UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Monday that global political tensions “at their highest level this century” are escalating and “leading more and more countries to take unpredicted decisions with unpredictable consequences and a profound risk of miscalculation.”
The U.N. chief, considered by many the world’s top diplomat, said his message is simple: “Stop escalation. Exercise maximum restraint. Restart dialogue. Renew international cooperation” and avoid a new war.
Guterres did not name any countries — and refused to answer shouted questions — but his comments followed rising U.S. tensions with Iran and last Friday’s U.S killing of top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad. His death has led Iran to announce it is abandoning all limits in the 2015 nuclear deal with key world powers, and Iraq’s parliament to call for the expulsion of all American troops from Iraqi soil.
The United States said Soleimani was plotting a series of attacks that endangered many American troops and officials across the Middle East. President Donald Trump said his aim was to prevent war — not start one — but he has promised reprisals against any Iranian retaliation.
In his “state of the world” address to global leaders at their annual U.N. General Assembly meeting in September, Guterres painted a grim picture of a deeply divided and anxious planet. His statement Monday was even more dire.
He told presidents, prime ministers, monarchs and ministers from the U.N.’s 193 member states just over three months ago that the world is facing a climate crisis, “the alarming possibility of armed conflict in the Gulf,” spreading terrorism, rising populism and “exploding” inequality.
The secretary-general also warned 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.” He said the risk “may not yet be large, but it is real.”
Speaking to reporters Monday, he appeared more worried, saying “the New Year has begun with our world in turmoil.”
Guterres expressed great concern at the recent rise in global tensions, stressing: “We are living in dangerous times.”
In addition to the risk of miscalculation by countries taking ”unpredicted decisions,” Guterres said, “We see trade and technological conflicts that fracture world markets, undermine growth and widen inequalities.”
“Even nuclear nonproliferation can no longer be taken for granted,” he said, apparently responding to Iran’s announcement of its plans to renew nuclear activities and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un saying he’s bolstering the country’s nuclear deterrent in the face of “gangster-like” U.S. pressure.
In many parts of the world, Guterres said, people are frustrated and angry.
“We see increased social unrest and growing extremism, nationalism and radicalization, with a dangerous advance of terrorism in several areas of the world, notably in Africa,” he said.
The secretary-general warned in November that terrorist groups have strengthened their foothold across Africa’s Sahel region, which is experiencing escalating violence. He said the expanding foothold “is making large swaths of territory unstable and stoking ethnic violence, especially in Burkina Faso and Mali.”
U.N. experts reported last month that the structure of the Islamic State and al-Qaida extremists in Libya have been disrupted by counter-terrorism operations carried out by the government and the rebel Libyan National Army led by Gen. Khalifa Hifter, as well as an increase in activity by the United States Africa Command. But the experts also reported a new focus on Libya by the Islamic State.
“And all the while, our planet is on fire,” Guterres said, an obvious reference to wildfires devastating Australia and damaging other countries and states from California to Greece, Russia, Lebanon and his native Portugal.
The secretary-general said he has been in constant touch with leading officials around the world as “the cauldron of tensions” rises.
“This situation cannot go on,” he said, appealing for deescalation, maximum restraint, dialogue and a return to international cooperation.
“Let us not forget the terrible human suffering caused by war,” Guterres said. “As always, ordinary people pay the highest price. It is our common duty to avoid it.”