The world is blessed with a brilliant and industrious UN secretary-general, and it was certainly worth tuning in last week to watch António Guterres deliver his New Year message to the planet. As season’s greetings go, it was not exactly festive.
Intercut with shots of attack choppers and bombed-out cities, the UN secretary-general discharged a one-and-a-half minute jeremiad in which we learned that inequality was deepening; global warming was out of control; xenophobia and nationalism were on the march, not to mention war, famine, pestilence and other afflictions, as though 2018 were beginning with a positive cavalry charge of apocalyptic horsemen.
He was putting out an alert, he said, a ‘red alert’ on the state of humanity. One diplomatic friend told me it was the UN’s most bloodcurdling New Year message in 30 years.
António is of course right, in that the world faces a series of interconnected challenges that require us to unite, and also to get behind the UN, to back António Guterres and his teams in every unfolding crisis: Yemen, Libya, Burma, South Sudan, north-east Nigeria, Somalia and in many other places. The UN secretary-general is bringing a much-needed drive and focus to the job. He deserves our collective support, and will get it from the UK.
It would be a shame, however, if anyone were to be so downcast by his words as to believe that the world is indeed teetering on the lip of some new dark ages. I am conscious that some people are now so hungry for bad news they might misconstrue the secretary-general’s message. They might conclude that things are genuinely going backwards. Are you inclined to that kind of pessimism? If so (and even if you aren’t), allow me to put a contrary point of view. Yes, as António Guterres says, the world has problems — largely caused by the inordinate triumphs of the human race over some of the things that made our ancestors most miserable and afraid.