The Atlantic

UN Secretary-General: American Power Is in Decline, the World Is ‘in Pieces’

António Guterres confronts the “reemergence of irrationality” in global politics.
Source: John Westrich / Getty

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series that attempts to answer the question: Is democracy dying?

For the past two years, the secretary-general of the United Nations, António Guterres, has watched as President Donald Trump upends American foreign policy, engaging in trade wars while simultaneously disengaging from international agreements and alliances. And now Guterres has reached a verdict: The United States, once the guarantor of global stability, is losing its ability to influence world events.

“I think that the soft power of the United States … is being reduced at the present moment,” Guterres told me in an interview. This, he suggested, is dangerous because there “is no way to solve most of the problems in the world without” America.

We were sitting in his New York office, beside an array of windows overlooking Four Freedoms Park—an homage to Franklin Roosevelt’s vision of what the United States and its allies were fighting to preserve and promote during World War II. It was Roosevelt who spearheaded the effort to construct the United Nations from the ruins of that war more than seven decades ago. “The United States is today involved in a number of conflicts of different natures—in relation to trade, in relation to other situations—and indeed that means that the … attraction of American society that was a dominant factor in international relations just a few decades ago is today less clear,” Guterres said.

This is happening at the same time as the world itself is in Beijing on China’s deepening ties with Africa. “Both the United States and the rest of the world need to be able to adapt to this new situation,” he said.

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