UN secretary-general laments increased global conflict

By: Zachary Frye
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On Tuesday, February 4, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres lamented increased global conflict and the current state of the world, stating that “winds of madness” are sweeping the globe. The remarks came during a speech outlining his priorities for the new year. 

Guterres’ main goal for 2020 is to “break the vicious circles of suffering and conflict and to push for a strong surge of diplomacy for peace.”

He highlighted that 2020 will be the UN’s 75th Anniversary and thus urged every nation to listen to “conversations in every corner of the world about the future we want.”

Shifting powers

Since the establishment of the UN in the aftermath of World War II, global power structures have considerably shifted. US hegemony surged but may be waning, while the rise of Asia, specifically China, continues.

China’s profound rise as an economic powerhouse has resulted in the shifting of global powers, which could continue in the future. 

Although Europe’s rebuild process was seen as an example of post-war success for many UN visionaries, the EU is now facing increased fragmentation.

Meanwhile, much of the Middle East and Africa remain mired in conflict and poverty. While definite progress has been made on a host of development, educational and health issues since the adoption of the UN charter, global conflicts continue.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, a handful of these conflicts are ‘critical’ threats. These include the war in Afghanistan, US-Iran nuclear tensions, the crisis in North Korea, tensions in the East China Sea, and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

The list helps maintain a running database of the impacts of global conflict on US interests, as well as a map for the status of global conflicts in general. 

Criticism of human rights record

Despite the remarks this week, Guterres is receiving internal pressure to ramp up the UN’s pushback on human rights abuses. Some former advisors have criticized Guterres for a perceived lack of strength in defending human rights at a time when member states have either become indifferent or more brazen in flouting international right’s norms. 

“I’m sure the secretary-general has convinced himself that he is acting prudently,” said Zeid Raad al-Hussein, a former UN political officer in Bosnia and Jordanian ambassador who served as the UN high commissioner for human rights until 2018.

“I think future historians won’t interpret it as prudence but will interpret it as weakness,” he added.