UN Secretary-General must be non-risk averse, and play a more pivotal and active role

BY PURNAKA L. DE SILVA Dr. Purnaka L. de Silva is professor of UN Studies (MA Program) at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Seton Hall University, and director, Institute of Strategic Studies and Democracy (ISSD) Malta.



The Manila Times



I think we are free to break out of it. – Jean-Paul Sartre, preface to Deutsche Gramaphon recording of ‘No Exit’ NEW YORK: Mr. Vladimir Putin’s illegal war of aggression in Ukraine, launched on Feb. 24, 2022, brought into stark relief the fractured state of global peace and security. Militarized conflicts, civilian deaths and forced migration in the tens of millions have been ongoing for decades, with little or no relief to the beleaguered victims. The war in Ukraine appears to have displaced other ongoing major wars in Yemen, Ethiopia and Myanmar in the global public imagination, thanks to the 24/7 news cycle. The primary mandate of the United Nations is to ensure the maintenance of global peace and security; sadly we seem to have neither, apart from a lot of talk by eminent personages with little or no action to redress the dystopian realities and carnage on the ground. The Latin motto res, non verba comes to mind — meaning “deeds, and not words” — as quite an appropriate model for the United Nations to adopt rather than sticking to ‘business as usual’ — which is quite lame and pathetic to say the least in these trying times. Secretary-General António Guterres must not leave diplomacy, mediation and negotiation to half-baked UN diplomats out in the field and even within his own Executive Office — UN-EOSG. In the context of current world affairs and international relations, it is imperative that the Secretary-General plays a more pivotal and far greater active role to uphold the primary mandate of the United Nations and ensure the maintenance of global peace and security. The time for protecting the image and status of the UN Secretary-General is over, as well as being held hostage by the P5 permanent member states of the UN Security Council who have run roughshod over all current and previous UN secretaries-general. Rather than being risk averse, SecretaryGeneral Guterres must play a much more active and visible role on the global stage and behind the scenes — traveling incessantly to war-torn UN member states to meet the protagonists regularly and personally mediating, using his high office and moral standing to good effect — to boost UN mediation efforts. Reminiscent of the active and energetic interventions of one of his predecessors, the late Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, who sadly paid the ultimate price along with 15 other UN advisors, bodyguards and aircrew when their plane was shot down on Sept. 18, 1961, in northern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. Bad optics In today’s geopolitical environment, Secretary-General Guterres cannot be seen as one of the last of a long line of diplomats and politicians to visit a war-torn region, as was the case of his recent visit in late April 2022 to Moscow and Kyiv — to put it bluntly this is bad optics. Secretary-General Guterres must use his executive office to better effect and the global public needs to be aware and supportive. Given the very high stakes involved, he must be much more proactive regarding Ukraine, and all ongoing wars and armed conflicts in evenhanded fashion — without fear or favor. On the plus side, Secretary-General Guterres did call the war in Ukraine “evil and unacceptable” and called for justice. However, Guterres’ call fell on deaf ears in Moscow, demonstrated by the fact that Russia launched five missiles striking central Kyiv less than one hour after he held a news conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. So, what is to be done when a P5 permanent member state of the UN Security Council goes “rogue” — i.e., beyond the bounds of civilized, rules-based behavior of a nation-state in the 21st century adhering to tenets of global peace and security enshrined in the UN Charter, the Laws of War, the Geneva Conventions, and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court — as in the case of Mr. Putin and his government? Notwithstanding the fact that SecretaryGeneral Guterres is a former prime minister of Portugal, he must demonstrate his independence from the Western powers, and immediately follow up on his Moscow and Kyiv visit by visiting Beijing to enlist President Xi Jingping’s not-so-inconsequential support to put pressure on Moscow to end the aggression in Ukraine and call off the dogs of war. Visit Beijing And while he is negotiating in Beijing, he must also secure the support of China to pressure the Tatmadaw Kyi military junta to stand down and restore democracy without delay in Myanmar to provide relief to its beleaguered peoples. Non-confrontational diplomacy is the key to success in Beijing, something that Secretary-General Guterres is adept at doing, which he should use to good effect considering that the Chinese are not belligerents. Beijing is more inclined toward global trade and commerce and promoting their ambitious Belt and Road Initiative global mega project, which is undoubtedly being hampered by the war in Ukraine. After two bloody world wars where tens of millions of human beings died, nobody wants another large-scale inter-European war, which has potential ramifications for militaries and civilians well beyond Europe. In fact, Mr. Putin’s war of aggression in Ukraine is already deepening world hunger given that global wheat production, storage and supply is severely hampered by the fighting. The power of the United Nations is a reflected power — i.e., that of its leading member states adhering to a rules-based system of global governance — and that power is what all UN Secretaries-General must harness for the greater good through the arts of diplomacy, mediation and negotiation to maintain global peace and security. Secretary-General Guterres is urgently called upon to demonstrate his leadership and political acumen in these dystopian and troubled times, using his moral courage as a beacon to rally global publics to support the mandate and mission of the United Nations. The UN Secretary-General cannot and must not be relegated to the role of bystander while belligerents run amok; he/she must lead, irrespective of the personal cost, without fear nor favor. As for Secretary-General Guterres, a devout Catholic (close to His Holiness Pope Francis an outspoken critic of war), he cannot accomplish this mammoth task alone. To enhance his moral authority he needs to harness the power and voice of civil society together with that of the world’s multiple religions – all working together at manifold levels to maintain global peace and security.