In a speech to the Paris Peace Forum in Paris on Monday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that to thrive, multilateralism had to adapt, mindful that “conflicts persist, creating suffering and displacement: our world is unsettled”, according to the official UN News website. He was speaking as commemorations took place in countries across the world, marking the official end of the First World War, in 1918.
Drawing parallels with the geopolitical landscape in the early 20th Century, Mr. Guterres described today’s world as neither bipolar, unipolar, nor multipolar, but rather “chaotic and uncertain”.
Today, he said, conflicts are not between sovereign States, but rather consist of asymmetrical conflicts, in which countries are often pitted against non-State actors.
When third-party states interfere, these conflicts take on a regional dimension, continued Mr. Guterres, at a time when relations between the most powerful countries are dysfunctional, and with a Security Council that is frequently paralysed.
The UN chief declared that conflict prevention is more indispensable than ever, citing growing links to a new form of global terrorism, as seen in Libya and the Lake Chad region, and the danger of nuclear proliferation. He called for the root causes to be addressed, as well as the prevention of new tensions and conflicts.
Mr. Guterres explained that international cooperation is the only way to solve these issues, which is why crisis prevention and mediation, as well as a framework for fighting violent extremism, and reinforcing peace and international security, are at the heart of his UN reforms.
The world is facing five major risks, declared the Secretary-General. Firstly, an economic, technological and geostrategic fault line. This sees the planet divided in two, with the two largest economies dividing the world between them, each imposing their own financial and economic rules on their spheres of influence.
“We must do all we can to avoid this ‘Great Fracture’ and preserve a global system, a universal economy that respects international law, a multipolar world with solid multilateral institutions”.
The second risk lies in the social contract between citizens and governments, leading to a wave of demonstrations around the world, said Mr Guterres, which demonstrates a growing distrust in institutions and political leaders. “The people are suffering”, he declared, “and want to be heard”.
This leads to a third risk, said the UN chief: a solidarity gap, and rise in inward-looking attitudes, in which the most vulnerable – minorities, refugees, migrants, women and children – are the first to suffer:
“Fear of foreigners is being used for political ends. Intolerance and hatred are becoming commonplace. People who have lost everything are being blamed for all the world’s ills. This exacerbates the polarization of political life and the risk of divided societies”.
The fourth risk, Mr. Guterres spelled out, is the climate crisis, a “race against time for the survival of our civilization, a race that we are losing”. The UN chief described record temperatures, receding icecaps, expanded deserts, and destructive storms, such as those he has witnessed as UN chief in Dominica, Mozambique and the Bahamas.
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