Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the Security Council open debate on “Upholding the United Nations Charter to Maintain International Peace and Security”, in New York today:
I thank the Vietnamese presidency of the Council for organizing this timely debate and I congratulate Viet Nam for the presidency of the Security Council at the beginning of your tenure in the Security Council itself. I also welcome the presence of the Chair of the Elders, Mary Robinson. And I am pleased that we begin the year of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations with a discussion on its founding document.
Peace is our most precious value and the essence of our work. All that we strive for as a human family depends on peace. But peace depends on us. Unfortunately, the new year has begun with fresh turmoil and long-standing suffering. Geopolitical tensions have reached dangerous levels, most recently in the Gulf, as well as from traditional military threats to the economy to cyberspace. Conflicts that no one is winning grind on and on and on, from Libya and Syria to Afghanistan and the Sahel.
With turbulence on the rise, trust within and among nations is on the decline. We see this trust deficit also in streets across the world, as people vent their frustrations and voice their feeling that political establishments are out of touch, incapable or unwilling to deliver. We see it in the work of the United Nations, including the Security Council, when Member States struggle or fail to find reasonable common ground. And in this vacuum, the climate crisis is now upon us with ever-growing fury, sparing no one.
International cooperation is at a crossroads. All of this presents a grave test to multilateralism. It poses a challenge for the Security Council, which under the Charter has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. And it underscores, more than ever, the focus of today’s meeting: upholding the United Nations Charter.
At this time of global divisions and turmoil, the Charter remains our shared framework of international cooperation for the common good. In an era of spreading hatred and impunity, the Charter reminds us of the primacy of the rule of law and human dignity. And in a time of rapid transformation and technological change, the Charter’s values and objectives endure: the peaceful settlement of disputes; the equal rights of men and women; non-intervention, self-determination and the sovereign equality of Member States; and clear rules governing the use of force, as set out in Article 2, paragraph 4, and Chapter VII of the Charter.
These principles are not favours or concessions. They are the foundation of international relations and they are core to peace and international law. They have saved lives, advanced economic and social progress and, crucially, avoided a descent into another world war. But when these principles have been flouted, put aside or applied selectively, the result has been catastrophic: conflict, chaos, death, disillusion and mistrust. Our shared challenge is to do far better in upholding the Charter’s values and fulfilling its promise to succeeding generations.
While the Charter and its purposes and principles remain as relevant as ever, our tools must adapt to new realities. And we must use them with greater determination and creativity. This includes ensuring implementation of the Security Council’s decisions by Member States pursuant to Article 25 of the Charter.
One of the most effective ways to demonstrate our impact is to invest in prevention. We spend far more time and resources managing and responding to crises than on preventing them. Our approach needs to be rebalanced. The founders of the United Nations had a crystal-clear focus on prevention when drafting the Charter, from the opening words of its preamble to dedicating an entire chapter to the “Pacific Settlement of Disputes”.
Chapter VI outlines many available tools, including negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration and judicial settlement. We have ample evidence that these can be effective when applied with purpose and unity. I call on the Council to further utilize the powers granted to it by the Charter, including investigation of disputes in accordance with Chapter VI and the referral of legal questions to the International Court of Justice for advisory opinions, in accordance with Article 96 of the Charter.
Let us also recognize that the Sustainable Development Goals, which are objectives in their own right, are among our best tools for prevention. I urge all Member States to make greater investments in the 2030 Agenda, in particular in gender equality, inclusion, social cohesion, good governance and a fair globalization that advances the rights of all, unleashes the talents of all, and gives all a stake in society.
In addition to prevention, the Charter was visionary in imagining a world in which the United Nations worked dynamically with regional organizations to maintain international peace and security. While Chapter VIII predates most of our regional partners, it sets a framework for cooperation and division of labour. We are investing in regional partnerships in crucial new ways. I have put significant emphasis on a strategic partnership with the African Union, including through its “Silencing the Guns” initiative and its Agenda 2063. The European Union continues to provide strong support across our agenda. At the same time, we are working to strengthen ties with all other regional organizations. Among them, of course, is the Association of Southeast Asia Nations, ASEAN, so ably chaired this year by this Council’s President, Viet Nam.
Throughout its history, the Security Council has adapted its work based on the changing nature of conflict and enhanced multilateral cooperation in peace and security. Peacekeeping is not mentioned in the Charter, but it is firmly rooted in its ideals and epitomizes the kind of collective action for peace that the Charter envisaged. Today some 100,000 [United Nations] peacekeepers protect civilians and promote peace in several of the most troubled regions of the world. [United Nations] peacekeeping remains a vital and cost-effective investment in global peace and security. But effective peacekeeping requires strong international support. The Action for Peacekeeping initiative stresses our shared commitment to make our peacekeeping missions stronger, safer and fit for the future.
Finally, Mr. President, as we commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations, I wish to direct a special message to this Council. The privilege of membership carries vital responsibilities to uphold the Charter’s tenets and values, particularly in preventing and addressing conflict. Present and past disagreements must not be an obstacle to action on today’s threats. We must avoid double standards. But also, perceptions of double standards must not be an excuse for no standards at all.
War is never inevitable; it is a matter of choice – and often it is the product of easy miscalculations. Peace, too, is never inevitable; it is the product of hard work and we must never take it for granted. At this time when global fault-lines risk exploding, we must return to fundamental principles; we must return to the framework that has kept us together; we must come home to the [United Nations] Charter.
Strengthening our commitment to that resilient, adaptable and visionary document – and thus to the very notion of international cooperation itself – remains the most effective way to collectively face the global challenges of this grave moment, and the decade before us.
The Charter compels us to do everything in our power to save people from the scourge of war and injustice. As we face new threats but also new opportunities for a better world, that is the work that must define this seventy-fifth anniversary year.