Can the World Avert a ‘Great Fracture’?
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres stood before the assembly of world leaders, issuing an urgent clarion call: Our global governance structures are not merely inadequate but teetering on the brink of irrevocable fragmentation.
Speaking within the hallowed halls of the United Nations on September 19, Guterres didn’t mince words as he outlined a sweeping overhaul of multilateral organizations—be it the reform of the UN Security Council or the restructuring of global financial architecture. “The alternative to reform is not the status quo. The alternative to reform is further fragmentation,” he said. “It’s reform or rupture.”
As he spoke, Guterres painted a stark picture of a world inching perilously close to a ‘Great Fracture’—a fissure in the very fabric of economic, financial, and trade relations. It is a chasm that threatens the unity of the Internet and brings with it divergent approaches to technology, artificial intelligence, and conflicting security paradigms.
Guterres delved into the multiplicity of crises plaguing the international theatre—be it the heart-wrenching escalation of violence in nations like Sudan, the Central African Republic, and Haiti, or the intolerable oppression being meted out in Myanmar and Afghanistan.
The Secretary-General didn’t shy away from addressing the existential threats of unchecked technological innovation, particularly in the realm of artificial intelligence—a frontier that holds both promise and peril.
But it was perhaps the climate crisis that received his most impassioned focus. He took the G20 nations to task, spotlighting their outsized role in the world’s carbon emissions, as global temperatures stubbornly climb. Affluent nations, he urged, must make good on their financial pledges to developing countries—empowering them to mount effective defenses against the escalating ravages of climate change.
Guterres also raised the alarm on the faltering progress of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which he described as not “just a list of goals. They carry the hopes, dreams, rights, and expectations of people everywhere.” These goals are teetering off their 2030 trajectory, requiring nothing short of a Herculean effort to recalibrate.
He made these remarks at a high-level forum at UN Headquarters last week, where world leaders unanimously adopted a political declaration to expedite action on the 17 global goals designed to foster economic prosperity and environmental sustainability. Yet Guterres lamented the world’s growing inability to act collectively. “It is time for a global compromise,” he declared. The world needs “statesmanship, not gamesmanship and gridlock.”
So what concrete plan is on the table?
A recent publication by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace encapsulated the decades-long inertia around Security Council reform. “Few topics generate so much talk and so little action as Security Council reform. In December 1992, the General Assembly created an open-ended working group to review equitable representation on the council. More than three decades later, that (aptly named) body continues to meet—with no tangible results.”
“After fifteen years of fruitless discussion, the diplomatic impasse persists in part because member states have never agreed to negotiate on the basis of a single rolling text,” the authors write.
The need for reform is self-evident—emerging powers like India, Brazil, Japan, and Germany have yet to find a seat at this high table, a situation glaringly unjust, especially from Africa’s perspective.
It was a welcome sign when President Joe Biden recently expressed support for Security Council expansion. Still, any reformation will undoubtedly confront a thicket of historical and contemporary obstacles.
On the issue of global financial systems, Guterres argued that the $300 trillion in financial assets currently in circulation are sorely misaligned with the imperatives of sustainable development. “We can choose to bemoan the lack of financing for the 2030 Agenda in a world awash with so much unproductive and unrewarding finance. Or we can grasp the opportunity to reshape finance, according to our urgent, collective needs,” he contended. “The choice is clear. Let us invest in the 2030 Agenda and finance a better world for all.”
In closing, the Secretary-General pledged to spearhead UN initiatives to reflect the 2030 Agenda’s objectives in international economic policies, collaborate closely with key platforms like the G20, and champion large-scale changes in global financing.
As we collectively stare down the barrel of impending crises, Guterres’s sobering vision offers a modicum of hope that perhaps, just perhaps, the world can steer clear of this looming ‘Great Fracture.’