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UN Chief Warns 'Wind of Madness Is Sweeping the Globe'

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press briefing at United Nations Headquarters on Feb. 4, 2020 in New York City.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Tuesday that “a wind of madness is sweeping the globe,” pointing to escalating conflicts from Libya and Yemen to Syria and beyond.

At a wide-ranging news conference, he said, “All situations are different but there is a feeling of growing instability and hair-trigger tensions, which makes everything far more unpredictable and uncontrollable, with a heightened risk of miscalculation.”

The U.N. chief also expressed great frustration that legally binding U.N. Security Council resolutions “are being disrespected before the ink is even dry.”

Guterres singled out Libya, where he called the current offensives by the warring parties “a scandal” — coming soon after world powers and other key countries adopted a road map to peace in Berlin on Jan. 19 that called for respect for a U.N. arms embargo, an end to foreign interference and steps toward a cease-fire.

The secretary-general also expressed “enormous concern” at the escalation of attacks in Idlib, Syria's last rebel-held province with a population of 3 million, and said the U.N. is “particularly worried” that the escalation now includes the Syrian and Tukish armies bombing each other. He again urged a cessation of hostilities “before the escalation comes to a situation that then becomes totally out of control.”

As for Yemen, Guterres said he was very encouraged recently to see Houthi Shiite rebels stop attacking Saudi Arabia and the Saudis, who back the country's internationally recognized government, limiting their military actions. But unfortunately, the last few days have seen “a new escalation,” he said, adding, “We are doing everything we can for this escalation to be reversed, and everything we can to create the conditions for a true political dialogue to be re-established.”

The secretary-general stressed that global problems “feed on each other.”

“As economies falter, poverty remains entrenched. As future prospects look bleak, populist and ethnic nationalist narratives gain appeal,” he said. “As instability rises, investment dries up, and development cycles down. When armed conflicts persist, societies reach perilous tipping points. And as governance grows weak, terrorists get stronger, seizing on the vacuum.”

Guterres said that in the year ahead he will press “to break the vicious circles of suffering and conflict and push for a surge of diplomacy for peace.”