International Corner: What should the new UN Secretary-General prioritize?
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November 15, 2016
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Former Prime Minister of Portugal, Antonio Guterres is now set to be the new United Nations Secretary-General, the top position in the United Nations. This decision came on Oct. 16 and he will assume the office on the first of next year. He now faces unique challenges with the global community, and he now needs to prioritize what he wants to accomplish in his tenure. Guterres should hold “Responsibility to Protect” standards, maintain Ban ki Moon’s focus on sustainability, and focus on the importance of multilateralism during his term as Secretary-General.
Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is the duty to prevent and halt genocide and mass atrocities lies first and foremost with the State, but the international community has a role that cannot be blocked by the invocation of sovereignty. Before the adoption of R2P, many states claimed that sovereignty protects the state from outside influence, and therefore they could do as they please within their own borders.
This previous idea of sovereignty spurred inaction of nations when mass atrocities were occurring. For example, during the Rwandan Genocide, the United States along with other nations felt that they could not intervene. In the aftermath of various intrastate disputes, the international community decided they needed to find a way to not be a bystander, so they found that sovereignty is no longer the exclusive freedom from international intervention within its borders, but now it holds states accountable to protect the wellbeing of all citizens and people who live inside their borders. Thus giving the international community the power to intervene if it is found that a state is not maintaining the wellbeing of its civilians. Therefore preventing genocidal actions. Guterres must maintain this practice so that those who are vulnerable to violence of this nature have the ability to have protection.
At the beginning of this year, the UN sustainable development plan, the 2030 Agenda, officially came into force. It was a concerted effort by current Secretary-General, Ban ki-Moon, and many other pro-green and sustainable countries. This agenda consists of 17 objectives that range from affordable and clean energy to ending poverty. The bulk of this list of goals deal with climate change and providing for the lowest socioeconomic classes in the world. Guterres plays a critical role in the implementation of this agenda. He will be the Secretary General that sees full implementation of each program since Ki-moon only saw the passage and entry into force.
In an age where nationalism runs high, the United Nations stands as a pillar for international cooperation. Antonio Guterres will have an uphill battle of maintaining multilateralism and cooperation among nations. Over the past few years, a movement toward isolationism and nationalistic ideas have been gaining ground, especially in western Europe and the United States. Leaders such as Donald Trump of the United States, Marine le Pen of France, and Geert Wilders of the Netherlands demonstrate how fear is shifting this focus. We have also seen a decrease of cooperation in the international justice system with the South African and Russian departure from the International Criminal Court. Guterres’ main job is now the leader of the largest intergovernmental organization in the world, and he must prevent the collapse of world governance, for cooperation is key in the success of the world.