UN Chief’s Statements Are Great, But What About His Contribution to Real Peace?

Antonio Guterres

Several statements made from time to time by the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterrres are known to be extremely appropriate and are very widely quoted.

To give an example his statement on the Middle-East on April 18 says very correctly—“The Middle East is on a precipice. One miscalculation, one miscommunication, one mistake, could lead to the unthinkable—a full-scale regional conflict that would be devastating for all involved.”

He called for immediate ceasefire in Gaza and urged Israel to do more to allow aid into Gaza. He added, “In Gaza, six and a half months of Israeli military operations have created a humanitarian hellscape.”

Hardly anyone would disagree with these statements which are carefully drafted to convey deep concern without disturbing the powerful forces which contribute more to UN funding.

However the real responsibility of the UN Chief is not to make consensual statements but to make the best possible contribution to real peace. While there are plenty of appropriate statements, there is hardly any evidence of this real responsibility being fulfilled.

In recent times enormous human distress has been caused by the Ukraine and Gaza conflicts, and at the same time concern has been repeatedly expressed regarding serious risks of escalation, perhaps even to the level of a nuclear war or third world war. In the middle of all this what major, hope-giving, effective initiative has been taken by the UN to take these highly troubling, deeply distressing, extremely dangerous conflicts towards peace? There is hardly any evidence of any such initiatives having been taken.

On March 25 a real opportunity emerged in the context of Gaza when 14 of the 15 members of the Security Council voted for immediate, lasting and sustainable ceasefire, along with return of hostages. The USA, which had vetoed somewhat similar resolutions in the past, merely abstained this time, and so a golden, unexpected opportunity emerged in the form of a Security Council resolution for immediate ceasefire, which would have been so welcome in the ongoing month of Ramadan and about 99% of the world’s people would have been very happy about this ceasefire. Once the Security Council had cleared it, it was for the Secretary General and his senior colleagues to take this forward in the most effective way. They should have made the biggest effort possible for ceasefire at this crucial time in transparent conditions so that the entire world could see how much effort they were making and who was obstructing it. If despite making as much efforts as possible, the Secretary-General could not succeed, he should have then resigned from his post, quitting as a hero for the cause of world peace, and his resignation would have been the greatest contribution he could make to the cause of peace in Gaza in the prevailing conditions. But he did nothing of the sort and instead continued doing what he knows best—making statements. If this indeed is to be the role of the UN, then the designation of the UN Secretary General should be changed to the UN Statements General.

Even in the case of situations like the Sudan conflict where the task of peace is much less difficult and much less complex, the UN has achieved little as over 8 million people have been displaced in a new civil war during the last year.

When countries like Iraq, Syria and Libya were being destroyed, did the UN try its best to save them, did it at least make honest efforts for this, or did it, to some extent, collude in the destruction?

In the field of disarmament many new challenges are arising including militarization of space and use of AI and robotics in conventional as well as nuclear weapons which can become a very big risk in the near future , but here again no effective steps have been taken by the UN to stop these at an early stage.

Even in development and health sectors, some of the big challenges have been compromised as the United Nations agencies have accepted funding, support and collaboration from those dubious big business sources, even billionaires, who are widely seen to be a part of the problem rather than the solution.

As big agribusiness multinational companies are taking over the seeds sector and promoting such hazardous technologies like GM crops to increase their profits and control over the food and farming sector, has the FAO done anything effective to check their growing power and influence? As the pandemic response was badly mishandled leading to avoidable large-scale distress and thousands of doctors and scientists protested, was the WHO, which accepts funding and collaboration from big business interests and billionaires, on the side of the honest doctors and scientists, or on the side of those who had placed profits over ethics?

Perhaps the biggest failure has been the lack of ability to evolve any comprehensive and effective response to the fast- emerging threats to life-nurturing conditions of the planet caused by weapons of mass destruction and about a dozen serious environmental problems led by, but certainly not confined to, climate change.

Many such troubling questions are ignored by the UN top officials, who are content to issues statements of their ‘noble’ intentions.

This reminds one of an observation made by a famous well-wisher of the UNO, J.K. Galbraith, who also was very familiar with the working of the UN. This is what he wrote, “As from all persons of goodwill the UN has long had my support. I’ve often been on its New York premises. Alas, however, I have never come away without a powerful impression of speeches and yet more speeches emphasizing worthy purpose—disarmament, economic development, human rights, women’s rights, peaceful resolution of some dispute, much else—that were without any clear relation to practical result. I’ve had the impression that no action was really intended, here too, the rhetoric was the reality. Nothing more was expected or asked.”

On the positive side, there is no doubt that many UN personnel working at ground level in difficult, even life-threatening conditions in Gaza and elsewhere, have made very important and even heroic contributions. We humbly salute them and their noble work. Our objections here are to the higher-level officialdom and bureaucracy which have not been able to realize the full potential of the UN for peace and for real development free from the influence of powerful business and dominating interests. This is to emphasize the need for urgent reform in the UN for which a much bigger role must be given to entirely impartial and honest persons and organizations deeply committed to peace and true development, while big business interests must be kept away.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, A Day in 2071, Man over Machine, Protecting Earth for Children and Earth without Borders.         

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