Antonio Guterres’ Ambitious Plan to Overhaul the Multilateral System

Antonio Guterres’ Ambitious Plan to Overhaul the Multilateral System
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at a news conference in Moscow, Russia, May 12, 2021 (AP pool photo by Maxim Shemetov).

Last September, the United Nations marked its 75th anniversary in somber style, against the backdrop of a once-in-a-century pandemic, a deepening climate crisis, geopolitical tensions and antipathy from its most powerful member. A year on, the United States has returned—for the most part—to the multilateral fold. Otherwise, much remains the same. COVID-19 continues its rampage; global warming and biodiversity loss proceed apace; and great power competition stymies international cooperation.

Into this maelstrom steps U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. As world leaders gather in person and virtually for this week’s annual opening of the U.N. General Assembly, Guterres will seek their support for his vision of a “stronger, more networked and inclusive multilateral system,” as outlined in a sweeping new report titled, “Our Common Agenda.” The report depicts the U.N. as the ultimate foundation for world order, while acknowledging the need to leverage diverse frameworks of cooperation and the capabilities of nonstate actors to deliver global public goods and manage the risks of an interconnected world. The document’s diagnosis of what ails the world, and its suggested course of treatment, merits robust discussion and debate. 

A year ago, U.N. member states issued a political declaration of principles recommitting themselves to international cooperation. As a follow-on exercise, they tasked the secretary-general with drafting a report on the requirements for effective multilateralism in the 21st century. Guterres made full use of his mandate. “Our Common Agenda” offers an ambitious, if also sprawling, blueprint for a reimagined multilateral system. 

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