The UN’s Vague ‘New Agenda for Peace’

Vijay Prashad says that the report — apart from identifying the conflict between the unipolar and multipolar worlds, and showing concern over the metastasizing weapons industry — throws moral scaffolding over hard realities it can’t directly confront. 

Kurt Nahar, Suriname, “Untitled 2369,” 2008.

By Vijay Prashad
Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

The United Nations released “A New Agenda for Peace” on July 20. In the opening section of the report, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres made some remarks that bear close reflection:


“We are now at an inflection point. The post-Cold War period is over. A transition is under way to a new global order. While its contours remain to be defined, leaders around the world have referred to multipolarity as one of its defining traits. In this moment of transition, power dynamics have become increasingly fragmented as new poles of influence emerge, new economic blocs form and axes of contestation are redefined.

There is greater competition among major powers and a loss of trust between the Global North and South. A number of States increasingly seek to enhance their strategic independence, while trying to manoeuvre across existing dividing lines. The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and the war in Ukraine have hastened this process.”

We are, he says, in a moment of transition. The world is moving away from the post-Cold War era, in which the United States and its close allies, Europe and Japan, (collectively known as the Triad) exerted their unipolar power over the rest of the world, to a new period that some refer to as “multipolarity.”

 The Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine accelerated developments that were already in motion before 2020. The gradual attrition of the Western bloc has led to contestation between the Triad and newly emerging powers.

This contestation is fiercist in the Global South, where trust of the Global North is the weakest it has been in a generation. The poorer nations, in the current moment, are not looking to yoke themselves to either the fragile West or the emergent new powers but are seeking “strategic independence.”

This assessment is largely correct, and the report is of great interest, but it is also weakened by its lack of specificity.

Inability to Govern Neo-Colonialism

Gladwyn K. Bush or Miss Lassie, Cayman Islands, “The History of the Cayman Islands,” n.d.

Not once in the report does the U.N. refer to any specific country, nor does it seek to properly identify the emergent powers. Since it does not provide a specific assessment of the current situation, the U.N. ends up providing the kind of vague solutions that have become commonplace and are meaningless (such as increasing trust and building solidarity).

There is one specific proposal of great meaning, dealing with the arms trade, to which I shall return. But apart from showing concern over the ballooning weapons industry, the U.N. report attempts to erect a kind of moral scaffolding over the hard realities that it cannot directly confront.

What then are the specific reasons for the monumental global shifts identified by the United Nations?

Firstly, there has been a serious deterioration of the relative power of the United States and its closest allies. The capitalist class in the West has been on a long-term tax strike, unwilling to pay either its individual or corporate taxes (in 2019, nearly 40 percent of multinational profits were moved to tax havens).

Their search for quick profits and evasion of tax authorities has led to a long-term decrease in investment in the West, which has hollowed out its infrastructure and its productive base.

The transformation of Western social democrats, from champions of social welfare to neoliberal champions of austerity, has opened the door for the growth of despair and desolation, the emotional palate of the hard right. The Triad’s inability to smoothly govern the global neo-colonial system has led to a “loss of trust” in the Global South towards the United States and its allies.

Birth of BRICS — and the Military Response

S. Sudjojono, Indonesia, “Di Dalam Kampung” or “In the Village,” 1950.

Secondly, it was astounding to countries such as China, India and Indonesia to be asked by the G20 to provide liquidity to the Global North’s desiccated banking system in 2007–08. The confidence of these developing countries in the West decreased, while their own sense of themselves increased.

It this change in circumstances that led to the formation of the BRICS bloc in 2009 by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – the “locomotives of the South,” as was theorised by the South Commission in the 1980s and later deepened in their little-read 1991 report.

[Related: Mutiny Against the World Order]

China’s growth by itself was astounding, but, as the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) noted in 2022, what was fundamental was that China was able to achieve structural transformation (namely, to move from low-productivity to high-productivity economic activities). This structural transformation could provide lessons for the rest of the Global South, lessons far more practical than those offered by the debt-austerity programme of the International Monetary Fund.

Neither the BRICS project nor China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) are military threats; both are essentially South-South commercial developments (along the grain of the agenda of the U.N. Office for South-South Cooperation).

