MANHATTAN: United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres Tuesday called for sweeping changes to multilateral institutions, including reforming the powerful UN Security Council, and restructuring global financial systems.
Speaking before world leaders, including Pakistan Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, in the iconic United Nations Assembly Hall, the UN chief warned of a looming “Great Fracture” in the world, describing existing global governance structures as failing to serve a changing world.
“The alternative to reform is not the status quo. The alternative to reform is further fragmentation,” he said. “It’s reform or rupture.”
“Our world is becoming unhinged. Geopolitical tensions are rising. Global challenges are mounting. And we seem incapable of coming together to respond,” Antonio Guterres told the people who run the world’s nations. He said that the United Nations — and the ways that countries cooperate — must evolve to meet the era.
“The world has changed. Our institutions have not,” Guterres said. “We cannot effectively address problems as they are if institutions don’t reflect the world as it is. Instead of solving problems, they risk becoming part of the problem.”
He said the world needed action now – not merely more words – to deal with the worsening climate emergency, escalating conflicts, “dramatic technological disruptions” and a global cost-of-living crisis that was increasing hunger and poverty.
This year’s week-long session, the first full-on meeting of world leaders since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted travel, has 145 leaders scheduled to speak. It’s a large number that reflects the multitude of crises and conflicts.
But for the first time in years, US President Joe Biden, who will speak soon after the UN chief, will be the only leader from the five powerful veto-wielding nations on the UN Security Council to address the 193-member assembly.
China’s Xi Jinping, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Britain’s Rishi Sunak are all skipping the UN this year. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is making his first appearance at the Assembly’s podium.
In his passionate speech, Guterres described increasing global multi-polarity as heralding “new opportunities for justice and balance in international relations” – an acknowledgment of the rise of new powers in the world like India and China, and growing negotiating power of regional blocs.
But new and strengthened multilateral institutions would be all the more important for ensuring peace in a multipolar order, he added.
The United Nations Security Council and Bretton Woods agreement still reflected the unequal power relations of 1945, Guterres said, “when many countries in this Assembly Hall were still under colonial domination.”
The Security Council is made up of five permanent members – the US, the UK, France, China, Russia – and 10 non-permanent members. Only one leader from the permanent five members – US President Joe Biden – chose to attend the UN General Assembly this year.
More than 50 UN countries have never been members of the Security Council.
The UN chief underscored that “we cannot effectively address problems as they are if institutions don’t reflect the world as it is. Instead of solving problems, they risk becoming part of the problem.”
He asserted that it was high time to renew multilateral institutions based on 21st century economic and political realities – rooted in equity, solidarity and universality – anchored in the principles of the United Nations Charter and international law.
“That means reforming the Security Council in line with the world of today,” he said.
“It means redesigning the international financial architecture so that it becomes truly universal and serves as a global safety net for developing countries in trouble,” Guterres said.
“I have no illusions. Reforms are a question of power. I know there are many competing interests and agendas. But the alternative to reform is not the status quo. The alternative to reform is further fragmentation. It’s reform or rupture,” he said.
The UN chief underscored the importance of reform at a time when global divides are deepening.
“Divides among economic and military powers. Divides between North and South, East and West,” he said.
Guterres warned that “we are inching ever closer to a Great Fracture in economic and financial systems and trade relations; one that threatens a single, open internet; with diverging strategies on technology and artificial intelligence; and potentially clashing security frameworks.”