UN Secretary General calls for ‘bold leadership’ in a world facing ‘calamity’

Special to WorldTribune.com

By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — In a sweeping and sobering tour of the world crises and trouble spots, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned of a dire global situation plagued with “protracted conflicts and the spread of terrorism.”

Stressing that, “We face a Gordian knot in the Middle East and potential nuclear catastrophe on the Korean peninsula,” the Secretary General conceded that, “The world needs bold leadership.”

In a wide-ranging assessment first to the General Assembly and later to the media, Antonio Guterres presented a long litany of entrenched challenges facing the international community.
He called for “Achieving denuclearization of the Korean peninsula without sleepwalking our way into calamity.” While praising UN Security Council sanctions and commitment to contain North Korea’s nuclear proliferation and rampant missile testing, he added that diplomatic “engagement” among the parties is crucial.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

Secretary-General Guterres said, “I am also encouraged by the decision of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to participate in the upcoming Winter Olympics in the Republic of Korea.” He announced that he will be in South Korea for the Olympic opening ceremonies.

A small North Korean team will participate in the PyeongChang Games; both Korean teams will march under a special flag of Unity rather than South Korea’s iconic Taegeuk banner.

Despite the optimism, when asked whether war is avoidable on the divided Korean peninsula, Guterres stressed, “I believe war is avoidable but I’m not quite sure peace is guaranteed.” He added while there are “signals of hope” the intractable problem of Pyongyang’s proliferation has a long way towards being peacefully resolved.

Earlier Secretary-General Guterres told the General Assembly about “Disentangling the mess in the broader Middle East.”

“With so many inter-related flashpoints, the risk of an escalatory cycle is real.” Equally the specter of terrorism haunts the region, he said.

Guterres advanced the usual package; “a Two-State solution” between Israelis and Palestinians. He added significantly, “In Lebanon, let us all work to preserve the county’s
sovereignty and stability”; in Yemen, pursue peace negotiations to “ease the dramatic humanitarian catastrophe,” and in Syria, he again called for an still elusive political settlement.

Curiously his General Assembly address failed to mention Iran where the Islamic Republic has been rocked by pro-democracy demonstrations. Later in media questions, Guterres gently mentioned Islamic Iran … and the demonstrations, “I care about the right of Iranian people to demonstrate, and we have clearly stressed that that right should be respected.” Yes, but…

Equally despite his long standing commitments to refugees, the Secretary-General did not specifically cite the massive number of displaced Syrians, Iraqis and Yemenis, nor did he mention the fractured state of Libya through which a flow of illegal migrants pours into Italy.

The number of refugees and migrants are riveting so I will cite a case here; Syria: 5.5 million refugees and millions more internally displaced; of those refugees 3 million are in Turkey, one million in Lebanon, and nearly a million in Jordan.

Again while Antonio Guterres has been a noble champion of refugees for well over a decade, an address to the world community should include these stunning numbers.

Later he called for “reversing the large scale exodus of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims.” Here the Secretary-General has led an impassioned and focused policy to stop the ethnic cleansing in Burma which has been going on for nearly a year leading to a minimum of 650,000 people literally forced from their homes by the Burmese military. Thousands have been killed.

Guterres said the Rohingya Muslims “desperately need immediate, life saving assistance, long-term solutions and justice.” He stressed that any return of the displaced Rohingya should be “voluntary and in safety and dignity.”

Let’s be frank; Burma’s evolving quasi democratic system still remains under the shadow of military control long supported by China. The predominantly Buddhist Burmese state views the Muslim minority as suspect and thus their return from neighboring Bangladesh would remain under a shadow.

One year into Antonio Guterres’ tenure at the UN, the Secretary-General lamented, “I took office last year calling for us to make 2017 a year for peace. One year later, we must recognize that peace remains elusive.”

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]