in recent weeks has been the target of a U.S. bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria—”must be degraded, and ultimately destroyed.” His speech came just hours after five new U.S.-led airstrikes hit ISIS targets, striking two armed vehicles and a weapons cache, fighting positions, and vehicles. The U.S. carried out additional airstrikes later in the day, hitting a dozen oil refineries that ISIS has profited from. ISIS makes an estimated $2 million a day selling oil on the black market.
Obama continued to present the campaign as a cooperative effort. “Already, over 40 nations have offered to join this coalition,” he said. “Today, I ask the world to join in this effort.”
And, using an alternative acronym for ISIS, Obama called on the world’s Muslims to “explicitly, forcefully, and consistently reject the ideology of al Qaida and ISIL.”
Obama also said the rest of the world must help cut off funding for terror, and help wage the battle for hearts and minds—off-line and on.
“Their propaganda has coerced young people to travel abroad to fight their wars, and turned students into suicide bombers,” he said. “We must offer an alternative vision.”
The U.N. Security Council (UNSC) later adopted a resolution that underscores the responsibility of states to counter violent extremism.
At one point in his speech, Obama directly addressed the Muslim world’s young people. “You come from a great tradition that stands for education, not ignorance; innovation, not destruction; the dignity of life, not murder,” he said. “Those who call you away from this path are betraying this tradition, not defending it.”
Obama used the conflict in Ukraine to call on his fellow leaders to “meet our responsibility to observe and enforce international norms.”
Russia’s actions—annexing Crimea, arming Ukrainian separatists, and moving Russian troops across the border—”offer a vision of the world in which might makes right,” he said.
And in a blunt warning to Russian president Vladimir Putin, Obama continued: “We will impose a cost on Russia for aggression, and counter falsehoods with the truth.”
“We call upon others to join us on the right side of history,” Obama added. “For while small gains can be won at the barrel of a gun, they will ultimately be turned back if enough voices support the freedom of nations and peoples to make their own decisions.”
The U.S. president also called on global leaders to join the fight against the Ebola virus.
“We need a broader effort to stop a disease that could kill hundreds of thousands, inflict horrific suffering, destabilize economies, and move rapidly across borders,” he said. “It’s easy to see this as a distant problem – until it isn’t. That is why we will continue mobilizing other countries to join us in making concrete commitments to fight this outbreak, and enhance global health security for the long-term.”
Aiming to counter charges of hypocrisy as he leads a global mission to counter extremism abroad, Obama also acknowledged challenges at home.
“In a summer marked by instability in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, I know the world also took notice of the small American city of Ferguson, Missouri – where a young man was killed, and a community was divided,” he said. “So yes, we have our own racial and ethnic tensions. And like every country, we continually wrestle with how to reconcile the vast changes wrought by globalization and greater diversity with the traditions that we hold dear.”
Obama campaigned to end wars begun by his predecessors and became a commander-in-chief who was quickly awarded a Nobel peace prize. But his second term has been dogged by complex foreign crisis, from terrorist threats, to Russian aggression in Ukraine and now the spread of a deadly disease through Africa.
Three more targets were struck on Tuesday—two in Syria, one more in Iraq—according to a senior defense official. They came after a night of heavy bombardment, when more than 50 strikes attacked ISIS headquarters and bases in Syria and a terrorist group called the Khorasan group.
At the same time, the president and hundreds of world leaders descended on New York City for the United Nations’ annual meeting. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Arab League Secretary General Elaraby, discussing ISIS.
Kerry “noted that the Arab League has an important role in the coalition against ISIL, especially in delegitimizing ISIL’s warped ideology and also thanked him for the work the Arab League has already done to combat ISIL, including in its constructive public statements,” according to a White House statement.