Photo: Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. 19 January 2017. Credit: World Economic Forum/Valeriano Di Domenico. - Photo: 2017

Conflict Prevention Needs UN Reform and Much More

By António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

“The best prevention for conflict and the best prevention for other negative impacts on societies is, of course, sustainable and inclusive development,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in remarks at the special session on “Cooperation for Peace: Tackling the Root Causes of Global Crises” at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on January 19. He also urged the need for “a new generation of partnerships, partnerships not only with governments, not only with civil society and academia but equally partnerships with the business community”. Following are detailed excerpts from his remarks.

DAVOS (IDN-INPS) – We live in a dangerous world. We see a proliferation of new conflicts; old conflicts seem never to die. Conflicts are becoming more and more interlinked, more linked with the new threat of global terrorism.

In many situations they are internal conflicts, asymmetric, with terrible violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law. They are the result of fragilities of states, of institutions, of societies, and in a world where power relations became unclear – not only unpredictability and impunity tend to proliferate, but it is very difficult for the international community to prevent crises and to timely solve them.

At the same time, if one looks at the interconnection of the global megatrends – population growth and movements of people, climate change, food insecurity, water scarcity – we see how they are more and more inter-combined, enhancing each other and creating situations in which more people are displaced or tension, conflicts can emerge.

A huge frustration

Even if one looks at the amazing results of globalization and technological progress, a huge increase in world richness, the fact that trade has multiplied enormously in the last decades, if one sees how living conditions have improved and even how absolute poverty has dramatically decreased, the truth is that inequalities have also terribly increased and that has created, especially because of the globalization of communication, that everybody now is aware of what is happening everywhere, that has created a huge frustration in many sectors of the population, frustration that leads to the divorce between public opinion, societies and not only political establishments but also international organizations even like the UN.

Now, in this context, it is clear that we need a surge in diplomacy for peace, and I think it is one of the key functions of a Secretary-General is to get personally involved in trying to create conditions for some of these conflicts at least to find a way to be resolved.

Wars and global terrorism

And I think there is only one way to do it. It is to convince the parties to the conflict and the countries that have influence on the parties to the conflict that today’s wars are wars that nobody wins; everybody is losing, and that wars that are becoming not only a terrible source of suffering for the populations of the countries involved but a threat to regional stability and today, if you look at Syria, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, they also are responsible for this dramatic increase in global terrorism.

And so, I think that with the threat that is so clear, the countries involved should understand that they need to come together and put an end to this conflict and the pressure over them is, I think, one of the functions that the Secretary-General of the United Nations needs to be able, together with many other actors, and also respecting the leadership of Member States, the Secretary-General should be able to push more strongly, in order to be able to at least minimize some of the terrible consequences that we are now facing.

Prevention should be priority

But it is clear for me that the priority for an organization like the UN and I would say the priority for the international community must be prevention – prevention of conflict, but not only of conflict – prevention of natural disasters and a certain number of other forms and other threats that undermine the well-being of the population of our planet.

Prevention cannot be – especially when we speak of the prevention of conflict – cannot be reduced to some form of diplomatic action. No, prevention needs to be a comprehensive approach, and for an organization like the UN, prevention needs to bring together its three pillars of action: peace and security, sustainable development, and human rights. And needs to recognise that the best prevention for conflict and the best prevention for other negative impacts on societies is, of course, sustainable and inclusive development.

In that regard, we need to take advantage of the ambitious agreements of last year – the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the agreement to 2030 for Sustainable Development Goals, and agree to mobilize, not only governments, not only civil society, academia, but the business sector in order to take advantage of these agreements and to be together in a new form of partnership able at transforming those agreements into areas of action that help to prevent conflicts and other dramas that we face in today’s world.

Need to invest in resilience of societies

And that means that we need to invest in the resilience of societies. We need to invest in the strength of state institutions and civil societies. We need to invest in the protection of human rights. We need to invest in the empowerment of women. But also in addressing the scourge of youth unemployment that is probably the worst problem we are facing in today’s world, with consequences not only for the well-being of the people involved and the societies but also for global security, as young unemployed people in several parts of the world are the largest area of recruitment for terrorist groups.

But also to invest in addressing the basic needs of the population – from education, from health, water, sanitation, and to bring humanitarian and development actors together, namely in the fragile situations that we face in many parts of the world.

And, at the same time, recognizing that all societies are now multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multicultural, to invest in the social cohesion of those societies; for diversity to be a richness, not a threat. For people to be able first of all to see their identities valued, but also for people to feel that they belong to the larger community for societies being inclusive and cohesive, not to become a source of confrontation, not to become a source of instability, as we unfortunately see in many parts of the world, including in the developed world.

