UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (File Photo)
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned global leaders Tuesday of the looming risk of the world splitting in two, with the United States and China creating rival internets, currency, trade, financial rules "and their own zero sum geopolitical and military strategies". In his annual "state of the world address" to the General Assembly's gathering of heads of state and government, Guterres said the risk "may not yet be large, but it is real."
"We must do everything possible to avert the great fracture and maintain a universal system, a universal economy with universal respect for international law; a multipolar world with strong multilateral institutions," he told presidents, prime ministers, monarchs and ministers from the U.N.'s 193 member states.
Guterres painted a grim picture of a deeply divided and anxious planet facing a climate crisis, "the alarming possibility of armed conflict in the Gulf," spreading terrorism, rising populism and "exploding" inequality. His speech was followed by the traditional first speaker Brazil, represented by its new president, Jair Bolsonaro and the United States, represented by President Donald Trump.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is scheduled to speak later, said he was returning to London immediately afterward, where he will face the fallout of a court ruling against his decision to shut down Parliament over the is debating the UK in the crucial countdown to the country's withdrawal from the European Union.
The United Nations, designed to promote a multilateral world, has struggled in the face of increasing unilateralism by the U.S. and other nations that favour going it alone. Trump stressed in his speech that "love of our nations makes the world better for all nations."
"The future does not belong to globalists," he said. "The future belongs to patriots." But Guterres said: "We are living in a world of disquiet." "A great many people fear getting trampled, thwarted, left behind. Machines take their jobs. Traffickers take their dignity. Demagogues take their rights. Warlords take their lives. Fossil fuels take their future," he said.
Yet, the secretary-general said people still believe in "the spirit and ideas" of the United Nations and its foundation of multilateralism, of all countries working together.