“We face unprecedented and interlocking crises,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in his briefing at the Council’s ministerial-level open debate on effective multilateralism through the defence of the principles of the UN Charter.
“Tensions between major powers are at an historic high, so are the risks of conflict, through misadventure or miscalculation. It is time to deepen cooperation and to strengthen multilateral institutions, to find common solutions to common challenges.”
To do so, he called on Member States to comply with their obligations, use existing tools to peacefully resolve disputes, and fill gapsin global governance to deliver on the Charter’s promises. Security Council members, particularly those serving permanently (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States), have a responsibility to “make multilateralism work, rather than contribute to its dismemberment”, he said.
“We must cooperate; we must adapt multilateral institutions and foster trust where it is most needed,” he said. “The urgency of global challenges demands bold and swift action.”
Effective multilateral responses are urgently needed to prevent and resolve conflicts, manage economic uncertainty, rescue the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and address challenges to the global norms against the use and possession of nuclear weapons, he said.
Such immediate attention includes addressing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which violates the Charter and international law, the global economic dislocation triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, and conflicts grinding on in Myanmar, the Sahel, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and beyond.
At the same time, the world is witnessing a deepening climate crisis, soaring inequalities, a rising threat from terrorism, a global pushback against human rights and gender equality, and the unregulated development of dangerous technologies, he said.
“All these global challenges can only be solved through respect for international law, adherence to global commitments, and the adoption of appropriate frameworks of multilateral governance,” he said.
“We need to do better, go further, and work faster,” he said. “That must start with countries recommitting to their obligations under the UN Charter, putting human rights and dignity first, and prioritizing the prevention of conflict and crises.”
“Our institution was created for crisis,” he said, noting that throughout its history, the UN has overcome seemingly intractable conflicts and deep divisions. “We must find a way forward and act now, as we have done before, to stop the slide towards chaos and conflict.”
Recalling past achievements, from preventing a third world war, to helping decolonize 80 countries and crafting tools for advancing diplomacy and development, he said multilateral solutions to global problems, from the ozone layer to the eradication of polio, are “tried, tested, and proven to work”.
“None of this progress would have been possible without countries standing together, as a multilateral human family, which makes today’s situation all the more dangerous,” he added, emphasizing that “multilateral cooperation is the beating heart of the United Nations, its raison d’être, and guiding vision”.
While competition between nations is inevitable, that should not rule out cooperation where shared interests and the greater good are at stake, he said.
At the outset of the meeting, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of Russia, which holds the Council presidency in April, drew attention to the meeting’s concept note, which states that some stakeholders are “undertaking attempts to preserve the unipolar world order, by imposing the ‘might is right’ principle and trying to replace universal norms of international law with a ‘rules-based order’”.
“We have reached a dangerous threshold,” Mr. Lavrov said, speaking in his national capacity. “Double standards need to be abandoned. Advancing the West’s rules on the international arena is asphyxiating multilateralism. The key to success is concerted efforts.”
Genuine multilateralism requires major changes at the UN, he argued, including Security Council reform to more accurately represent the global landscape. Outlining UN Charter violations, including Washington, DC’s responsibility for the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945, and its intervention in Iraq, which unleashed terrorism across region and beyond, he urged the United States, as the UN host country, to comply with obligations and issue visas promptly.
Turning to the situation in Ukraine, he said international relations will continue to be shaped through a balance of interest or what he described as the United States’ hegemony and support of the “Kyiv regime”. In this vein, he urged the UN Secretary-General to ensure that staff members comply with impartiality.
“Today, it’s Ukraine, but tomorrow, it could be another country,” United States Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said, emphasizing that Russia’s invasion is among the reasons the Charter was drafted in the first place and Moscow’s attempt to redraw international borders violates agreed principles.
“This little blue book spells out our purposes and principles,” she said, holding up a copy of the UN Charter. However, the Ukraine conflict runs counter to agreed principles, as the world braces itself for what she described as the next atrocity and war crime.
“The world needs an effective UN,” she said, adding that despite the international system’s imperfections, Charter principles have helped to prevent nuclear proliferation and atrocities, while lifting more than one billion people out of poverty.
“The world has only one order”, with the UN Charter being its “cornerstone”, stated China’s Ambassador Zhang Jun.
However, problems arise in the world today because Charter principles are honoured, and safeguarding them requires deeds that match words consistently and inclusively, he said. Indeed, the pace of international relations must reflect equality and enhance the effectiveness of multilateralism, he added.
In this regard, developing countries must play their role, he said. To do so, he called for action to improve global governance, revamp the international financial system, and eliminate unilateral sanctions that are crippling humanitarian conditions in many nations.
For more details on the open debate and other meetings occurring throughout the UN system, you can visit our dedicated UN Meetings Coverage page.