The United Nations has a new Secretary-General. António Guterres is a familiar face to many disaffected people around the world. As the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for over a decade, he set the bar high in helping millions of refugees who have escaped indomitable circumstances. He brings two essential perspectives that are most valuable:
Firstly, he is well apprised of the sad fact that we are living through a period in history in which conflicts dislodge over 40,000 people per day. This points to the highest level of human displacement since the founding of the United Nations in order to save the world from the scourge of war. There is more to his expertise than meets the eye. Most importantly, he understands intimately that all that UN should do is to improve the condition of the people. Having a patented humanitarian at the helm of the UN is thus reassuring.
The second perspective he brings as the Secretary General is his intimate knowledge of the UN machinery. The UN is a complex mammoth organisation which has grown excessively inefficient over the decades. Suffocating in red tape, the UN needs urgent reform that would allow the world organisation to run efficiently. This is easier said than done and there are no easy solutions. Obviously, it is most difficult for an organisation like the UN to reform itself.
To start with, member states need to be on board and that is hardly the case given conflicting interests. And, although the UN has made life more bearable for humanity in many respects, it has been failing the prime test it has set for itself in its Charter: It is failing to prevent conflicts or promote their resolution through peaceful means. Hence, the bulging scepticism about the role that UN can play in promoting human security.
The prime responsibility to preserve peace falls on the Security Council under the UN Charter. However, I personally believe that there is inordinate focus on the reform of the Security Council. Given the circumstances, that agenda for Security Council reform, while necessary and long overdue, is also the hardest to achieve. We cannot afford to wait for the member states to act on the reality that the world is larger than five.
Instead, as first point of order there must be a massive effort to upgrade the work of the UN, particularly in weaving together peace and security, sustainable development, and human rights. The emphasis should be on forging a humanitarian-development nexus. The UN can do more in that regard, and the first World Humanitarian Summit held last May in Istanbul was a good start.
In fact, we have not many other places than the UN to look for solutions to global humanitarian problems. The UN is the paramount locus of multilateralism. It must now strive to become the best example of effective multilateralism.
This is needed because the problems that haunt humanity, including peace and security issues and the scourge of terrorism, growing inequality within and among countries, climate change and environmental destruction, the pressure on international law to address the challenges and needs of our day and many others cannot be resolved without effective international cooperation. Yet, for the UN to provide an example of effective multilateralism, its organisation must be efficient in the first place.
Thus, Mr Guterres brings a new hope to humanity. We should all do more than wish him well. At a time when the stakes are highest, we must help him succeed in running the most complex organisation that humanity has built.
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