65 million migrants worldwide are among the issues facing incoming UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres
UNITED NATIONS — While Washington awaits the inauguration of a new U.S. president on Jan. 20, the United Nations has quietly passed its baton of leadership to a new Secretary-General from Portugal.
Addressing the General Assembly in the midst of the current global chaos, Antonio Guterres warned candidly, “Our most serious shortcoming, and here I refer to the entire international community, is our ability to prevent crises.” He added, “The United Nations was born from war. Today, we must be here for peace.”
After taking the oath of Office, incoming Secretary-General Guterres stressed, “The challenges are now surpassing our ability to respond.”
Crises throughout the Middle East with the seething epicenter in Syria not to mention waves of migrants numbering over 65 million, have jolted the global order. The UN Security Council meets regularly to manage and contain, but tragically not solve, many of the conflicts.
Antonio Guterres recalled that when he first became Portugal’s Prime Minister back in the 1990’s “the world was riding a wave of optimism. The Cold War had ended and some had described that as the end of history.”
Yet the new Secretary-General advised that the end of the Cold War was not the end of history, “On the contrary history had simply been frozen in some places. When the old order melted away, history came back with a vengeance.”
He continued, “Hidden contradictions and tensions resurfaced. New wars multiplied and old ones reignited.” The he added poignantly, “Lack of clarity in power relations led progressively to greater unpredictability and impunity.”
Yet it’s not only the new geopolitical challenges which Antonio Guterres addressed. He advised that the last twenty years have seen “extraordinary progress” and the proportion of people living in poverty has “fallen dramatically.” Still the Secretary-General designate concedes that, “A lot of people have been left behind, even including in the developed countries where millions of old jobs have disappeared and new ones are out of reach for many.”
Guterres underscored, “All this has deepened the divide between people and political establishments.”
He presented a plan of action which would focus on more effective UN peacekeeping missions, reaching the socio/economic Sustainable Development Goals benchmarks, and UN management reforms.
As for the 193-member state organization itself, Antonio Guterres stressed, “The United Nations needs to be nimble, efficient and effective. It must focus more on delivery and less on process; more on people and less on bureaucracy.”
Outgoing Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon from South Korea recalled his own ten-year tenure as facing the economic recession, regional conflicts, refugee flows and the intractable Syrian conflict. Yet, as Ban stressed in his own patient way, “day by day, brick by brick, we built stronger foundations for peace and progress.”
Recalling his childhood in war-torn Korea, the Secretary-General told assembled delegates “After the Korean War, UN aid fed us. UN textbooks taught us. UN global solidarity showed us we were not alone. For me, the power of the United Nations was never abstract or academic.”
Ban’s own two terms were widely praised by diplomats while at the same time the glaring realities of unsolved crises were not far away.
Literally a day after the formalities, the Security Council was churning on with Syria’s festering crisis. “This is a dark day for the people of Aleppo, surely the darkest of the past five years,” warned British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft.
New Zealand’s delegate Gerard van Bohemen put the matter into stunning clarity, “I was often asked by my colleagues, “What will be your Rwanda moment?”, this of course relating to the 1994 African genocide when the world chose to look the other way. “I think it’s probably arrived.” He added the tactics being used in Aleppo “fuel radicalism rather than hastening the end of the war. They make peace more distant.”
Tributes continue for Ban Ki-Moon amidst the tribulations of suffering Syria and the organized terror against ancient Mideast Christian communities.
Ban Ki-Moon has tirelessly striven to stop the Syrian war but let’s not forget the deadlock in the Security Council between the USA/UK/France paralyzed by the Russian and to some degree the Chinese position. Moral suasion cannot always overcome cold political calculations.
And so we return to Antonio Guterres’ dubious inheritance. This dedicated diplomat from Portugal who has spoken of his “gratitude and humility” in being elected to a five-year appointment as UN Secretary-General as of Jan. 1, 2017, now assumes a perilous post.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]