“We need a surge in diplomacy for peace. Under the guidance of the Security Council and in accordance with the Charter, the Secretary General should actively, consistently and tirelessly exercise his good offices and mediation capacity as an honest broker, bridge builder and messenger of peace. Full use should be made of the Organization’s convening power, as a forum for dialogue, to ease tensions and facilitate peaceful solutions.” — UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres
In his first tweet as UN’s new leader, Antonio Guterres exhorted the world community to make 2017 “a year for peace.” Consistent with his “vision statement,” partially quoted above, Guterres has rightly prioritized global peace as his number one objective, knowing full well of the negative ramification of lack of peace for all the other top UN priorities, such as refugees, human rights, and sustainable development. Without doubt, 2017 will extend 2016’s global tumults, including multiple raging conflicts, unresolved tensions, rampant terrorism, and the like, thus introducing a high degree of uncertainty regarding what the UN can realistically achieve in the realm of peace.
Of course, adding to Guterres’ chores, he must reckon with a rookie US president who has displayed utter disdain for the UN and has made several incendiary foreign policy statements, such as accelerating the nuclear arms race, which do not sit well with the UN’s priorities.
Managing the UN’s relations with the Trump administration will not be easy, particularly if Trump evinces a real knack for foreign adventures, in which case the cause of world peace and stability would be harmed. Hopefully this will not be the case, in light of Trump’s own statement, last April, that his priority was Middle East stability and fighting the menace of ISIS terrorism. If Trump remains consistent with his campaign rhetoric, then chances are he will seek to revise US’s Syria (and to a lesser extent Iraq) policy in favor of peace and stability, instead of chaos and instability, which unfortunately must be regarded as Obama’s net legacy with respect to the Middle East.
In his recent interview, Mr. Guterres has also indicated that peace in Syria is his top priority, which is crucial if the UN wants to prove more effective than the past, when his predecessor, Ban Ki-Moon, simply followed the US’s lead. UN must lead, however, and not turn into the instrument of any world power, which is Guterres’ biggest test. His promise of a “surge in diplomacy for peace” has already raised expectations and the parameters of a “new diplomacy” must be first defined before expecting the results, otherwise it remains an unfulfilled wishful thinking.
A new diplomacy for peace must be predicated on the Secretary General’s will to action and ability to bridge the unbridgeable by bringing hostile parties together for the sake of peace. UN has a long and proud history in peace efforts, in light of the current 16 peacekeeping operations around the world that involve over 118,000 personnel and a good deal of money (over 7 billion dollars annually); already, the US Congress, in retaliation against the UN over the recent vote on Israel, is planning new legislation that would curb US’s funding for UN, which if enacted would add to UN’s financial woes.
This aside, a big bonus for peace would be if some of those operations conclude with the glowing reports on their mission country graduating to a post-conflict situation. That is unlikely to happen in 2017 and, in fact, some of the ‘graduated’ countries might re-lapse back to conflict and require more UN blue helmets to restore peace, rule of law, etc. A cynical gaze at today’s situation in Africa may fuel the latter.
With respect to Syria, on the other hand, Guterres will need cooperation from the regional actors who are stakeholders in the conflict, such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, to make sure that every one is board the surge for peace, which has so far eluded the war-torn country infested with foreign terrorists.
Since the Syrian conflict is also a proxy conflict between and among various regional players, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, Guterres would be well-advised to adopt a holistic view of peace in Syria and seek to reach a thaw in Iran-Saudi relations in tandem with his direct efforts for political dialogue between Syrian government and the opposition, brokered presently by Russia and Turky, not to mention the UN Special Envoy’s separate effort to hold similar peace talks in February.
An integrated approach to global peace spearheaded through a new UN diplomacy might be in the making, which can be inferred from Guterres’ public statements, reflecting a multi-dimensional approach that puts high premium on Guterres’ personal input.
At a time when the US is turning more and more insular, i.e., protectionist and averse toward globalism, and some of the recent conflicts have defied the UN’s ability to make more than a small dent, the stakes could not be any higher, and the challenges more formidable, as far as the new UN Secretary General is concerned.
One of the key problems of the UN, as an inter-government agency, is that it is ill-suited to deal with non-state actors, who are under one guise or another playing a more prominent role on the world stage, thus requiring a fine-tuning of UN’s tool to deal with them, relatively independent of the Security Council or the General Assembly. Indeed, this points at one of the small pitfalls of Guterres’ statement quoted above, that shows his penchant for heavy reliance on the Security Council.
But, for the UN’s new peace diplomacy to work, this must stem from the UN Secretariat and show a whole new level of energy and will-to-action on the part of Secretary General, following the legacy of the great Dag , whose hands-on method culminated in his tragic plane crash in the Congo in 1961; sadly, there has been no truly great Secretary General since, and Guterres has the ability to distinguish himself as yet another world leader deserving comparison with Hammarskjöld.