Photo: UN Secretary-General António Guterres on his priorities for 2019 at the Press Conference on 18 January 2019 in New York. Credit: UN Web TV. - Photo: 2019

UN Chief Careful Not to Finger Point Any Of The P-5

By Erol Avdovic

This article is the first in a series of WebPublicaPress Online Magazine’s analyses being published by IDN-InDepthNews, flagship of the International Press Syndicate.

UNITED NATIONS (IDN) – Where there is no leadership and vision, the people perish – it’s an old saying in different languages around the world.

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant,” said Max DePree, an American writer and businessman of the 20th century.

At the United Nations, the leadership credo has always been: do not antagonize the Permanent Five (P-5) Members of the 15-nation UN Security Council – USA, China, Russia, United Kingdom, and France. And, as Secretary-General strive your utmost to become the superman of political correctness.

There will of course always be ample opportunities for epideictic rhetoric, though these may bring at best only a few crucial changes.

A perfect bureaucrat speaks the truth

While António Guterres, the current UN chief, tends to talk more and more about “multilateralism”, the organization that he leads – the United Nations – continues to be largely the property of the P-5 Great Powers.

Even for a politician of a heavy political caliber and enormous professional experience, who once was the Prime Minister of Portugal, it’s not without political risk to point finger at elephants in the room – even when there is enough reason or evidence to do so.

To a certain extent, Guterres – who on January 1 completed the two of five years of his (first) term as UN Secretary-General – is a perfect impersonation of the 19th Century Bismarck era, in which politics was defined as the “art of the possible.”

In the current 21st Century it may be taken to mean: you talk and talk about issues of paramount significance even though there is little you can change.

But you better choose your words and don’t call names. ‘Perfect bureaucrat’ is the name of the game.

“There is no doubt in my mind that global challenges require global solutions,” Guterres told journalists at his first 2019 press conference at the UN Headquarters in New York. He talked about challenges – from climate change to migration and terrorism, but also about, as he put it, “the downsides of globalization”.

One would say – nothing new, and even less original compared to what late Kofi Annan, the seventh UN Secretary-General, once said: “Think globally but act locally.”

Guterres, who is the ninth Secretary General (since the establishment of the United Nations on October 24, 1945 in San Francisco), speaks in a different context now; and, certainly in times different than those of bygone years.

Before facing the press on January 18, the Secretary-General briefed the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on the challenges of 2019. He spoke about “some” of the achievements of the UN in 2018 – “on many fronts, and in many cases against the odds”.

At the UNGA, he said: multilateralism is in need today – more than ever.

“No country can do it alone,” Guterres stressed the same old, but good UN mantra addressing UN correspondents later, knowing pretty well that “simply saying this will not make it happen”. He confessed: “Words are not enough.”

But of course words matter.

Although globalization has brought significant progress in many areas and corners of the world, it has not solved major problems. In fact, as Guterres rightly remarked, inequalities have grown, resulting in additional social unfairness; and this, not only among countries but also even more among the people.

“People, sectors, entire regions have been left behind,” he declared.

In the meantime, some of those who rule the world are inciting menacing populism – reinforcing the view that globalism has not ushered in political, economic or social emancipation, which many believed – naively, in retrospect – it would.

Guterres was speaking truth to power. Journalists like that sort of talk.

He seemed to be talking about U.S. President Donald Trump and his new American era. But, again, the UN Secretary-General didn’t mention any names.

Fear and hate

“The best-selling brand in our world today is indeed fear,” Guterres told UN correspondents.

People can become “easy targets for nationalists, populists and all those who profit from fear.” He talked about “click” driven media motivated with narrow vested interests rather than with the common morality.

The lessons of history should not be abandoned since history tends to repeat itself

“Let’s never forget the lessons of the 1930s,” he warned.

“Hate speech and hate crimes are direct threats to human rights, to sustainable development and to peace and security.”

Guterres announced that he had directed his Special Adviser for the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng of Senegal, to assemble a UN team, define and respond with a “system-wide strategy” and a global plan of action to the hate speech and hate crimes – without any delay.

Selling fear and finding tools to halt it

The challenge for governments around the world and the United Nations is “to show that we care”. The UN, in particular, has “to mobilize solutions that respond to people’s fears and anxieties with answers, concrete answers,” Guterres said.

Thus, the UN faces a challenge to use the real tools to halt those whose actions are threats to the World Order that maintains peace and tends to bring benefits to all, not only to the few.

That’s why the United Nations will act in three areas, Guterres said spelling out his 2019 agenda: Fair globalization and the 2030 Agenda, showing the UN added value, as one underlining the Paris Climate Agreement, agreed in Katowice, Poland — as a “vital tool” in fighting climate change. There is also a Global Compact for migration and refugees, which was, as Guterres pointed out, “adopted despite a huge misinformation campaign”.

In addition, the “diplomacy for peace” will be employed in war zones with the UN focus on Yemen; it will stay on top of the agenda, despite the recognized difficulties in its implementation.

How to rebuild trust

But it is easier said than done. After all, confidence in the UN is not higher than during the days of Guterres’ predecessor – mostly cheerful and energetic, certainly not less charismatic Korean at the helm – Ban Ki-moon.

Guterres knows that “many people still see the UN as cumbersome and bureaucratic.”

Answering the questions of UN-based journalists in New York, on all of the current challenges, the Guterres rarely proposed a specific action. But he was clearly advocating all those issues from the right perspective.

He obviously knows what has to be done, but he can’t do it without the P-5. Let’s face it: multilateralism carries less weight when it does not come from America, China or Russia.

