Restoring Trust in Politics, Institutions Key to Resolving Global Conflicts, Secretary-General Tells World Government Summit

SG/SM/18435
13 February 2017

Restoring Trust in Politics, Institutions Key to Resolving Global Conflicts, Secretary-General Tells World Government Summit

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s remarks to the World Government Summit and the subsequent question-and-answer session, in Dubai today:

It’s an enormous pleasure and an enormous honour to be here.  I am very grateful to your Highness [Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum] for your very kind invitation.

If one looks at today’s governance problems at the country level, between countries or at multilateral governance in the world, we face a terrible lack of trust.  Lack of trust between peoples, between Governments and political establishment.  Lack of trust between countries and lack of trust in relation to governance in global multilateral institutions.

Looking at [the] country level, it is clear that globalization has been an enormous progress, complete with technological development, globalization brought a huge increase in wealth, a reduction in absolute poverty in our world, improved welfare in general, but globalization had its losers.  We have the rust belts of this world.  Lots of people who feel they were left behind and that the political establishments of their countries have not taken care of them.  On the other hand, we see the inability to handle problems relating to the movements of people, to migration, refugees and then linkage that is made to terrorism, the feeling of insecurity and anxiety.  Also, this sense that Governments are not taking good care or being able to handle it properly.

We see youth, youth that is the potential of mankind.  But, in many countries that have problems in relation to the capacity to find hope, to find jobs, even if they are educated, creating enormous frustrations.  All this generates, in a context where also political systems have not been able to adapt to the new changes in the communication and information technologies, this has generated a gap between public opinion, societies, and governments.  That is one of the factors, today, that undermines governance.  And then, if we associate it, in certain societies, with corruption and other problems, we understand that we have a serious problem to handle.

Now, it is clear that reform is needed to reconcile people with political establishments; political establishments need to adapt to these technologies in information and communication; need to empower citizens and empower young people.  I am a strong believer in a German philosopher, [Jurgen] Habermas, who said:  “The key element of democracy is the permanent intercommunication between the political society and the civil society and the fact that the civil society influences the decision-making process in the political society.”

Now, with technology, this has changed.  Governments have not been able to adapt to the changes in technologies that force these interactions for participation to have a different nature and reform for creating conditions for a Government to interact in a modern way for societies is, I think, a crucial area of reform that is needed and bringing with it the empowerment of youth and the capacity of young people to have a say in the destiny of their own countries.

Improving governance, and improving confidence between Governments and people, is essential and it is a condition to improve the confidence in the relations between countries.  We live today in a world that is no longer bipolar, no longer unipolar but it is not yet multipolar.  It’s really chaotic.  The relationships are unclear, bringing with it unpredictability and impunity that tends to proliferate everywhere.  And in which there is a deep mistrust between countries and groups of countries that, of course, facilitate the multiplication of conflicts and the difficulty to solve them.  We need a surge of diplomacy for peace.  We need to be able to have honest brokers trying to bring together those countries that are essential for the solution of those conflicts we face in different parts of the world, and namely in this region.  But, we need to able to address the root causes of conflict and to have the international community organized to address the root causes of conflict.

And that is where the other gap of confidence becomes extremely important.  In a world in which everything is global, in which the problems are global — from climate change to the movement of people — there is no way countries can do it by themselves.  We need global responses, and global responses need multilateral institutions able to play their role.

For that, it is also important to have confidence in relation to global multilateral institutions and there, there is also a lack of confidence that is obvious.  If you look at the UN for instance, there is a clear lack of confidence in the Security Council today and clear perception that the Security Council no longer corresponds to the logic of today’s world in relation to what the world was after the Second World War, when the Security Council was built.  It is clear that many international organizations lack the efficiency, the capacity, to respond effectively to the problems they face.  We saw the difficulties in ending the global financial crisis.  There is a need also for deep reforms in global institutions.  Reforms that have to do with power relations, namely in the case of the Security Council, or the way votes are distributed in international financial institutions.  But, also, reforms that we need to introduce in all aspects of what we do.

In relation to my own role in the Secretariat of the UN, I am deeply committed to three ways of reform that I consider essential.  First, to adapt our peace and security strategies, operational set-ups, and the institutions within the UN, to be much more effective.  We have today 70 to 80 per cent of our budget in peacekeeping operations, most of them in areas where there is no peace to keep.  If you want prevention and sustaining of peace to prevail, we need to link peace and security with sustainable and inclusive development.  And to make sure that the two, together with the improvement of the human rights situation in the world, guarantee that the root causes of conflict are addressed, and for that, we need to reform our own way of doing business in the UN.

Second, is management reform.  We have rules and regulations that make the UN very difficult to act effectively.  Sometimes, I think that that they were conceived to paralyse the institution.  We need to create a win-win confidence-building capacity among different Member States — Western Group, G77 [“Group of 77” developing countries and China], all others — to make them understand that it is in the benefit of everybody to have a UN that is more nimble, more decentralized, with much more simplified procedures.

Then, we need to make sure that we reform the UN development system.  We have to recognize that we are still fragmented, that we are still unable to fully coordinate our action and, especially, that the accountability in the UN system needs much strengthening.  To reform the UN development system, strengthening coordination and accountability, and making all organizations work together to able to support Governments in implementing the different crucial objectives that were approved — the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement — and different other aspects of international cooperation in relation to development, are areas in which the reform of the UN is crucial in order to better sustain these processes.

Reform at the country level, reform in ways countries deal to each other and the way international organizations operate, reform in our multilateral governance system development system are crucial to re-establishing trust.  And without trust, I don’t think we will be able to address the very difficult challenges that we face today.

