Following are UN Secretary‑General António Guterres’ remarks at a joint event with Cabinet Ministers, academia and civil society of the Netherlands, “Security Central: The United Nations and Current Threats to International Peace and Security”, in The Hague today:
I am delighted to be visiting the Netherlands because it is always a pleasure to visit a country whose Government and people are such strong supporters of the United Nations and so clearly committed to multilateralism in the difficult times that multilateralism is facing in the present world.
The Hague is one of the world’s great centres of international life, including through hosting the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and several other organizations. And I would like to thank you again for your role in enabling the Tribunal to register many landmark achievements in justice, accountability and our fight against impunity for grave crimes.
This visit takes place just days before the Netherlands takes on important responsibilities as a member of the Security Council for 2018 — your first such term on the Council since 1999‑2000. So, I welcome the opportunity to review some of the challenges we face, counting on your very strong commitment to the work of the United Nations.
I know that the Netherlands wants to be effective as a partner in protecting people and maintaining international peace and security. You are also already a generous provider of humanitarian assistance, and an active participant in United Nations peacekeeping operations, with more than 300 troops and other personnel currently stationed in Mali, Liberia, South Sudan and the Middle East.
And you are a strong believer in gender equality and the empowerment of women and young people. And gender parity is today a central objective of the United Nations, being fully aware that we will never reach gender equality if we don’t make a strong bet on women’s empowerment. And parity in international organizations is a key tool for women’s empowerment. And you are deeply engaged in development cooperation, including as a key voice in shaping the landmark 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
I welcome the Dutch SDG [Sustainable Development Goals] Charter, by which the Netherlands is mobilizing a network of cooperation in support of the Sustainable Development Goals. Partnerships among the public sector, private business and civil society will be crucial in achieving the Goals and keeping the Agenda’s core promise to leave no one behind. For these reasons and more, you are well placed to help strengthen peace operations, address the diverse drivers of conflict and serve as a bridge between countries and people in a moment in which we have a serious deficit of trust — trust between people and political establishments and international organizations, and trust amongst States, namely within the Security Council.
With tensions over nuclear weapons as high as they have been since the end of the cold war, the Netherlands will play a key role as Chair of the Sanctions Committee on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and through involvement in implementation of the nuclear agreement with Iran.
You will also work with your Council colleagues on a worrying number of pressing, complex and dangerous threats to international peace and security. They include:
* questions of accountability and justice related to the use of chemical weapons in Syria;
* the crisis in northern Mali and the challenges of mounting a G‑5 Sahel force in the region;
* the risk of widespread famine in Yemen and the critical importance of ensuring humanitarian access to those in need;
* and ensuring that the unique needs and roles of women and children affected by conflict are taken into account.
We are all aware that this is a moment of profound uncertainty and risk unparalleled in the post‑cold war period. Beyond the nuclear question, other threats to international peace and security are evolving rapidly and are increasingly transnational and interlinked. Climate change is moving faster than we are. Water scarcity is a growing concern. And his Majesty the King has played a very important role in relation to mobilizing the international community on addressing the water problems.
Inequality is rising. Cybersecurity dangers are escalating, as some of the same advances in technology that have generated so many gains have also made it easier for extremists to communicate, broadcast distorted narratives of grievance, recruit followers and exploit people. The misuse of digital surveillance poses serious challenges to the free exercise of democratic rights and processes.
Civil wars almost tripled in the decade between 2005 and 2015, including a sixfold increase in fatalities between 2011 and 2015. Civilians continue to bear the brunt of armed conflict, resulting in massive humanitarian needs. Today’s conflicts are increasingly exacerbated by transnational factors such as drug smuggling and human trafficking, and provide a source of income for armed groups.
And we have also seen a rise in the internationalization and regionalization of conflicts, as in Syria, Libya and Yemen. When one looks today at the Middle East, we see a global Middle East crisis. It’s no longer only the Israel‑Palestinian question or the Syrian crisis or the Iraq crisis or the… all these things are interlinked. Both sides of the gulf in a very complex situation of conflict and a widespread threat moving from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean, and in ways that are totally unpredictable in relation to the near future. We don’t know where the next crisis will emerge, how serious it will be and how we will be able to face it.
Europe itself is home to a number of unresolved protracted conflicts, and faces threats — such as violent extremism and human trafficking — linked to conflict dynamics beyond its borders. These developments are taking place within a polarized international community. Divisions in the Security Council and divergences with or within regional organizations constrain efforts at unified action. And we are also seeing a rise in nationalist, xenophobic and populist agendas, namely in the West. The integration of newcomers to the region remains a considerable challenge.
Like the United Nations, European institutions are facing a drop in trust and have struggled to create political consensus and adapt their collective security tools. So, we have our work cut out for us. It is clear to me that in face of greater instability and volatility, we must work harder to prevent the crises that take such a high toll on humanity, undermine institutions, and reverse development progress.
We must tackle the immediate grievances and root causes of conflict that divide societies and cause States and citizens to use violence and repression as a means of achieving their goals and resolving their differences. A prevention agenda may seem an ambitious project in a moment of global polarization and political flux. But fortunately, with the 2030 Agenda, we have a clear, credible and common road map in relation to development and many aspects that we can centre around development. Because the framework includes Goal 16, dedicated to “peace, justice and strong institutions”, governance is a central question in our concerns.
For my part, upon taking office I initiated a wide‑ranging reform process to streamline United Nations management, align the United Nations development system with the 2030 Agenda, and strengthen the United Nations peace and security architecture. The latter involves a strong focus on early warning and early action to avoid crises, and peacebuilding in order to sustain peace. And I have also established a High-level Advisory Board on Mediation as part of a broader and necessary surge in diplomacy for peace. And this is particularly worrying when the, I would say, most relevant brand of the United Nations — that are the “Blue Helmets” — the peacekeeping missions face such a challenging environment in many contexts where there is simply no peace to keep.
The question of the future of peace operations will now be submitted to a strategic review in which we hope the Netherlands will play a very important role. And we are extremely grateful for your continued commitment to peacekeeping, even in the very difficult situations where peacekeeping takes place. The presence of the Netherlands forces in Kidal [Mali] is the demonstration of that fact. This is something that must be at the centre of our discussions in the Security Council during the next year, and we count a lot on the Netherlands to help us do the necessary strategic reviews and reforms.
The magnitude and complexity of global challenges are too immense for any country or organization to tackle alone. We need to do more to devise joint strategies and to draw on our comparative advantages. The United Nations is strongly committed to deepening our partnership with key regional partners like the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. At the same time, and in relation to peace operations, our cooperation with the African Union is a key strategic objective that we are already fully implementing in the context of the enhanced platform of cooperation between the two organizations.
Together, we must spread a common message of tolerance and present an alternative vision to the xenophobic agendas that fuel conflict and the animosity in the region and around the world. Prevention is urgent. And I look forward to hearing your thoughts on how, together, we can spread the message and the practice of peace. I wish the Netherlands every success during the important year ahead, including during your Presidency of the Security Council in March. I believe this will be a very important moment for us to move ahead in some of the most difficult dossiers that we have been trying to tackle in the recent past.