A very complex rentrée: now what?
We are back after the August break. It is the so-called political rentrée, at the international level always marked by the opening of a new annual cycle of the United Nations General Assembly. The Assembly will start next week, with world leaders putting the finishing touches to the speeches they will deliver. The Secretary-General would like them to talk mainly about peace, the food crisis afflicting various regions of the globe, climate change, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the poorest countries and youth education. But this is a very special rentrée, with a war taking place in the "first world" - something unthinkable a few months ago, when conflict was associated with lack of development, that is, when we were all deluded with theories that wars were the province of poor people living in distant horizons.
This has been a summer without a truce of any kind. Crises and uncertainties have increased and at the same time have shown us that the leaders who weigh on the international scene are unable to present reasonable and convincing proposals. The confusion caused by Vladimir Putin's adventurous and illegal policy is a case in point. We will go to the General Assembly after almost seven months of armed aggression against a sovereign state, our neighbour in Europe, and it will be almost certain that we will not hear any proposal that can respond to this immense challenge. The main European leaders, starting with Emmanuel Macron, are wandering in a political labyrinth. They know that the Kremlin cannot be allowed to win this war. That would be like giving a prize to autocrats and outlaw rulers, and an invitation to further violations of the international order. They also know that assistance to Ukraine may not be enough, however much they repeat the contrary in their public interventions, and that without such support there will be no Ukraine. But they do not draw the necessary conclusion: it is crucial to move to a higher stage, to an even more complete response, leading to an end to the aggression and a change in Russia's foreign policy.
In this context, which is not seen as worrying only by those who are playing political make-believe or preparing the next holiday, the group of former UN officials who wrote an open letter to António Guterres in April has now prepared a second public appeal. On the eve of the General Assembly, the group, of which I am one, is once again insisting on the need to propose political initiatives that will freeze hostilities and make it possible to start a process leading to peace. The agreements on the export of cereals and the inspection of the Zaporijia nuclear power station must be explored politically. The proposal now submitted by Guterres to the Security Council concerning the demilitarisation of the Zaporijia plant is a good starting point and should be strongly supported.
I recognise that such an appeal is very much inspired by an idealistic vision of international relations. It would, however, be a mistake to set idealism and principles aside. But the new position is also based on a very realistic observation: in a war, in these times of global interdependence and high technology, everyone loses, and a lot. Even more so when the threat comes from a superpower and therefore generates large-scale responses from rival powers. The authors of the Charter of the United Nations already thought so in 1945. And our planet is far more fragile today than it was 77 years ago.
It is time to be frank and direct. The ongoing aggression presents us with three options and requires a firm and clear decision. A solution inspired by the bain-marie technique will not work. In fact, over time, it ends up encouraging the offender and others with similar intentions. Here, either we light the fire to the maximum - in the conviction that in the end we will be on the side of the winners and the survivors - or we look for an alternative recipe, a political path. That is the decisive choice that our leaders must make.
(Automatic translation of the opinion piece I published in the Diário de Notícias, the old and prestigious Lisbon newspaper. Edition dated 9 September 2022)