“Let’s listen to the alarm bells, we’re facing a world plagued with problems.” This was the warning recently launched by António Guterres, General Secretary of the United Nations (UN), during his last appearance before the General Assembly of the organization.
As far as geopolitical volatility is concerned, 2018 was a corrosive year in which the UN could not always play a stabilizing role. In Afghanistan, the Rakhine region in Myanmar, eastern Ukraine or Palestine, to name a few, the organization was unable to mediate lasting solutions.
But last year, it did not just mean failures. For example, in December, the organization managed to get 164 countries (although at the beginning of January Brazil announced that it will abandon the agreement) to adopt the Global Compact for Migration. This non-binding agreement is designed to strengthen regional and international collaboration in the management of migratory flows, and grant greater protection to immigrants in relation to human rights.
Internally, an important bureaucratic achievement of the international organization has been the reform of its system of coordinators of projects in the field. Since January 1, the more than 130 offices that coordinate the UN fieldwork around the world have greater decision autonomy with respect to the headquarters in New York. This reform is part of an ambitious restructuring of the vast organization that also covers the areas of administration of the secretariat and the pillar of peace and security.
Reforms that arrive at the time that the UN reaches gender parity among its senior management positions – an achievement not yet reflected in the rest of the agency’s ranks and departments.
Priorities, conflicts and hard work
Last week, during the World Economic Forum in Davos, António Guterres highlighted his three priorities: 1) Demonstrate to the reluctant to multilateralism that the UN is a vital actor in solving global problems; read, for example, climate change; 2) simplify and make more transparent the bureaucracy of the organization, as we have seen before; and 3) highlight the added value of the organism; read, for example, mediate between the great geopolitical powers.
As Guterres himself recently pointed out, “we need to pour more resources into what we have shown to be efficient in reducing poverty and inequality, while at the same time achieving strong and inclusive economies capable of safeguarding the environment.” In this last aspect, a key date will be September 23. Day in which the Summit of Action by the Climate will be celebrated, that will try to mobilize to the public and private initiative for, among other objectives, to increase the financing with which to fight the climatic change.
“The UN has achieved gender parity among its senior management positions – an achievement not yet reflected in the other ranks and departments of the organization.”
Within the Syrian geopolitical framework, where one of the most lethal conflicts is fought since World War II, it still represents one of the greatest challenges for the organization. The Norwegian Geir O. Pedersen, Guterres’ new special envoy for the country, will try to mediate a political solution to a conflict in which the regime of Bashar al-Assad, with the support of Russia and Iran, seems to have prevailed after a civil war that has already claimed more than 500,000 lives.
Further south, in Yemen, where one of the worst humanitarian crises of the 21st century is experienced, a truce brokered by the UN in December (the Stockholm Agreement) has avoided a devastating military confrontation in the important port city of Hodeida. As a result, 75 observers are currently deployed in the region to support the implementation of the agreement and verify the withdrawal of rival forces in the Yemeni city.
Another country where the international organization has achieved some diplomatic success is Libya, where in general a ceasefire mediated by the UN continues to be respected. However, as recently indicated by the head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), the country continues to be kidnapped by a “struggle between entities and individuals, fueled by personal ambitions and perpetuated by broken institutions.”
“The conflict in Venezuela has just opened another wound in the Security Council.”
Africa occupies much of the UN peacekeeping and security work. With levels of galloping instability in countries such as Mali, South Sudan, Somalia, the Central African Republic or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the continent hosts seven of the fourteen peace missions deployed by the organization.
And if all this were not enough, the situation in Venezuela has just opened another wound in the Security Council. The presidential crisis of the Latin country
American reveals the same divisions (Russia and China opposed to any type of foreign interference) that have blocked the action of the organ in conflicts such as the Syrian and the Ukrainian.