In The Beginning Was The Word…

Antonio Guterres

When Antonio Guterres recently visited the UK and addressed the UNA-UK assembly, not only was there an expectancy regarding the anticipated future direction and top-down influence on members, but also the environment that the Methodist Central Hall conveyed to the event.

The meeting was initially addressed with a welcome by Lord Wood of Anfield, and then opening remarks from the Rt. Hon Baroness Anelay of St Johns - the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister with responsibility for the UN.

It was noticeable that as soon as Guterres rose to his feet that the hall erupted into applause and cheers. Throughout, the feeling of anticipation and awe was alive and kicking amongst members. His start allowed the media to flash their cameras and the need for Natalie Samarasinghe (UNA Spokesperson and Executive Director) to eventually ask for silence.

Guterres began by outlining his determination to continue with a globalised approach, and appealed to the audience to take the same direction. He was not enamoured with nationalism, likening it to factionalism, and in some countries causing the rise again of fascism and ultra-right thinking, then exacerbated by media who achieve their stories from it all. He emphasised that globalisation, along with technological advancement “…have increased wealth, promoted trade, had a positive impact on wellbeing, and reduced absolute poverty “. He did admit however, that globalisation and progress had left some people behind through increased poverty. He appears to be a multilateralist, when he proclaimed that multilateralism requires the reforming of multilateralist organisations.

He linked many of his arguments to the importance of foreign policy, as being a vital component of UN policy and work. He emphasised by suggesting that the United Kingdom continue it’s involvement with the UN “…with an outward looking foreign policy built around a commitment to international co-operation “.

He intends decentralising the UN, to create greater flexibility, transparency and accountability to UN members. His objectives are to reform, to allow greater strategies, so we can improve the help given to people and their development. In appealing to UN member states to give the UN more responsibility and freedom of movement, he would apply those measures to increase the capacities of prevention, mediation and conflict resolution. To achieve these, he intends combining all areas of UN work a great deal more than they operate at present. He feels that each sector is operating independently of each other, and requires greater interactivity, if both prevention and resolution are to occur. So peace, security and human rights will now have their own agendas and strategic objectives, but combine to encapsulate policies and formulation of working plans which will involve all three sectors.

To move forward as a concerted organisation, he is moving towards higher levels of involvement with the private sector, as well as civil society. The reasoning is that many conflict situations arise because of the inadequacy of the economy and social development in problem areas. By investing in much larger capacities, the integration of developments in all sectors of a problem area will occur, through increased financial provision and so extra social development. Linked to this approach of a vast increase in capacity, is the intention to apply technology as a fundamental provision. In answer to a question later in the meeting, of how he intends providing greater opportunity for younger UN members to influence world events, and enthuse young people to join, he stated that technology was the way forward. He mentioned that at present the Secretariat is--looking at reorganising UN workings here. He said that at present there are fifty- six UN employees working in the communications department – fifty-three on radio, and only three on social media. This has to change.

He believes that the nature of present conflicts is now locally interlinked, causing such forces as terrorism. By reforming with a simultaneous response, it will create one pathway. It also means establishing greater co-ordination between the UN and international finance organisations as a means of increasing resource response.

The humanitarian and development work must be more resilient. To work, we must look at the organisation of peace and structures. Traditionally, the UN has negotiated between conflicting parties to achieve peace. That formula is now practically non-existent. There is now a need for more robust peace approaches to overcome spoilers or terrorists who do not allow peace to occur. Guterres is suggesting that the challenge is now the new realities requiring a new architecture.

Before the UN Assembly at present are two change measures: Regulation to counter terrorism, and new rules for countering sexual exploitation and offences. The arrangement processes must change; conspiracy in working must stop, and so alleviate the mistrust which is now occurring between member states. This, in order to persuade them that reform is necessary. So the UN needs simplification to achieve greater awareness amongst members.

Guterres is very much a believer in globalisation, and global change. He was critical of the USA in it’s stance on climate change for instance (before Donald Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement). Thinking globally, the Secretary-General sees the green plan as the good economy now. Wanting to mobilise countries on climate change, at a time when climate problems are becoming more dramatic and consequential. We have seen since this speech what he is up against in his deliberations, having requested of Trump that the USA stay in the Paris Agreement, but the contrary occurring.

He does not believe that Brexit and nationalism are necessarily inter-twined., but feels that there is now an increase in nationalistic thinking which emanates, as he believes does Brexit, from people’s anger. Yet that these trends are not only in the UK, but in other countries as well: Grievance against power, wealth and external richness. He suggests nationalism is an expression of anger when nationalism is aggressive. He suggests a good starting point to counter, is to convert policies into improvement and involvement.

