Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said his priority at the UN would be reform of the organization’s peace strategy and architecture to recalibrate focus towards prevention – and not just resolution – of conflict.
Speaking Thursday in a session at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, Guterres said that peace-keeping consumes over 70% of the UN’s budge.
“Today, most of our operations take place in countries where there is no peace to keep. Peace-keepers become, inevitably, parties to the conflict,” Guterres said, adding that by preventing conflicts and helping countries that finally emerge from conflict, the UN will be able to limit its peace-keeping role.
Guterres, who assumed office on 1 January 2017, said his efforts at conflict prevention and resolution would not be limited to taking diplomatic action, but would attempt a comprehensive approach based on the UN’s core principles of ensuring peace, security, sustainable development and human rights.
“The best prevention is sustainable and inclusive development,” he said, pointing out that while the world is witnessing unparalleled technological progress, increasing volumes of trade, reduction of poverty and progress in living conditions, inequality has increased substantially. Meanwhile, the globalization of communication has made everyone aware of rising inequality, leading to frustration and fuelling conflict.
The Secretary-General noted that multilateral governance is as important in a multipolar world as in the unipolar system that has existed until recently, recalling that the World Wars occurred because there was not enough strength in the international institutions when competing centres of power emerged.
Having served on the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHCR) for 10 years before his current appointment, Guterres said that it is unfortunate that 2016 saw the closing of borders and disintegration of the compact on refugee protection that obligated countries to protect those fleeing persecution in their home countries. He said the UN General Assembly is attempting a renewed global compact on refugee protection, which needs solidarity particularly from countries that form the first line of reception. Guterres said that countries must take a fresh look at migration, which is here to stay, and is part of a solution and not a problem. It needs to be managed better, and stronger international cooperation is needed to make migration painless and a force of good for both migrants and receiving communities.
Guterres expressed optimism that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change will re-energize the UN and mobilize governments, businesses, communities and civil society to form new partnerships. He underlined the need for partnering with business, pointing out that the Sustainable Development Goals offer a return on investment of $30 billion annually. He stressed that the Fourth Industrial Revolution offers opportunity for creating a new platform for partnership at the higher level, which is crucial to deal with such advances as genetic engineering, artificial intelligence and cyberspace, for which dialogue is important.
He also reiterated his resolve to reform the management of the UN, including changing rules on staffing and budgeting, for instance, as well as decentralizing and streamlining systems to make the UN a more nimble, efficient and effective organization.