The president declared the U.N. must “stand up to this naked aggression,” drawing applause from many in attendance, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who will address the assembly later to seek aid for his battered nation.
Biden’s call was part of his long-running theme to rally democracies against the globe’s rising autocracies. On Tuesday, he went further, implicitly urging developing nations to turn their backs on Russia and China’s autocracies and join an inter-connected, rules-based order promoted by the U.S. and its allies.
“The United States seeks a more secure, more prosperous, more equitable world for all people, because we know our future is bound up with yours,” said Biden. “And no nation can meet the challenges of today alone.”
The centerpiece of his speech — one of the biggest stages Biden will have all year — was the war in Ukraine and the urgency for the world to stand with Kyiv.
The president hammered that point home from the U.N. rostrum, calling for the continent to stiffen its resolve as the U.S. continues to funnel billions of dollars of weapons and supplies to the Ukrainian resistance. Biden framed the battle as a rivalry between democracies and autocracies, but also pushed non-democracies to stand with the West against Russia.
Biden’s speech was equally directed to ears in Washington, where Republicans have called for slashing money being sent to the war zone. House GOP leaders, on Sunday night, introduced a government funding bill without any aid for Ukraine.
Donald Trump, expected to again become the GOP presidential nominee, has questioned the need to back Ukraine and repeated a desire to broker a peace deal with Russia quickly. Officials on both sides of the Atlantic assess that Putin is trying to wait out the upcoming U.S. election, believing that his fortunes in the war could change if a Republican commands from the Oval Office.
Congress has already approved $113 billion in aid for Ukraine including around $70 billion for security assistance; more than 90 percent of it has already been spent or assigned. The latest White House request includes $13.1 billion for military aid to Ukraine and replenishment of Pentagon weapons supplies that have been used for the war effort.
Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, skipped the general assembly, as did China’s Xi Jinping, but Beijing’s presence loomed large on the east side of Manhattan. While much of Biden’s speech read as a pitch to the developing world, its true subject was China, although the president tried to publicly downplay tensions with Beijing, as he did just weeks ago at the G20.
“None of these partnerships are about containing any other country,” said Biden. “We seek to responsibly manage the competition between our countries.”
Biden’s moment on the global stage came amid swirling domestic political worries.
The president has been grappling with possibly sweeping economic consequences of the United Auto Workers strike as well as ongoing fallout from the indictment of his son, Hunter, and an impeachment inquiry from Congress. His reelection bid also is top of mind — and its likely rematch against Trump.
And the clock is ticking toward a government shutdown at the end of the month, an outcome that White House aides would largely be blamed on Republicans — but still holds political risk for the president.
Still, the White House has leaned into Biden’s image as a global statesman, using it as proof of his leadership — and to highlight the revitalization of coalitions left damaged by Trump, his predecessor — as well as his vitality. Biden’s secret trip to Kyiv earlier this year was made into a recent campaign ad designed as a subtle rebuke to critics who believe the 80-year-old president is too frail to do the job.
The absence of the heavyweights from New York also, White House aides acknowledged, furthered the impression that the United Nations, though still a glitzy gathering of global diplomacy, has been diminished as a place to enact real change.