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Guterres: Our world is suffering from a bad case of “Trust Deficit Disorder”


Our world is suffering from a bad case of “Trust Deficit Disorder”

People are feeling troubled and insecure.

Trust is at a breaking point.  Trust in national institutions.  Trust among states. Trust in the rules-based global order.

Within countries, people are losing faith in political establishments, polarization is on the rise and populism is on the march.

Among countries, cooperation is less certain and more difficult.  Divisions in our Security Council are stark. Trust in global governance is also fragile, as 21st-century challenges outpace 20th-century institutions and mindsets.

We have never had a true system of global governance, much less a fully democratic one.

Still, across many decades, we established solid foundations for international cooperation.

We came together as United Nations to build institutions, norms and rules to advance our shared interests.

We raised standards of living for millions. We forged peace in troubled lands and – indeed – we avoided a third world war.

But none of this can be taken for granted.

Today, world order is increasingly chaotic.  Power relations are less clear.

Universal values are being eroded.

Democratic principles are under siege, and the rule of law is being undermined.

Impunity is on the rise, as leaders and states push the boundaries, both at home and in the international arena.

We face a set of paradoxes.

The world is more connected, yet societies are becoming more fragmented.

Challenges are growing outward, while many people are turning inward.

Multilateralism is under fire precisely when we need it most.

So, Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is true that we are moving in the direction of a multipolar world.

But multi-polarity will not, in itself, guarantee peace or solve global problems.

A century ago, Europe was multipolar.  A balance of power was deemed sufficient to keep rivals in check.

It was not.  Without strong multilateral frameworks for European-wide cooperation and problem-solving, the result was a grievous world war.

Today, with shifts in the balance of power, the risk of confrontation may increase.

In assessing the Peloponnesian War in ancient Greece, Thucydides said, and I quote, “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.”

This is what the political scientist Graham Allison calls the “Thucydides Trap”.

But in his book “Destined for War”, and reviewing many examples of rivalry in the past, he concluded that conflict is never inevitable.

Indeed, with leadership committed to strategic cooperation and to managing competing interests, we can avoid war and steer the world onto a safer path.

Individual leaders have the duty to advance the well-being of their people.

But it runs deeper.  Together, as guardians of the common good, we also have a duty to promote and support a reformed, reinvigorated and strengthened multilateral system.

We need commitment to a rules-based order, with the United Nations at its center and with the different institutions and treaties that bring the Charter to life.

And we need to show the added value of international cooperation by delivering peace, defending human rights and driving economic and social progress for women and men everywhere.

That is why I am so committed to reform, and to making the United Nations more effective in responding to the needs and aspirations of “we the peoples”.

In the face of massive, existential threats to people and planet — but equally at a time of compelling opportunities for shared prosperity — there is no way forward but collective, common-sense action for the common good.

This is how we can rebuild trust.


In my address last year, I highlighted seven challenges.  One year on, they remain sadly unresolved.

There is outrage at our inability to end the wars in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.

The Rohingya people remain exiled, traumatized and in misery, still yearning for safety and justice.

Palestinians and Israelis are still locked in endless conflict, with the two-state solution more and more distant.

The threat of terror looms, fed by the root causes of radicalization and violent extremism.  And terrorism is ever more interlinked with international organized crime and the trafficking of people, drugs, arms and corruption.

The nuclear peril has not eased, with non-proliferation at serious risk.  Nuclear-armed States are modernizing their arsenals.  A new arms race could be triggered, and the threshold for their use lowered.

We have seen outrageous uses of chemical weapons, in full impunity despite their ban, and protections against dangerous biological weapons are weak.

Inequality is undermining faith in the social contract and is a clear obstacle to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Tensions over trade are on the rise.

Migrants and refugees continue to face discrimination and demagoguery in the context of clearly insufficient international cooperation.

And in this year marking the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the human rights agenda is losing ground and authoritarianism is on the rise.

As the politics of pessimism spreads, we must guard against self-fulfilling prophecies.

Those who see their neighbors as dangerous may cause a threat where there was none.

Those who close their borders to regular migration only fuel the work of traffickers.

And those who ignore human rights in combatting terrorism tend to breed the very extremism they are trying to end.

  • Being address of the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres at the last UN General Assembly