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International Day of Democracy

US power in decline, the world ‘in pieces’

Guterres confronts the ‘reemergence of irrationality’ in global politics

Published : Saturday, 15 September, 2018 at 12:00 AM Count : 542

UNITED NATIONS, Sept 14: For the past two years, the secretary-general of the United Nations, Antnio Guterres, has watched as President Donald Trump upends American foreign policy, engaging in trade wars while simultaneously disengaging from international agreements and alliances. And now Guterres has reached a verdict: The United States, once the guarantor of global stability, is losing its ability to influence world events.
"I think that the soft power of the United States is being reduced at the present moment," Guterres told me in an interview. This, he suggested, is dangerous because there "is no way to solve most of the problems in the world without" America.
"We were sitting in his New York office, beside an array of windows overlooking Four Freedoms Park-an homage to Franklin Roosevelt's vision of what the United States and its allies were fighting to preserve and promote during World War II. It was Roosevelt who spearheaded the effort to construct the United Nations from the ruins of that war more than seven decades ago. "The United States is today involved in a number of conflicts of different natures-in relation to trade, in relation to other situations-and indeed that means that the attraction of American society that was a dominant factor in international relations just a few decades ago is today less clear," Guterres said.
This is happening at the same time as the world itself is "in pieces," moving since the end of the Cold War from an American-led order to an order led by multiple powers that has yet to be defined, he told me. "It's inevitable that mono-state leadership of the international order will be more and more put into question," said Guterres, who had just returned from a marker of this transitional period: a summit in Beijing on China's deepening ties with Africa. "Both the United States and the rest of the world need to be able to adapt to this new situation," he said.
Under normal circumstances, Guterres-the former prime minister of Portugal, a NATO ally and fellow democracy-would be a natural partner for the United States at the United Nations. But these are not normal circumstances. Guterres is serving as secretary-general "at the very moment when the United States, despite its long-running ambivalence about the United Nations at least since the 1970s, is no longer really willing to be the anchor for the international system," said Stewart Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations.
So Guterres has a "simple" strategy to keep Washington engaged: "It is to affirm the things we believe in, not in confrontation against, but as such," he told me. "I'm not a multilateralist against anybody. I'm a multilateralist because I believe in a multilateral order I consider climate change as the biggest threat [to the world]. That has nothing to do with who is or is not the head of a country or another [With] climate change, if you do not act decisively in the next few years, you might have irreversibly dramatic impacts on the planet. And we are losing the race. Climate change is running faster than we are."
Guterres is in the perhaps impossible position of leading something called the United Nations at a time when, in his own view, the world is             fracturing.    -AP

















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