But the President’s call for unity comes as the US is embroiled in a series of global controversies that have left allies questioning if his administration is truly ready to move past an “America First” era of foreign policy.
Here are a few key points from Biden’s maiden speech — and how global leaders might respond.
Biden proclaimed a new chapter was beginning after the decision to end two decades of war in Afghanistan.
“As we close this period of relentless war, we’re opening a new era of relentless diplomacy, of using the power of our development aid to invest in new ways of lifting people up around the world,” the President said.
But many nations have also questioned the largely unilateral decision by the Biden administration to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of August after 20 years of war, one that led to a chaotic withdrawal and a rapid, humiliating takeover of the country by the Taliban.
Ebrahim Raisi, the President of Iran — which has no formal diplomatic relations with the US — used his first UNGA speech to attack Biden’s Afghanistan strategy, referencing Afghan civilians who were seen falling from American evacuation planes last month in Kabul.
Raisi called for the US to refrain from trying to influence the world, saying the world no longer cares about “America First” or “America’s Back” — taking a dig at both Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump.
“Freedom does not fit in the backpacks of soldiers coming from outside the region,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Taliban have requested representation at the UNGA and for their spokesman to address the assembly.
On fears of a new Cold War
Without naming China, Biden said the US does not want a new Cold War with the most populous country in the world, but that he was looking to “compete vigorously” with the world’s autocracies.
“We’re not seeking — say it again — we are not seeking a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocks,” Biden said, adding that the US is “ready to work with any nation that steps up and pursues peaceful resolution to shared challenges, even if we have intense disagreement in other areas, because we’ll all suffer the consequences of our failure.”
In a pre-recorded speech broadcast after Biden’s, Chinese President Xi Jinping underscored China’s commitment to multilateralism, although Beijing’s critics will note that its policies toward the South China Sea and Taiwan, for example, paint a different picture.
China considers the 1.3 million-square-mile South China Sea as its own sovereign territory, expanding and fortifying military installations on man-made islands there. Beijing regards Taiwan as its territory to be brought under Chinese control, by force if necessary.
Biden said the US will “stand up for our allies and our friends and oppose attempts by stronger countries to dominate weaker ones,” citing attempts to change territory by force, economic coercion and disinformation as examples of malign activity the US would oppose.
He said the US is turning its focus to the Indo-Pacific region and is “fixing our eyes on devoting our resources to the challenges that hold the keys to our collective future.”
The US recently entered a trilateral partnership with Australia and the United Kingdom to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines — a major step toward countering China (and prompting a diplomatic row with France.)
Still, the leaders of the world’s two largest economies did take a markedly less confrontational tone, perhaps a nod to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call for the countries to fix their “completely dysfunctional” and confrontational relationship — one that risks affecting the world order.
“One country’s success does not have to mean another country’s failure, and the world is big enough to accommodate common development and progress of all countries,” said Xi.
On the climate crisis
Biden urged world leaders to unite in fighting climate change, calling the climate crisis “borderless,” and one that is reaching a “point of no return.”
He announced an effort to mobilize $100 billion to support climate action in developing nations and called on world leaders to “bring their highest-possible ambitions to the table,” when they convene at a climate summit in Scotland later this year.
In his pre-recorded speech, China’s Xi made a major new climate commitment on behalf of the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, saying that the country will not build any new coal-fired power projects abroad.
That vow marks a shift in policy around Beijing’s sprawling Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, which had already begun to draw down its coal initiatives. China will also increase financial support for green and low-carbon energy projects in other developing countries, Xi said.
Meanwhile, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a climate change skeptic whose policies have undone decades of progress on reducing deforestation, claimed in his speech that the Amazon had “a 32% reduction in deforestation in the month of August when compared to August of the previous year.”
However non-governmental organizations say that figure contradicts data and aerial images of the region that show deforestation is on the rise, consumed by fire, scars from mining activities within protected areas, illegal landing strips, large plots of land being prepared for planting, and cattle grazing alongside recent fires.
Peru will declare a national emergency as part of its commitment to tackling the climate change crisis, President Pedro Castillo said in his address, without providing further details on what that entails. He also demanded that countries that “pollute the most” work to “meet their obligations.”
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in his speech that his country would move to ratify the Paris climate accord — an international agreement among nearly 200 nations to combat climate change — next month.
On vaccine inequality
Biden lauded the US’ vaccine sharing efforts, saying they’d provided a “little dose of hope” in communities around the world.
The US has contributed more than $15 billion toward global Covid-19 response, shipping “more than 160 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine to other countries,” he said.
Still, vaccine inequality continues to be fueled by the actions — or inactions — of the world’s richest nations. Last week, the World Health Organization said that more than 5.7 billion vaccine doses have been administered globally, with 73% of those doses administered in just 10 countries.
Biden’s comments followed a scathing indictment on vaccine inequality from the UN Secretary-General, who pointed out that more than 90% of Africans are still waiting for a first dose while many in rich nations are already fully vaccinated.
“This is a moral indictment of the state of our world. It is an obscenity,” Guterres said.
Biden said he’ll be announcing additional commitments to fight the virus at a US-hosted global Covid-19 summit on Wednesday.