Global perspective Human stories

Multilateralism more vital than ever, as World War centenary looms: Security Council

Secretariat Building at United Nations Headquarters
UN Photo/Rick Bajornas
Secretariat Building at United Nations Headquarters

Multilateralism more vital than ever, as World War centenary looms: Security Council

UN Affairs

With the centenary of the end of the First World War just days away, the Security Council reaffirmed the crucial importance of multilateralism – or international cooperation and collective problem-solving – and highlighted the key role played by the United Nations since its creation 73 years ago.

Noting that the global conflict of 1914-1918 was “a colossal tragedy and a frightening harbinger of bloody decades to follow”, the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, noted in his opening statement that “without mechanisms for international problem-solving,” a second world war ensued within a generation.

“It took a second global cataclysm to trigger the multilateral arrangements we know today,” he added, referring to the creation of the United Nations in 1945, successor to the failed League of Nations.

The UN chief cited several major tangible achievements born out of multilateral efforts since then, including the avoidance of a third all-consuming global war; the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, and the peace operations established by the Security Council over the decades.

“Peacekeeping has helped a great many countries to recover from armed conflict. Our missions are often critical bulwarks against chaos and bloodshed,” said Mr. Guterres, hailing the renewed commitment made earlier this year by 151 nations and four international organizations, known as the Action for Peacekeeping initiative (A4P) which aims to strengthen these collective partnerships.

However, the Secretary-General warned that, on some fronts, “multilateral efforts are under immense stress”, as new conflicts multiply, nuclear proliferation continues, climate change advances, forced population movements are on the rise, and inequality deepens.

“There is anxiety, uncertainty and unpredictability across the world. Trust is on the decline, within and among nations,” remarked Mr. Guterres, as he regretted that “it often seems that the more global the threat, the less able we are to cooperate”.

Tweet URL

Insisting on the fact that to address today’s challenges, global approaches are essential, he called on the Security Council to “inspire a return to international cooperation” and “do more to overcome divisions.”

The UN chief cited what is required to inspire this: a reformed, reinvigorated and strengthened multilateral system; stronger commitment to a rules-based world, with the UN at its centre; new forms of cooperation with other international and regional organisations; and closer links with civil society and other stakeholders to ensure that multilateralism is inclusive.

“The Security Council has a central role to play in showing the value of international cooperation,” given its special stature, powers and responsibilities”, said the Secretary-General, noting that crises in Syria, the faltering Middle East peace process and elsewhere have “shaken popular faith in the potential of the international community to deliver solutions”.

Encouraging all UN Member States to make greater investments in a fair and inclusive globalization and in social cohesion, the UN chief said “there should be no room for demonizing minorities, migrants and refugees, or for stifling the diversity that enriches societies”.

On Sunday, the UN chief will be in  the French capital, Paris, attending a special  Armistice Day ceremony, marking the end of the First World War.  That afternoon, he will also give the keynote speech at the first Paris Peace Forum on multilateralism, which is being hosted by the French President, Emmanuel Macron. 

'One planet' view from Space highlights multilateral path

Echoing the Secretary General’s call to “reaffirm the ideals of collective action,” the President of the UN General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa, who had a statement delivered on her behalf at the debate, said “multilateralism does not represent in any sense a threat to sovereignty or to national interests of Member States”.

“It offers the only way to address the complex challenges that no country could ever overcome on its own,” her statement read. 

And as the President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Inga Rhonda King, also highlighted the central role that the UN plays in solving some of humanity’s key issues, she ended her remarks with a plea to the Security Council to strengthen international cooperation with a reference to late world-renown physicist, Stephen Hawking.

“In his last book, Hawking explained that, when we see the Earth from space, we see ourselves as a whole, we see the unity and not the divisions,” said Ms. King, encouraging the members of the Security Council to see the world as “one planet, one human race”.