Ambassador of Spain and Trustee of FAES
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in his opening address to the UN General Assembly, which takes place every year in New York from September onwards, and in front of an almost empty hall, could not have been more sombre: “In a world that seems turned upside down, this General Assembly Hall is one of the strangest places of all. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our annual meeting beyond recognition. However, it has also made it more important than ever. In January, I addressed the General Assembly and pointed to the ‘four horsemen’ in our midst, four threats to our common future. First, the most intense global geostrategic tensions we have witnessed in years. Second, an existential climate crisis. Thirdly, a deep and growing global mistrust. And fourthly, the dark side of the digital world. But there was a fifth rider lurking in the darkness. Since January, the COVID-19 pandemic has galloped around the world, joining the other four riders and increasing the fury of each of them. And with each passing day, the tragic toll of casualties mounts, families mourn, societies falter and the pillars of our world are shaken to their already weak foundations. We are simultaneously facing an epoch-making health crisis, the greatest economic calamity and job loss since the Great Depression, and dangerous new threats to human rights. COVID-19 has exposed the world’s fragilities. Growing inequalities. Climate catastrophe. Deepening social divisions. Rampant corruption. The pandemic has taken advantage of these injustices, preying on the most vulnerable and causing decades of progress to vanish in one fell swoop. For the first time in 30 years, poverty is on the rise. Human development indicators are falling.
It is difficult not to agree with the diagnosis. Nor do we fail to celebrate the fact that there is an institution, and with it its leaders, with sufficient authority and sufficient impact to draw attention to the problems affecting humanity, while at the same time evoking the measures and levers which could serve to tackle the calamities, to bring about consensus, to arbitrate responses and to seek the viability of a more stable, more peaceful and more just world. And if we look at it, this is precisely the greatness and usefulness of the organisation of which we are now celebrating its 75th anniversary.
After the Second World War, the United Nations brought to the shattered world of the time what the League of Nations, after the First World War, had not managed to bring together after its no less ruinous one: a vocation for universality, normative capacity, institutional stability and articulated predictability. The proof of its success, however relative the judgement may be, lies in both its durability and its scope: the 75 years have seen its extension from the 51 original members to the current 193. Its agenda-which for the first time in the history of interstate relations introduced respect for human rights as an international legal obligation and which over the years has been addressing and ruling on all the problems that afflict world citizens-can be summarised in one expressive fact: it has been 75 years without a world war. It is evident that warlike confrontations of varying types and scope have not been lacking over this long period. It is also clear that nations, societies and groups have often violated the rules of behaviour established by the founding Charter and its instruments to regulate international relations. In the chiaroscuro, it is worth recalling some certainties: the UN is no more than an intergovernmental organisation in which the first and last owners are the Member States, which in the end are truly responsible for what happens in the universe. But also the fact that by its very existence and the constant reminder of the obligations that its system proposes, it offers a framework of explicit approval or condemnation for anyone who departs from its precepts. Permanent forum of negotiation -following what for Churchill was an article of faith, “better to talk and talk than to shoot and shoot”- is also the place where, in the best of cases, violators receive the just punishment of the loss of reputation: those whom the world shames with the fact of naming them. At worst, and although not very often, it authorizes the use of force to repress the culprit. There is no one who offers much more at the moment.
Of course, this is not a perfect world and neither does the adjective correspond exactly to everything that the United Nations represents and undertakes. But these first 75 years deserve not only warm congratulations, but also the deep wish that they will accomplish at least as many years in the work of seeking a more just, more prosperous, more egalitarian, more humane world. Because we should not deceive ourselves about this: if the United Nations did not exist, it would have to be invented.
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