Revelations and Inspiration of the UN Secretary General

Translated by Ollie Richardson


António Guterres reiterated the need to reform the UN in order to reform the veto in the Security Council…

On April 22nd the UN Secretary General António Guterres gave a lecture in Sweden, during which he made a number of observations that, certainly, demand attention.

The lecture was unusual. Firstly, this rare format allowed the highest official of the UN to state not so much a position reflecting a balance of power that is supposed to be present in the UN Secretary-General’s official statements, but rather his personal opinion. Secondly, Guterres’ speech took place as a Hammarskjöld lecture – a speech that is traditionally devoted to the memory of the second UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld. It is also necessary to consider Both Hammarskjöld’s death and the circumstances preceding it when assessing the speech of Guterres.

Guterres admitted in his speech that for him Hammarskjöld is a kind of “reference point and a source of inspiration”. Here one cannot help but think: and what, in fact, is this “reference point” and where does the “inspiration” come from?

It is necessary to distinguish two main points from the most significant theses of Guterres’ lecture: the cold war returned in a new form; reform of the UN Security Council is needed. The UN Secretary-General also said that the modern “world needs a more fair world order”. He noted that, with all the advantages of globalisation, it has led to a growth of inequality. He gave an example when the financial means in the hands of eight people are equal to the income of half of the poorest people on Earth, but he doesn’t see any solution to this burning issue. Meanwhile, he pushes forward the idea of a “more fair” reception of refugees from Syria. For the first time at such a level the number of Syrian refugees in Europe was named: one million people.

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So, according to the UN Secretary General, the cold war that returned to the world has new characteristics, including the loss of influence by superpowers over some groups of countries. According to Guterres, during the cold war of the 1950-1980’s “two superpowers could nevertheless control their ‘clients’, and the dividing line of the world had an ideological and political character”, however now, particularly in Syria, “the interests of not only two superpowers collided, but also of groups of other countries with influence in the region, which the superpowers can’t control any more”.

The second characteristic of the “new cold war”, according to Guterres, is the loss of mechanisms that allowed to keep the “old cold war” situation under control and not to bring the matter to a nuclear war. Proving this thesis, the UN Secretary-General noted the return of those dangers that were, apparently, consigned to the past (the proliferation of nuclear and chemical weapons). However, something was more important in Guterres’ speech: the need for radical reform of the United Nations. It’s not for nothing that he noted that the UN Security Council has a “structural problem”. This, perhaps, is the most important thing, for the sake of which a whole speech was delivered.

The need to reform the UN has been spoken about for a long time. However, Guterres’ statement stands out for the fact that, firstly, it is the UN Secretary General that is talking about it and, secondly, the need for reform is reduced to reforming the veto in the Security Council. “As I already repeatedly said, without reforming the Security council there will be no full reform of the UN,” stated Guterres. The entire lecture of the Secretary General made it clear that reforming the veto of the UN Security Council is not only necessary, but urgent: this is the sense of what Guterres meant when he said that “in its current position the UN isn’t able” to solve the Syrian crisis.

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In response to a question about the legitimacy of the US, Great Britain, and France’s strikes on Syria Guterres answered that “the UN has rules, and they are clear”, but now supposedly “it is important not to look back, but forward”. I.e., the UN Secretary-General sees those who “use the veto too often” as being the problem, and not the aggressors.

What is being proposed to replace the “defective” Security Council and the “too frequent” use of the veto, especially in connection with the Syrian crisis? In his lecture the Secretary-General didn’t give an answer to this question, but the activity of the UN Secretariat and the related bodies suggests an answer: transferring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

In general the lecture of the UN Secretary-General António Guterres means another step towards the demolition of international law and movement in the direction of global law, but already at the institutional level. The UN Security Council is an international law institution. The right of veto was initially considered as an instrument ensuring the principle of unanimity among the permanent members of the Council, i.e., an instrument ensuring collective decisions. Gradually, via the efforts of western countries, this principle started to turn into an instrument for individual use. Recently, the western members of the Security Council in general deliberately provoked Russia into using its veto. At the same time Russia not only and not so much was discredited as the UN Security Council was, as a body incapable of decision-making. This was inspired by the world community. Although the UN Secretary-General perfectly understands the background of events, he pretends that he believes in the “defectiveness” of the UN and reduces the problem to “using the veto too much”.

Yes, reform of the UN is necessary. However, it has to be carried out for the purpose of strengthening international security, and not weakening it. Now the plans not even of discrediting the UN, but its complete destruction become more and more distinct. After all, while there are still international law institutions, it is impossible to speak about the undivided power of global institutes.

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Coming back to the question of why A. Guterres decided to put forward such serious ideas during a Hammarskjöld lecture and what inspiration he derives from Hammarskjöld’s legacy, it is worth reminding that the second UN Secretary-General also tried to stage a serious revolution in the activity of the United Nations. The use of the UN as a means of carrying out the imperialistic policy of the West was the sense of this revolution. It is, first of all, the organisation by Hammarskjöld of cover the invasion of Belgian troops into the Congo using the form of the UN flag. So A. Guterres’ inspirers are, frankly speaking, are not too worthy of imitations.

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