However, the West is unable to economically compete with either of these initiatives, and so it has adopted a fierce political and military response.

In 2018, the United States declared an end to the War on Terror and clearly articulated in its National Defence Strategy that its main problems were the rise of China and Russia. Then-U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis spoke about the need to prevent the rise of “near-peer rivals,” explicitly pointing to China and Russia, and suggested that the entire panoply of U.S. power be used to bring them to their knees.

Not only does the United States have a vast network of roughly 800 overseas military bases – hundreds of which encircle Eurasia – it also has military allies from Germany to Japan that provide the U.S. with forward positions against both Russia and China.

For many years, the naval fleets of the U.S. and its allies have conducted aggressive “freedom of navigation” exercises that encroach upon the territorial integrity of both Russia (in the Arctic, mainly) and China (in the South China Sea). In addition, provocative manoeuvres such as the 2014 U.S. intervention in Ukraine and massive 2015 U.S. arms deal with Taiwan, further threatened Moscow and Beijing. 

In 2018, the United States also unilaterally withdrew from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty (which followed the 2002 abandonment of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty), a move that upset the apple cart of nuclear arms control and meant that the U.S. contemplated the use of “tactical nuclear weapons” against both Russia and China.

Unipolar Moment Is Over

Estate of Enrico Baj, Vergiate, Italy; (Courtesy Tate; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation)

The United Nations is correct in its assessment that the unipolar moment is now over, and that the world is moving towards a new, more complex reality. While the neo-colonial structure of the world system remains largely intact, there are emerging shifts in the balance of forces with the rise of the BRICS and China, and these forces are attempting to create international institutions that challenge the established order.

The danger to the world arises not from the possibility of global power becoming more fragmented and widely dispersed, but because the West refuses to come to terms with these major changes.

The U.N. report notes that “military expenditures globally set a new record in 2022, reaching $2.24 trillion,” although the U.N. does not acknowledge that three-quarters of this money is spent by the member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Countries that want to exert their “strategic independence” – the U.N.’s phrase – are confronted with the following choice: either join in the West’s militarisation of the world or face annihilation by its superior arsenal.

“A New Agenda for Peace” [the first was in 1992] is designed as part of a process that will culminate at a U.N. Summit for the Future to be held in September 2024. As part of this process, the U.N. is gathering proposals from civil society, such as this one from Aotearoa Lawyers for Peace, Basel Peace Office, Move the Nuclear Weapons Money campaign, U.N. FOLD ZERO, Western States Legal Foundation, and the World Future Council, who call on the summit to adopt a declaration that:

“Reaffirms the obligation under Article 26 of the U.N. Charter to establish a plan for arms control and disarmament with the least diversion of resources for economic and social development;

Calls on the U.N. Security Council, U.N. General Assembly and other relevant U.N. bodies to take action with respect to Article 26; and

Calls on all States to implement this obligation through ratification of bilateral and multilateral arms control agreements, coupled with progressive and systematic reductions of military budgets and commensurate increases in financing for the sustainable development goals, climate protection and other national contributions to the U.N. and its specialised agencies.”


Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations.  His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and, with Noam Chomsky,  The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and the Fragility of U.S. Power.

This article is from Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

13 comments for “The UN’s Vague ‘New Agenda for Peace’

  1. mgr
    August 9, 2023 at 11:11

    Excellent. “The danger to the world arises not from the possibility of global power becoming more fragmented and widely dispersed, but because the West refuses to come to terms with these major changes.”

    An empire doing anything to hang on to its power. Sadly, not for any noble purpose, just to have it. This is essentially a mental illness, the disease of ego-centrism or, as the saying goes, “Those who the gods would destroy, they first make mad.” And it truly is a self-destructive madness. The inmates are now running the asylum.

    This, by the way, is what Russia, China and the rest of the world are dealing with.

  2. dfnslblty
    August 9, 2023 at 10:31

    >> weakened by its lack of specificity<<

    Rather weakened by the security council of aggressive and bellicose nations — nation more concerned with global power than with domestic health & welfare.

    ¿How to disarm the giant with the weapon? is the challenge. The bully must be tricked or cajoled into seeing that its ways are mutually harmful.