The UN human rights agenda is to be closely scrutinised, because it is losing ground to the national sovereignty agenda. He intends countering, as believing that human rights is an essential ingredient to civil and public development. He wants a broader alliance on human rights to encounter more robustly those violating them. It is still happening in conflict situations where the UN is working.

Furthermore, his dislike of nationalism was evident in his sorrow that the development of enlightenment is now being eroded. Given to the globe by Europe, he feels that it’s inherent values of tolerance and primacy of reason is now being brought into question. He believes that a major cause is the irrationality of nationalism which has helped lead to increasing xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and anti-Muslim hatred. We now need to fight these trends. Not only ideologically, but also address the root causes. It comes about because people believe they have been left behind, that globalisation does not consider them, and has forgotten them. That irrationality is also linked to the now massive movements of people – resulting in such beliefs as; foreigners are coming to get us, and leading to unrest of inclusiveness in societies. Where Britain is concerned, he feels that it is now a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society, but that harmony does not happen naturally. There is a need for investment so that each group’s identity is respected, and that they belong in the community, and linked by the values of the community as a whole. There is still a lot to be done, considering that there is now too much radicalism against this or that group. It is time to respect each other.

He is looking at future questions, especially linked to unemployment which is increasingly affecting development and economic structures, especially in least developed countries. He gave Myanmar as an excellent example. He says that a major problem is the growing disenchantment, especially amongst the young over lack of opportunity and future prospects. That is now leading to many young people going off to fight because of lacking support in their own countries. He gave the Middle East as a cogent example. He is allowing for future trends in employment, but rather the projection that there will not be as much employment about in decades to come. He suggested for instance, that the revolution in transport with no drivers will impact considerably on the jobs market worldwide. He also mentioned the effects on people of artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and robotics. That the UN must anticipate these changes in advance, applying policies in keeping with its humanitarian and development work, including the alleviation of insecurity which that new world is likely to create. Thus, need for regulatory mechanisms to avoid threats to globalisation and security. People will be at the centre of the concerns. He is setting out to serve the people, not condescending to the media. He did not mention the post-truth agenda, but implied it when he suggested that much emotion and irrational thinking these days is the result of facts being misinterpreted to suit the objectives of interested groups.

A relevant question asked was how he would encounter powers, such as the USA, Russia and China who on some issues take differing sides, as with Syria. How would he avoid the UN simply being a by-stander? He admitted that the Security Council faces moments when the powers that be do not come together. He said he can only realistically address conflicts with positive outcomes when there is mutuality in the Security Council. Syria, he said was a glowing example of the UN being stopped from achieving a peace and reconciliation. He is of the opinion that until the various political sides realise that no one will win the war, then the catastrophe hitting Syria will not cease. He advised that it is taking vast diplomacy to bring the differing sides together, but there is no let-up. Furthermore, he is worried about the growing effects that the Syrian problem is having on the whole region. He said there is now regional insecurity rippling from Syria to Iraq, Jordan and Libya, in the form of economic degeneration. There are complexities also in the Turkish/Kurdish problem. The overall result is increasing terrorism, which is beginning to affect us all

He does envisage that the UN, in all its complexities will sometimes encounter failure, but must continue to try. We are there to unite countries, not to allow discrepancies to occur.

He was also asked if he intended reforming the UN Charter on Human Rights, and the Universal Declaration on Refugee Status, considering they were written over seventy years ago. He felt that if they were re-written today, that they would be worse than what they are. He intends to continue with them. The experiences, he added of those in World War 11.led people to generate rules in the UN which have led to mainly peace. He however, markedly warned that there was no room for complacency. That before World War 1, Europe had moved from being by-polar to being multi-polar. Yet because there was not multilateralism, multi-polarism helped lead to World War 1. He wishes to gradually build multi-polarism, but include multilateralism.

Overall, Guterres can be said to be astute and determined. He is very thoughtful and has substantially developed his views, based on his deep-seated beliefs. His vision and direction are very commendable: A person of sound judgement. However, it remains to be seen as to whether his objectives will be fulfilled, considering the political objectives of the various member states, especially the larger powers with veto. As UNA members, I feel we have a leader of the UN who is more than worth supporting, and that he deserves our respect and backing.

I am of the opinion that Guterres is a man of substance. His words suggest a new dawn for all that the UN stands for. However, there will be many challenges and obstacles which may override his directions. Although taken slightly out of context, the words at the beginning of St John’s Gospel may be an appropriate description at this point: “In the beginning was the word… “.

Vivian Rees. MA

(UNA Shropshire)