When I was growing up reading history books as a young student, it seemed all wars had a winner. Yet in today’s wars, it is increasingly clear that no one wins. Everyone loses.
Look no further than the horrifying bloodshed in Syria. A conflict in one country is creating instability on a global scale. Years of brutal fighting have brought chaos to an entire region, with tremors felt around the world. Decades of economic development have been reversed. Millions more children and young people are vulnerable to the cycle of dispossession, underdevelopment, radicalization and conflict.
Around the world, conflicts have become more complex and interlinked—producing gross violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses. People are fleeing their homes on a scale not seen for decades. Global terrorism threatens every region. Meanwhile, climate change, population growth, rapid urbanization, food insecurity and water scarcity are adding to the tensions and instability.
The greatest shortcoming of the international community today is its failure to prevent conflict and maintain global security. As secretary-general of the United Nations, I have called for a surge in diplomacy for peace and appealed for 2017 to be a year for peace.
The United Nations was born from war. Today, we must be here for peace.
Preventing conflict means going back to basics—strengthening institutions and building resilient societies. Since so many conflicts emerge from disenfranchisement and marginalization, it means putting respect for human rights at the center of national and international policy. It means protecting and empowering women and girls, one of the most important steps in sustainable development.
Where wars are already raging, we need mediation, arbitration and creative diplomacy backed by all countries with influence. Members of the U.N. Security Council must live up to their responsibilities. The United Nations—and I, personally—will be ready to engage in conflict resolution wherever and whenever we can add value.
Looking forward, we must make sure countries do not even set off on the path of instability and conflict, but settle their differences peacefully, benefiting people and the planet.
The U.N. has taken important strides to achieve this in recent years. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by world leaders two years ago, is a blueprint for making our world more equitable, sustainable and livable.
To implement this plan—and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals—we need to broaden the circle of action to include governments, bilateral and international organizations, and international financial institutions. Partnerships with civil society, the business community and others are critical to success.
I am also committed to make sure the U.N. system is reformed and united to provide the development support to member states needed to achieve these goals.
For the U.N. to achieve its full purpose and potential, it too must change. It is time for us to recognize shortcomings and reform the way we work.
First, we must bring greater coherence and consistency to our efforts to build and maintain peace. Too often, U.N. peacekeepers face an impossible task in countries that are still at war and where there is no real peace to keep. Greater conceptual clarity and a shared understanding of the scope of peacekeeping must pave the way for urgent reforms that create a continuum from conflict prevention and resolution to peacekeeping, peacebuilding and development.
Second, we need to reform the U.N.’s internal management through simplification, decentralization and flexibility. The United Nations must focus on delivery rather than process; and on people rather than bureaucracy. I am committed to building a culture of accountability, strong performance management and effective protection for whistleblowers.
Gender parity is also pivotal. I intend to make sure women take their rightful place at senior levels in the U.N., and to create a clear roadmap with benchmarks and time frames to recruit more women at all levels of the organization.
But these vital reforms will depend on trust between leaders, people and institutions—both national and international. We must move beyond the mutual fear that is driving decisions and attitudes around the world. It is time for leaders to listen and show that they care about their own people, and about the global stability and solidarity on which we all depend.
It is time for all of us to remember the values of our common humanity, the values that are fundamental to all religions and that form the basis of the U.N. Charter: peace, justice, respect, human rights, tolerance and solidarity.
All those with power and influence have a particular responsibility to recommit to these ideals. We face enormous global challenges. They can be solved only if we work together.
António Guterres is secretary-general of the United Nations.