    Giant and bully are terms for usa and uk.

  3. Francis Lee
    August 9, 2023 at 09:15

    Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; and from these proceed debt and taxes; and armies, and debts, are taxes of the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few … no nation could reserve its freedom during continual warfare.’’

    Thus was the initial warning by James Madison to the possible development (and dangers) which lie ahead of the great social and political experiment in what was to become the American Republic. In fact, these militaristic/ imperial proclivities were also noted by the more astute members and chroniclers of American history and repeated by Alexis de Toqcueville in 1835. He wrote that:
    ‘’Among democratic nations the wealthiest, best educated, and ablest men seldom adopt a military profession, the army taken collectively, eventually forms a new nation by itself where the mind is less enlarged, and habits are made rude than in the nation at large. Now this small and uncivilized nation has arms in its possession and also knows how to use them;) for indeed the pacific temper of the community increases the danger to which a democratic people is exposed from the military and the turbulent spirit of the Army. Nothing is so dangerous as an army in the midst of an unwarlike nation; the excessive love of the whole community for quiet puts the Constitution at the mercy of the soldiery.’’

  4. Robert
    August 9, 2023 at 06:21

    What is the state of the world? The United States just sent Vicky Nuland to settle a dispute in Niger. Let that sink in for a moment. Of all the people in all the world, Vicky Nuland should be the very last pick from 8 Billion people available for that task. That, folks, is the state of the world.

    • Geoff hughes
      August 9, 2023 at 14:51


  5. WillD
    August 8, 2023 at 23:51

    It isn’t just the Global South, it is the Global Majority – a phrase that I’m now using because it is more accurate and appropriate.

  6. Joseph Tracy
    August 8, 2023 at 23:09

    Vijay, I love your use of art.

  7. Joseph Tracy
    August 8, 2023 at 23:06

    Is it really a transition, or is it a multi-polar global war to challenge the global dominance of the Anglo-Euro military empire, a war that is hot on many fronts, and economic, cultural, ideological, and ecological on all fronts?

    The UN has 2 agendas, one is driven by the hope for justice which represents many nations and says many true things but has virtually no serious power, and the other agenda is driven by the Rich western nations who have plans to continue to treat former colonies as sites of resource extraction which cannot be trusted to elect their own leaders or to bargain fairly in international markets. This western agenda often uses the language of justice but in effect continues to claim a firm hold on violence, on control of financial assets and global resources, and on the power to push for anything they want.

    The increase in global military spending and wars is an exact measure of the core failure of the UN as currently configured and led by the western dominated security council, and not only that but it is an exact measure of who gets to break the rules using wars, spies, eco-destructive resource extraction, and blockades, and who is expected to obey the rules. The core structure of the UN looks more like owners and slaves than a tool for all nations to work together for peace.

  8. Valerie
    August 8, 2023 at 17:47

    From the article:

    “Not once in the report does the U.N. refer to any specific country, nor does it seek to properly identify the emergent powers. ”

    Well they can’t can they? They can’t upset the apple cart can they? They have to abide by the “rules based order” don’t they? “International Law” be damned.


  9. CaseyG
    August 8, 2023 at 17:40

    Oh America– and other strange nations in Europe—to quote the long ago Rodney King—-“Can we all get along?”

    Honestly, we just have the one planet—so unless you find one similar to this one and close enough to move to—nothing will change.

    Let us sing ; ” My country tis I see, land of hypocrisy—you make me cry.”

  10. August 8, 2023 at 16:42

    The U.S. will never be a party to any arms control agreements because that’s all it has left. Everything else has been forfeited due to its bankrupt economic policies and abandonment of its own people in favor of militarism and world domination. — Much like ancient Rome.

    • Valerie
      August 8, 2023 at 18:19

      “abandonment of its own people in favor of militarism and world domination. Much like ancient Rome”

      Funny, but i’m currently watching the DVD series “Rome”. The machinations, decadence and political intrigue/corruption/back-stabbing etc. are exactly like today. (But without electricity or mobile phones.)

  11. Rudy Haugeneder
    August 8, 2023 at 15:19

    And yet military spending continues to spiral upward at an astounding pace, the West, which includes India, leading the pack. Astoundingly incomprehensible.

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