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Show Nationalists, Populists 'That We Care for Them,' Urges UN Leader

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Multilateralism can succeed by first convincing those intent on unilateralism “that we care for them,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said today at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Guterres acknowledged that globalization “has created a sense of frustration in the rust belts of the world” along with reduced “confidence, trust in governments, in political establishments, and in international organizations like ours.”

“We no longer live in a bipolar or unipolar world, but we are not yet in a multipolar world. We are in a kind of chaotic situation of transition. Polar relations have become unclear. The relationship between the three most important powers — Russia, the United States and China — has never been as dysfunctional as it is today,” he said. “…Power relations are becoming unclear. Fragmentation of actions. Impunity and unpredictability prevailing.”

The UN chief said he firmly believes “there is no other way to deal with global challenges than with global responses, and organized in a multilateral way,” but it’s “not enough to vilify those that disagree with this and just consider them as nationalists or populists or whatever.”

“I think we need to understand the grievances and to understand the reasons why — the root causes of why large sectors of the population in different parts of the world today disagree with us,” he added. “And we need to address those root causes and we need to show these people that we care for them.”

Guterres advocated for “an inclusive multilateralism” that incorporates not just states but private industry and academia “to analyze problems, to define strategies, to define policies, and then to implement them.”

In addition to letting nationalists know they’re cared about, Guterres said multilateralists should help “people understand it is not an abstract debate on global development.”

“Second concern, to tell people clearly, look, we understand that, for you, we have problems with bureaucracy, we have problems of being too heavy. We need to reform and we are reforming. We have launched a very substantial, robust program of reform, aiming at simplification of procedures, decentralization,” he said. “…And then the third aspect that for me is a priority is to show the added value of the United Nations.”

“…Obviously, governments cannot do it alone, and this is the central question of this inclusive multilateralism: it’s the recognition, whether people like it or not, that the power of governments to shape societies and the power of governments to solve problems is today much more limited. And if we want to have a true multilateral system, we need, of course, to have an intergovernmental perspective; but we need to make sure that we bring together into this multilateral system the voice and the influence of the business community, the civil society, the scientific community, and all those others that are essential to address together the very dramatic problems we are facing.”

Guterres said he hopes progress is being made in the world as far as gender equality, and cited getting girls in school, fighting genital mutilation, and fighting early marriage as some successes.

“This is a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture, and this is essentially a question of power, and we know that it’s always difficult for power to be given,” he added. “Normally, power has to be taken.”