U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Wednesday that the world has entered an “age of chaos” that is causing a multitude of suffering and thwarting progress – and must be reversed.
“There is so much anger and hate and noise in our world today,” the secretary-general told member states as he laid out his priorities for 2024. “Every day and at every turn, it seems – it’s war.”
He said people just want peace and security and to live their lives with dignity.
“For millions of people caught up in conflict around the world, life is a deadly, daily, hungry hell,” he said.
He pointed to conflicts in Gaza, Ukraine and Sudan, but also protracted situations in Myanmar, Yemen, Haiti and across Africa’s Sahel.
“If countries fulfilled their obligations under the [U.N.] charter, every person’s right to a life of peace and dignity would be guaranteed,” he noted. But he said the charter is regularly being trampled with impunity.
He chastised the U.N.’s most powerful organ – the 15-nation Security Council – for contributing to the chaos.
“The United Nations Security Council – the primary platform for questions of global peace – is deadlocked by geopolitical fissures,” he said. “This is not the first time the council has been divided, but it is the worst.”
He said the dysfunction is deeper and more dangerous today than even during the Cold War years.
“We are seeing the results, a dangerous and unpredictable free-for-all with total impunity,” Guterres said.
Divisions among the council’s five veto-wielding permanent members – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – have blocked meaningful action on a number of situations, including the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, as well as enforcing sanctions against bad actors like North Korea and the military junta in Myanmar.
He said the council must undergo serious reform to reflect today’s realities, including adding a permanent seat for Africa.
Guterres also called for reform of the international financial system, noting that the world’s poorest countries are drowning in debt.
And he urged people to “make peace with the planet” and stop waging a war with nature.
“It is a crazy fight to pick,” he said of the climate crisis. “We are detonating systems that sustain us.”
He also pointed to modern challenges, including the rapid spread of misinformation and disinformation, as well as the need to ensure artificial intelligence is used to benefit humanity.
“AI will affect all of humankind, so we need a universal approach,” he said.
He said adequate guardrails and ethical standards must be adopted and it should be widely available.
At the base of all progress, Guterres said, is peace, and he said it is a collective responsibility to act for it in all its dimensions.
“Peace can achieve wonders that wars never will,” he said. “Wars destroy. Peace builds.”