By Erol Avdovic
The writer is Senior Diplomatic Correspondent of WebPublicaPress Online Magazine. This article first appeared on WebPublicaPress with the headline ‘2018 Very Challenging Year for Antonio Guterres.’ It is being reproduced with slight modifications.
UNITED NATIONS (IDN-INPS) – When the new Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres took office one year ago, on January 1, he appealed for 2017 to be a year for peace. But just on the eve of the New Year 2018 he confessed – the world has gone in reverse: “Unfortunately – in fundamental ways.”
“I think the Secretary General will be the first one to tell you that the world today is in a mess,” his spokesman Stephane Dujarric told Webpublicapress.
“And I think none of us looking around the world as it is today with the threats that we’re seeing, whether it’s on nuclear war, on terrorism, and on conflict, can be happy about the state of the world,” he added.
Indeed, the conflicts in 2017 have not slowed down but deepened and new dangers have emerged, Guterres said in his short “Happy New Year” video address. He put in the following order our current global anxieties: horrific violations of human rights, nationalism and xenophobia on the rise and nuclear weapons that are, as he said, “the highest since the Cold War.”
Of course he didn’t miss the climate change as an epic of our time that is “moving faster than we are,” while economic inequalities are growing.
Rightly so, the UN Secretary-General skipped appeals on New Year’s Day 2018. Instead, he issued an alarming call for the world that went from bed to worse in his first 365 days on 37th floor at the UN Headquarters in New York.
“I am issuing an alert — a red alert for our world,” UN Secretary General warned, rather then advised, in his sobering address at the end of the passing year.
Back in his campaign for the job of the UN chief, the former Prime Minister of Portugal and a decade long UN High Commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) sounded most spiritual among all other candidates for that post.
A year later, we laughed when UN’s Guterres on December 15, 2017, speaking at the UNCA (United Nations Correspondent’s Association) annual dinner made humorous remark that only Jesus can help him, now knowing what he knows – after his first year on the top at the UN.
A very serious joke
He joked that he had recently met Jesus Christ in the New York Central Park where he likes to walk and contemplate about world affairs. And, they both “cried together”, realizing how the global mess looks unsolvable, with the UN trying to help solve it.
“It was a metaphorical speech,” his chief spokesperson Dujarric later emphasized, answering my question. Replying another correspondent about Guterres’ “Jesus Christ remarks,” he said, the speech was not prepared; “in fact he wound up not using notes.”
“He spoke off the cuff,” Dujarric insisted referring to his boss, adding, maybe we should not call Guterres’ speech at the UN correspondents’ dinner the “Jesus Christ remarks.”
However, those who heard that very speech agree – the first man of the United Nations sounded very disappointed. And, he suggested that not too much can be moved forward particularly in regard to the UN reform agenda. Although clearly humorous and satirical, the Secretary-General’s UNCA dinner remarks shown a certain degree of helplessness and a mood of getting slowly used to the UN’s perennial routine.
A different game
Not so spiritual, even on Christmas Day itself was once again a crystal clear US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley who said America would not joke about funding the world organization.
On December 24, Ambassador Haley announced that the UN had agreed on a budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year and that the United States negotiated a significant reduction of over $285 million off the 2016-2017 final budget.
Describing less US dollars in UN funding “a cost savings,” the US claimed that the move reduced the “UN’s bloated management and support functions, bolstered support for key US priorities throughout the world, and instilled more discipline and accountability throughout the UN system.”
The announcement came only a few days after the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) overwhelmingly rejected the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
At the extraordinary UNGA Session on December 21, Ambassador Haley said, “the United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation.”
She announced that the US would consider the possibility of investing less in an organization (UN) that is biased and unjust towards Israel.
The announcement quickly turned into action. In the near future, the United States will pay less for the United Nations.
“The inefficiency and overspending of the United Nations are well known. We will no longer let the generosity of the American people be taken advantage of or remain unchecked,” Ambassador Haley declared on the Christmas Eve.
She said this “historic reduction in spending – in addition to many other moves toward a more efficient and accountable UN – is a big step in the right direction.”
Ambassador Haley was not the first US envoy to publicly refer to the UN reforms. Those who understand it all so far have used various terms to describe these or simply despised, even neglected these.
But the chief spokesman for the UN, Dujarric, called UN reform agenda a transparent and “ongoing process” since the UN Secretary-General is in fact “involving the (UN) member states very closely, briefing them regularly and often.”
He was responding to a Webpublicapress inquiry weather Guterres will do more on that, as many opine, on the most important UN front. Dujarric said the Secretary-General pushed through the reforms on three planks: “management reform, peace and security architecture and development system.”
“He very much hopes that all his efforts will come to fruition to really construct what will be a UN that is a bit more fit for the purpose, that is able to deliver the services and to serve the people it needs to serve.”
But does Guterres think that the reforms can be done and some of them even completed in his first term, I asked Dujarric. “Well, if he didn’t believe it, he wouldn’t push for it and wouldn’t spend as much time on it as he has (been being),” he responded.
Unity or Consensus
For sure, words alone will not suffice. 2018 onwards, many of the Secretary-General’s messages obviously will be measured on the filigree scale. Less reforms, less money, at least less US dollars.
“While we are pleased with the results of this year’s budget negotiations, you can be sure we’ll continue to look at ways to increase the UN’s efficiency while protecting our interests,” said Ambassador Haley.
Yet there are 193 flags at the United Nations with that many member states’ specific interests.
Beside, the UN Secretary-General called for unity at the very beginning of 2018. He said he is a true believer that the world, although in a mess, can take a turn and become more safe and secure.
He sounded even optimistic this time: “We can settle conflicts, overcome hatred and defend shared values.” But he didn’t say how.
In all fairness to the UN Secretary General, he used the right words. He urged world leaders to stay united, since “we can only do that together” and because “the unity is the path.”
He even offered a motto for that unity and called it “the New Year’s resolution”.
“Narrow the gaps. Bridge the divides. Rebuild trust by bringing people together around common goals,” he appealed while issuing the red alert on world’s affairs in 2018.
However, we all know by now that “together” and “unity” at the United Nations doesn’t always mean “consensus”.
“A consensus means that everyone agrees to say collectively what no one believes individually,” said once Aba Eban former Israeli Foreign Minister and Ambassador to the United Nations. Some fifty years later – there is still no agreement at the UN on whether consensus means uniting in words or action. [IDN-InDepthNews – 02 January 2018]
Photo: Nikki R. Haley, new United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations presented her credentials to Secretary-General António Guterres on 27 January 2017.
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