Need to reform the UN

Now, in a context like this, and to be able to address these challenges, I think it is very important for the UN to recognise the need to reform. And I would select three main areas of reform: first of all, reform of our peace strategy and architecture.

Today, essentially the UN is known because of the peacekeeping missions, and peacekeeping consumes about 70 percent of our budget. And most of our operations take place in countries where there is no peace to keep; peacekeepers become inevitably parties to the conflict, and in a number of situations, that creates extremely difficult environments and facilitates the kind of abuses that also tarnish the image of the UN.

We need to make sure that prevention and sustaining peace in countries that finally emerge from conflict must be the priority of the priorities, and hopefully limit our peacekeeping efforts in the future much more, thanks to our capacity to prevent crises and to allow for stability to be preserved in societies.

The reform of the peace and security areas of the UN, the reform of the UN development system, based on coordination and accountability, to be able to fully support countries in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, and the implementation of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and finally our management reform. The staff rules, the financial rules, the budgetary rules of the UN – if they were the result of a conspiracy not to allow the UN to work, we would probably be the same that we have.

Logic of bureaucracy hinders decentralisation

Obviously, there was no conspiracy, but what has happened is that, in the logic of a bureaucracy, central control has tended not to allow the normal development of adequate procedures – decentralizing, simplifying things, and the difficult relationship between the so-called western countries and the G77 in the General Assembly, and the so-called Fifth Committee, with the mistrust that exists, has created a tendency for micromanagement that, for instance, doesn’t allow me to create a post at a low professional level in any part of the world without going to the General Assembly.

Now, we need to engage with all Member States to make them understand that there is a win-win strategy if it is based on simplification, decentralization, more flexibility and in a culture of transparency and accountability. Only a reformed UN can be the engine of one international community able to transform prevention into a true priority and we know that that would not be easy, because cameras are not there when a conflict is prevented; cameras are only there when a conflict finally takes place.

Partnership with businesses

And the second aspect that I believe is absolutely crucial is the enhancement of a new generation of partnerships, partnerships not only with governments, not only with civil society and academia but equally partnerships with the business community in the context of the perspective of implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change, creating the conditions for an inclusive and sustainable development – the best way to prevent crises and conflicts in today’s world.

I think it is important to notice, if one looks at the debate that took place here in the World Economic Forum, that today there is a perfect conscience that business of businesses is not only business, and we have seen how social corporate responsibility has developed, we have seen how philanthropy has expanded tremendously in the last few years. But, what I am particularly interested in the alignment of the core business of the private sector with the strategic goals of the international community.

I think that we have gone already very far when one looks at the green economy and when one looks at the efforts to tame climate change. It is clear now that it is good business to invest in the green economy and that the green economy has created a large number of opportunities for profitable investment for the private sector. I would say that when we look at the threats that exists today between climate change and the possibility of less supportive action by some governments, I will say that the best allies of all those that want to make sure that the Paris Agreement is implemented, the best allies today in the world are probably in the business sector and it is very important to fully mobilize them.

But even in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals, a calculation that was recently made shows that the returns on investments that can be generated by the full implementation of those goals would mean something in the order of magnitude of $30 billion per year. Which means that we have here an opportunity both to generate investments that are attractive for the private sector but simultaneously to allow for the private sector to play an absolutely essential role in making sure that those goals are effectively achieved. Because without the private sector we will not have the necessary innovation, we will not have the necessary capacity to discover new markets, new products, new services and to be able to develop new areas in the economy. Without the private sector, we will not create enough jobs, we will not bring enough dynamism and stability to the societies that need to be enhanced with the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

And that is why I believe that there is now an opportunity for a new platform of partnership, at a higher level. A platform for partnership that can now serve not only to implementing the goals and defining the past, but addressing the challenges that we will be facing in relation to the future and namely the impacts that have been discussed so many times in this World Economic Forum, the so-called fourth industrial revolution, and the challenges that the international community faces in areas like genetic engineering or artificial intelligence and the problems of cyber-space, in which is my deep belief that only with a very strong dialogue and partnership between governments, international organizations and the private sector, it would be possible to transform them in instruments that would allow for fantastic increase in the well-being of people and avoid the risks that would be a nightmare for mankind as, unfortunately, a totally unregulated form of research in some of these areas would eventually generate. [IDN-INPS – 20 January 2017]

Photo: Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. 19 January 2017. Credit: World Economic Forum/Valeriano Di Domenico.

IDN is flagship of the International Press Syndicate.

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