'Peace first' plan to tackle global crises: UN chief

Diplomats and ministers from Turkey, Greece and Britain gather in Geneva for a conference on the reunification of Cyprus.
Mr Antonio Guterres called for a 'whole new approach' to prevent war, pointing out that too much time and too many resources were being spent on responding to crises rather than preventing them.
Mr Antonio Guterres called for a 'whole new approach' to prevent war, pointing out that too much time and too many resources were being spent on responding to crises rather than preventing them.PHOTO: REUTERS

Guterres renews pledge to make 2017 'a year for peace' in first address to UN Security Council since taking office

UNITED NATIONS • UN Secretary- General Antonio Guterres has called for a "whole new approach" to prevent war, vowing to boost the world body's mediation capacity to tackle global conflicts.

Making his first address to the UN Security Council since taking office on Jan 1, Mr Guterres said too much time and too many resources were being spent on responding to crises rather than preventing them.

The rules-based international order "is under grave threat", he said, describing the UN response to global crises as "fragmented".

He announced plans to launch an initiative to enhance mediation as part of his commitment to a "surge in diplomacy for peace", but he did not offer details.

Mr Guterres is confronted with a deeply divided Security Council that has notably been unable to take decisive action to end the nearly six-year war in Syria, where more than 310,000 people have been killed. The 67-year-old diplomat-in-chief is expected to have a more hands-on approach than his predecessor Ban Ki Moon, who left most of the mediation efforts to his special envoys.

Mr Guterres encouraged the Security Council to invoke Chapter Six of the UN charter, which allows it to investigate disputes and lay out procedures for a settlement.

"Too many prevention opportunities have been lost because member states mistrusted each other's motives, and because of concerns over national sovereignty," he said.

"Today, we need to demonstrate leadership and strengthen the credibility and authority of the United Nations by putting peace first," he added, renewing his pledge to make 2017 "a year for peace".

Complicating Mr Guterres' plan to revitalise UN diplomacy is the question mark hanging over the foreign policy of the incoming US administration under President-elect Donald Trump. Mr Trump has dismissed the world body as "just a club for people to get together and have a good time".

Mr Guterres spoke with the incoming US leader by phone last week and the conversation was described by a UN spokesman as "very positive". Later this week, Mr Guterres will make his first foray abroad as UN chief, heading to Geneva to shore up Cyprus peace talks.

He returns to Geneva next week to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose support for the UN has been steadily growing.

In one of her final addresses to the Security Council, US Ambassador Samantha Power hit out at Russia.

"Russia has suggested... that failure to respect state sovereignty is the main driver of conflict... even as Russia has used its veto to insulate itself from consequences in this council for trampling on Ukraine's sovereignty," she said, referring to Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin shot back at Ms Power.

"It is a violation of sovereignty by the United States that led to the very dire situation in a number of regions of the world, which we now have to tackle," he said, citing countries including Iraq and Libya.

French junior minister Matthias Fekl recalled France's proposal to restrict the use of the veto by council powers in conflicts that pose a risk of mass atrocities.

"This council must be able to act when it is necessary," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2017, with the headline ''Peace first' plan to tackle global crises: UN chief'. Print Edition | Subscribe