Despite good intentions of every UN Secretary General, the United Nations has not yet adopted key reforms such as the transformation of the Security Council into a more representative body. The reason: the P-5 oppose it tooth and nail.

It has become a taboo topic for every Secretary-General. Recognizing reality, Guterres thinks it should be left to the UN General Assembly where 193 member states have to agree or find a consensus, though it’s not a very likely option.

At the same time, the world can’t wait too long and needs decisive and brave leaders who would speak to the power, rather than missing in action.

What about US Dollars

Speaking on the UN financial situation and the impact the United States’ “failure to pay” its total dues of the peacekeeping budget would have, Guterres was more clear.

Answering the Associated Press, he said the UN would present to the General Assembly “a detailed report of that situation” with suggestions on how to address this problem.

Recently the U.S. decided to pay (only) 25 percent of the peacekeeping budget although assessed contribution for the United States is 28 percent.

The problem is that the UN cannot resolve the issue simply by reducing the expenditure by 3 percent for peacekeeping.

Guterres said it is a “problem of a gap – of a gap” that, in the last few years and as of today accounts for around $600 million.

He said this gap “is being funded and would be funded, incrementally, by troop-contributing countries and police-contributing countries”, although most of them are the poorest countries in UN.

“So, it’s totally unacceptable from the moral point of view and totally unsustainable to keep this situation forever,” Guterres said talking precisely and clearly with an eye on Washington from New York.

Hot spots: Yemen and Syria

On Yemen, the current most catastrophic hot spot area not only in the Middle East but in a broader region, where UN has been accused of biased approach, the Secretary- General said, he “can guarantee” that the UN (and all people working) in Yemen “has no agenda but the Yemeni people and peace in Yemen”.

And on Syria where civil war is raging since 2011, Guterres was clear as well: “any solution that is found needs to combine three principles.” First, the unity and territorial integrity of Syria; second, to take into account “legitimate security concerns” of Turkey; third, to recognize diversity of the population of the Syrian Arab Republic and to allow for a voice to be given to the different components of that population.

He made it clear that the UN has not “any plan for any deployment” in Syria for now.

Jamal Khashoggi and UN shortcomings

But Guterres has his ups and downs when it comes to the most current issue in world affairs. Such is the case of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khasoggi. He is, in fact, largely criticized for lack of action on this issue.

Even after three months since the gruesome killing and some UN member states’ and civil society’s outcry for UN investigation, the Secretary-General is not very much responsive.

Answering whether he finds the trial of those accused in Saudi Arabia credible and sufficient, and whether he would launch any UN investigation, Guterres offered a confusing position saying he has “not right to launch an investigation”.

“A Secretary-General as such cannot launch a criminal investigation,” he said answering the Turkish journalist at the UN.

“I can do it with a mandate from the Security Council if the Security Council recognizes there is a threat to peace and security and, in some less clear circumstances, the General Assembly.”

Guterres also said, “no formal criminal investigation was requested” addressed to him by any UN member state so far.

But this is not the best example of multilateralism, when there is a call for a moral leadership for the UN Secretary-General to act in the capacity of the world’s human rights champion.

Cynics would say it is harder to point criticism to rich countries, than to those from the poor Third World.

And does he encourage Turkey to submit the request for UN investigation of Jamal Khasoggi’s murder?

“I’m not in a position to encourage member States,” he said. He added: “It depends on decisions of the Human Rights Council.” (Read also: Will UN Chief Explore the Truth Behind Khashoggi Slaughter?)

North Korea

On easing sanctions at the UN Security Council against North Korea (DPRK) including restarting humanitarian aid, and also pushing the process of denuclearisation, Guterres said aid should be separated from political objectives.

“We should never refuse humanitarian aid to any country in the world in any circumstance for the people of that country if the humanitarian aid can be distributed to the people of that country,” the UN Secretary General said.

“We believe it’s high time to make sure that the negotiations between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea start again seriously and that a roadmap is clearly defined for the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula,” he added with political accentuation.

Aung San Suu Kyi

And when was it the last time he spoke to Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar, and sometimes ago a global political star also at the UN?

“Well, this is already some time that we spoke for the last time,” Guterres responded.

“I feel an enormous frustration with the lack of progress in relation to Myanmar and with the suffering of the (Rohingya) people.”

He said he cannot forget that people living in Bangladesh are still in “extremely difficult circumstances.” UN insists “the conditions to be created for them to be willing to go back,” he said.

China and their Muslims

On a question of more than one million Uyghurs (Muslim minority) in China after UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, asked access to visit Uyghurs in “re-education camps” – and Beijing willing to allow UN to inspect but with some conditions attached, Guterres acknowledged the dialogue between the High Commissioner and the People’s Republic of China.

“I am not in a position to give any details at the present moment. And probably, if I would be talking about it, I would make it more difficult for it to succeed. I hope that those discussions will be successful,” Guterres said.

When in doubt – take no action

Guterres confessed he is “not a supporter of having initiatives just to be in the newspapers”.

“I think initiatives need to be taken when they are useful,” he summed up his practical political philosophy, sticking somewhat with the other side of the public discourse.

On the other hand, diplomacy has always been somehow secretive and even enigmatic.

Needless to say, historically, the focus of Portuguese diplomacy has always been to preserve its independence, but also the political stability in an inner circle.

It is the mentality of the Secretary-General and he successfully resides in these principles, in following these principles.

He is not to blame that the world has not yet agreed on what is more important: Security or democracy? Freedom or security? [IDN-InDepthNews – 06 February 2019]

Photo: UN Secretary-General António Guterres on his priorities for 2019 at the Press Conference on 18 January 2019 in New York. Credit: UN Web TV.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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