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18 February 2022

Threat to Global Security More Complex, Probably Higher Than during Cold War, Secretary-General Warns Munich Security Conference

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Munich Security Conference opening segment, in Munich, Germany, today:

It is a pleasure to be back in Munich for the first time in three years.  Unfortunately, the world has grown even more complex and dangerous during that time.  I see five major reasons.

First, geopolitical divides have continued to grow and deepen.  These divides often paralyse the Security Council and create an environment of impunity in which State and non-State actors believe they can do whatever they want.

I am often asked whether we are in a new cold war.  My answer is that the threat to global security now is more complex and probably higher than at that time.  During much of the cold war, there were mechanisms that enabled the protagonists to calculate risks and use backchannels to prevent crises.

Today, many of those systems no longer exist and most of the people trained to use them are no longer here with us.  So, miscommunication and miscalculation can make a minor incident between Powers escalate out of control, causing incalculable harm.

With a concentration of Russian forces around Ukraine, I am deeply concerned about heightened tensions and increased speculation about a military conflict in Europe.  I still think it will not happen.  But, if it did, it would be catastrophic.  There is no alternative to diplomacy.  All issues, including the most intractable, must be addressed through diplomatic frameworks.  And it is high time to seriously de-escalate.

The United Nations Charter, a fundamental pillar of international law, clearly says, and I quote:  “All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.  All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

The Charter is clear.  And I also urge all parties to be extremely careful with their rhetoric.  Public statements should aim to reduce tensions, not to inflame them.

And the United Nations system remains fully operational in Ukraine, including our humanitarian work in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and I would like to express my gratitude for the cooperation we have with the Ukrainian Government in this regard.

Geopolitical divides are rarely solved, but they can and must be managed.  The New Agenda for Peace, proposed in my recent Our Common Agenda report, should advance efforts towards more effective collective security responses.

Respect for international law, trust-building and dialogue are paramount.

Second, crises are proliferating.  Conflicts are increasingly internationalized, with the involvement of regional and global Powers.  In Yemen and Libya, regional rivalries are firmly embedded in the civil wars.  At the same time, crises are more fragmented.  Multiple actors operate in loose and rapidly shifting coalitions, with different agendas.

A widespread failure by States to deliver essential services and respond to the aspirations of their people is also giving rise to tensions and social unrest.  Coups used to happen once every couple of years.  In 2022, it’s once every couple of weeks.  These developments are both a symptom and a cause of the increased unpredictability and fragility of the global landscape.

Third, the threat of global terror looms over the world.  In Syria, Da’esh is using children as human shields.  Al-Qaida and its affiliates are regaining great power to cause harm.  The risks of terrorism spill over out of Afghanistan, as well as the alarming spread of terrorism in some African countries show how adept terrorists are at exploiting power vacuums and subverting fragile States.

In the African context, we need robust African peace enforcement and counter-terrorist operations, mandated by the United Nations Security Council under Chapter VII of the Charter, and with stable and predictable funding.

The present situation is unsustainable.  Extremism and terrorism flourish where there is poverty, hunger, inequality, and injustice.  And the Sustainable Development Goals remain our greatest prevention tool.

Fourth, these factors are exacerbated by non-traditional security threats — primarily increased inequality, the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.  Discrimination, exclusion and economic, social and cultural inequalities are exacting a devastating toll and creating an acute risk of violence and conflict.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the inadequacy and moral bankruptcy of our global financial system, which has increased the systemic inequality between North and South.  Many countries in the global South have suffered devastating economic losses during the pandemic, and many of them still need vaccines.

Governments face debt default and financial ruin, while their people face poverty, unemployment, hunger and despair.  Meanwhile, the climate crisis is out of control, causing increased devastation that will lead to record levels of forced displacement.  And this could further destabilize entire regions.

I urge all countries to step up support for global solutions to these non‑traditional security threats, including the full implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change to keep 1.5°C alive, and it risks to be dying very soon; the World Health Organization (WHO) global vaccination strategy; and urgent reforms to the global financial system to enable developing countries to access the resources needed to support their people.

Fifth and finally, digital technology is creating ever more dangerous ways for groups of people to harm each other, from cyberattacks to artificial‑intelligence-assisted weapons.  Many wars are hybrid, fought both on the battlefield and online.  Digital communications enable propaganda and conspiracy theories to spread like wildfires.  Hate speech and racism add fuel to the flames.

The proposed Global Digital Compact that I presented aims to find collective solutions that enable the safe development of digital technology and bring its benefits to all.  I have also called for a global code of conduct that promotes integrity in public information.  Large-scale disinformation that undermines scientifically established facts is a massive security risk.  We urgently need better global governance, and this is a key objective of the United Nations Summit of the Future next year.

All these threats put human rights and democracy at serious risk.  We need a surge in diplomacy for peace, a surge in political will for peace and a surge in investment for peace.  And I count on your leadership to make it happen.

For information media. Not an official record.