Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the open debate of the Security Council on “Strengthening Multilateralism and the Role of the United Nations”, in New York today:
I thank China for using its presidency of the Security Council to highlight the importance of strengthening multilateralism and the role of the United Nations.
This discussion takes place just days before the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. That conflict was a colossal tragedy and a frightening harbinger of bloody decades to follow.
Europe was multipolar at that time — but that was not enough to keep violence at bay. Without multilateral mechanisms for international problem‑solving, war erupted and lasted for years. It took a second global cataclysm to trigger the multilateral arrangements we know today. These have a proven track record in saving lives, generating economic and social progress and avoiding a third descent into world war.
Recent years have seen inspiring achievements in international diplomacy — above all the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change. The peace operations authorized by this Council are also important expressions of multilateralism in action. Peacekeeping has helped a great many countries to recover from armed conflict. Our missions are often critical bulwarks against chaos and bloodshed.
That is why I am so encouraged that 151 countries, along with 4 leading international and regional organizations, have expressed support for the Action for Peacekeeping initiative, which aims to strengthen these collective partnerships. In other realms, however, multilateral efforts are under immense stress.
This is a time of multiplying conflicts, advancing climate change, deepening inequality and rising tensions over trade. It is a period when people are moving across borders in unprecedented numbers in search of safety or opportunity. We are still wrestling with the risk of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction — and only beginning to reckon with the potential dangers of new technologies.
There is anxiety, uncertainty and unpredictability across the world. Trust is on the decline, within and among nations. People are losing faith in political establishments — national and global. Key assumptions have been upended, key endeavours undermined and key institutions undercut.
It often seems that the more global the threat, the less able we are to cooperate. This is very dangerous in the face of today’s challenges, for which global approaches are essential. In this difficult context, we need to inspire a return to international cooperation. We need a reformed, reinvigorated and strengthened multilateral system.
In the end, multilateralism is nothing more than countries coming together, respecting one another, and establishing the forms of cooperation that guarantee peace and prosperity for all on a healthy planet. Towards that end, we need stronger commitment to a rules-based order, with the United Nations at its centre, with the different institutions and treaties that bring the Charter to life. But, it is not enough to have laws and international conventions, vital as they are. We need new forms of cooperation with other international and regional organizations — a networked multilateralism. And we need closer links with civil society and other stakeholders — an inclusive multilateralism.
The Security Council has a central role to play in showing the value of international cooperation. Let us recall that the Charter endows the Council with special stature, powers and responsibilities — and so this body also bears the burden of not just its own but the UN’s overall reputation. I think we can all agree that crises in Syria, in the Middle East peace process and elsewhere have shaken popular faith in the potential of the international community to deliver solutions. I encourage you to do more to overcome divisions, embrace the prevention and peacebuilding agendas, and make greater use of mediation and the other tools set out in Chapter VI of the Charter for the resolution of disputes through peaceful means.
I remain convinced of the need for a surge in diplomacy, and I draw strength from recent examples of negotiated political solutions to problems that previously seemed hopeless. In the same spirit, I encourage all Member States to make greater investments in building a fair globalization that works for all, and in social cohesion that gives a stake in society to all, in line with the 2030 Agenda. There should be no room for demonizing minorities, migrants and refugees, and for stifling the diversity that enriches societies.
As we mark the centennial of the First World War, we must draw its lessons, and buttress our practice of multilateralism for the tests and threats of today and tomorrow. And as twenty-first-century challenges threaten to outpace twentieth‑century institutions and mindsets, let us reaffirm the ideals of collective action while pursuing a new generation of approaches and architecture capable of responding.
Reform of the United Nations has a crucial contribution to make, and I look forward to continuing to press ahead across the pillars of that effort. But, most of all it is our resilient and still visionary Unite Nations Charter that points the way, with its articulation of universal values, its grounding in peace, development, human rights and the rule of law, and its vision of countries living as good neighbours and sharing a common fate and future. Strengthening multilateralism means strengthening our commitment to the Charter. Such a commitment is needed now more than ever — from all around this table, and around our world. Thank you.