Question:  We have a few minutes to chat so let’s deal with this deficit of trust, as you have described it.  And let’s really drill down and take an early example of that in your very own institution at the beginning of this term.  I’m talking the US [United States] decision to block Salam Fayyed, your pick to become the new UN Envoy for peace in Libya.  For too long, the UN has been unfairly biased, said the US Ambassador, unfairly biased in favour of the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of our allies in Israel.  How do you deal with that and what happens next?

Secretary-General:  There are two different questions here:  one, is the appointment of Mr. Salam Fayyed as [my Special Representative] for Libya.  And I believe, he is the right person for the right job at the right moment.  He has qualities that are recognized everywhere.  He has a competence that nobody denies and Libya requires the kind of capacity that he has and I think it’s a loss for the Libyan peace process and for the Libyan people that I am not able to appoint him.  And it is very important to underline that nobody in the UN represents a Government or a country.  People in the UN have just one area of loyalty they need to respect — it’s the UN Charter.  And so, I deeply regret this opposition and I do not see any valid reason for it.  Having said so, I think the UN needs to be able to act with impartiality in all circumstances and cannot be biased in favour of anybody.  Things need to be dealt based on the real face value of things and so I think that, if Israel does something in relation to which we disagree, we need to express that disagreement, but that doesn’t mean that Israel needs to be discriminated on all other areas.  So, I think we need to distinguish things.  I am very much in favour of a UN that is impartial, that addresses the problems based on the value of problems, and what the problems require to address them.  But, I do not think that there is a valid reason to avoid someone that is very competent to do a job that is extremely important in a dramatic moment and let’s not forget that Libya is not only relevant in itself, Libya has been a factor of contamination to the peace and stability in a wide area, namely in Africa, in the Sahel, and to bring an end to the conflict in Libya is in everybody’s interest.

Question:  Let me get your take on Syria as we are talking conflict and this region.  What happens next?

Secretary-General:  Well, I think there was, in the last few days, something very important.  The opposition met in Riyadh and they were able to come with a unified proposal for a representation of the opposition in the Geneva Conference.  We had in Astana an important moment in which the armed groups together with the Syrian Government and with the mediation of the Russian Federation, Turkey and Iran were able to come to a ceasefire and let’s hope that ceasefire is sustainable.  But, there is no solution for the Syrian problem without a comprehensive political solution in which all Syrians feel they are properly represented.  And more, everybody is extremely concerned with Da’esh and with terrorism, and with the impact of Da’esh in global security.  There is no way we can fight terrorism if at the same time we don’t find the political solutions for the crises situations that today feed terrorism.  So, to make sure that in Geneva we have substantive discussions and that they are a first step, I don’t expect a miracle, they are a first step, for a serious progress in finding a transition that allows for a political solution in which all Syrians feel represented is, I believe, extremely important for the Syrian people, extremely important for the stability of the region, extremely important for our global security and the key instrument in fighting terrorism and namely in fighting Da’esh.

Question:  You talked to the issue of inequality, a deficit in trust and in social cohesion.  2016, I think we will all agree in this room, was a chaotic year.  We have a new US Administration.  Are you confident it supports in its “America First” pitch as it were the very core values of the United Nations, that of multilateralism?  Are you concerned?

Secretary-General:  I think we need to distinguish the problems that you have mentioned first and the relationship with an administration in a country.  My position about the way the UN needs to deal with the US Administration is very simple:  the UN needs to respect its principles, but at the same time, the UN needs to engage constructively with the US Administration, as with any other administration in the world.  The US is a key partner in world affairs and it would be a mistake to just undermine this relationship based on any kind of prejudice.  No, there is no prejudice, let’s take things for its face value and let’s do everything possible to make this relationship a constructive relationship.  Having said so, we need to respect our values and we need to make sure that a multilateral approach for the solution of global problems is valid.  And there, there are the aspects that you are mentioning.  Indeed, one of the reasons of this mistrust between people and the institutions has to do with some of the factors you mentioned — inequality, globalization and technological progress — have also contributed to the increase of inequality.  Eight people in the world have as much wealth as half of the world population.  This is a reality. And if one looks at countries — and this was true in the United States, it’s true in Europe, and in other parts of the world — in which we have seen progress, but in which large part of the population have not benefited, creating anxiety, jobs being lost, new jobs being of different nature, people in middle aged being difficult to adapt to those new jobs, the Rust Belt in the United States, many areas in Europe, many areas around the world, and then if one looks at what has happened in Europe in the last year with the migration and the refugee movement and the fact that there was a total lack of capacity of European countries to come together and to have a European solution.  And so, without proper reception capacity, without the distribution, a fair distribution among States; you saw these crowds moving through the Balkans giving the impression that there was an invasion, which was not the case.  We are talking about 2 per cent of the European population.  There are 30 per cent of refugees in Lebanon, so clearly two things out of proportion, but this kind of inability of Governments to come together and manage these problems create the sense, in many sectors of the populations, that they are abandoned, that nobody is in charge, that they must be afraid for themselves, for their future and this is the best ground for populists, for xenophobes, for those that develop forms of anti-Muslim hatred, or anti-Semitism or whatever, to play a role in our societies.  And I think that it is not enough to condemn xenophobia, it is not enough to condemn populism — I think we need to be able to engage in addressing the root causes that lead to the fact that to be populist is so simple in today’s world.

Question:  We are timing out here, I’m going to give you the last word, briefly.  I know things are challenging, I know you must be “delighted” you have this job.  Very best of luck.  Are you optimistic going forward?

Secretary-General:  You said a very nice sentence about me, but in relation to those issues, I follow Jean Monnet, one of the fathers of the European Union.  And when asked if he was optimistic, he would always say the same and I would repeat it:  “I’m not optimistic, I am not pessimistic, I am just determined.” Thank you very much.

For information media. Not an official record.