Columns

Incoming UN Leader: Globalization Has 'Left People Behind,' Caused 'Unrest and Instability'

Antonio Guterres of Portugal, secretary-general designate of the United Nations, speaks during his appointment at UN headquarters Oct. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

WASHINGTON — The incoming secretary-general of the United Nations said that while globalization has been extremely successful in reducing poverty in many places, the world body needs to recognize that others have been left behind.

Antonio Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal who takes over for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the beginning of the new year, also said the UN needs to be “more effective, more cost-effective, more able to serve the people with a very strong reform-minded approach.”

Guterres met with President Obama on Friday in the Oval Office “to share ideas about where the secretary-general-designate intends to take the UN and how the United States can work effectively with him.”

The Portuguese politician “will be assuming a post that obviously has enormous influence and impact around the world,” the president noted, but “the good news is that he has an extraordinary reputation as someone who has led multilateral organizations at the highest level and has done so in ways that everybody recognizes he’s been extraordinarily effective.”

Guterres, a former UN high commissioner on refugees from 2005 to 2015, has an “ability to really concretely help people who are in extraordinary need,” Obama said. “…From the perspective of the United States, the UN is a critical partner in almost everything that we do. It is a linchpin of the post-World War II order, and through Democratic and Republican administrations, our partnership with the United Nations has allowed us to help resolve conflicts, to provide development assistance where it’s sorely needed, to tackle big transnational challenges like refugee flows or, more recently, like climate change.”

“And at a time when those challenges are mounting and there’s great uncertainty around the world, having an effective partner in the United Nations secretary general will be critically important.”

Obama said he’s emphasized to Ban “how important the United States considers the UN but also how important it is, we believe, to make sure that the UN operates efficiently, that money is well-spent, that we’re doing everything we can to initiate the kinds of effective management practices that Mr. Guterres is known for, so that when we all have to pinching pennies and being concerned about the needs around the world outstripping our resources, that the work we do in the UN is effective, concrete — that it’s not just a forum for talking, but it’s also a forum for doing.”

Guterres said he’s committed “to work closely with the United States, with the present administration, also with the next administration.”

“We live in a dangerous world. We are all aware of that. We have seen a multiplication of conflicts. Old conflicts seem never to die. And it’s true the international community has lost a lot of its capacity to prevent and to solve conflicts. On the other hand, the globalization that has been an extremely important driver of economic growth, the reduction of poverty in many parts of the world has also left people behind. And this has been the cause of unrest and instability in many parts of the world,” he said.

“And the human rights agenda that is so dear to us all, we also see many difficulties in relation to it, when national sovereignty sometimes tends to make it difficult for human rights to be effective and to be promoted.”

The leadership of the United States, he added, is “absolutely crucial” in all areas and Guterres vowed he’s “deeply committed” to UN reforms sought by America.