New United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who has said conflict prevention will be his top priority, laid out his vision Tuesday for re-tuning the organization’s work from largely responding to conflicts back to preventing them.
“We must rebalance our approach to peace and security,” Guterres told a packed chamber of the U.N. Security Council for his first appearance since taking office on January 1. “For decades, this has been dominated by responding to conflict; for the future, we need to do far more to prevent war and sustain peace.”
The 67-year-old former Portuguese prime minister and U.N. refugee chief said that while the causes of crises are interlinked, the U.N.’s response remains fragmented.
He urged a new integrated approach that would include addressing root causes, such as improving sustainable development and lowering youth unemployment, with greater internal U.N. efforts to enhance mediation abilities and decision-making processes. He also noted that “the primary work of conflict prevention lies with member states.”
Guterres urged nations to commit to a “surge in diplomacy for peace” and said preventing conflicts must be regarded as a value in itself.
“It is an essential means of reducing human suffering and enabling people to reach their full potential,” he said.
The United Nations is facing an abundance of conflicts around the globe and the number of displaced persons is the highest it has been since World War II. The organization is stretched to the limit financially trying to meet humanitarian needs, and it has more than 100,000 peacekeepers deployed to stabilize some of the most complex situations.
“War is never inevitable,” Guterres reminded member states. “It is always a matter of choice: the choice to exclude, to discriminate, to marginalize, to resort to violence,” he said. He urged the rebuilding of trust between governments and their citizens and among nations in order to prevent and avoid conflict.
“But peace, too, is never inevitable,” the secretary-general emphasized. “It is the result of difficult decisions, hard work and compromise.” He said peace should never be taken for granted and should be nurtured at every opportunity.
“Prevention is not merely a priority, but the priority,” Guterres concluded. “If we live up to our responsibilities, we will save lives, reduce suffering and give hope to millions.”