Leading the divided nations

October 10, 2016                                                                                                                       OPINION

The United Nations Security Council’s broad consensus in nominating António Guterres for the post of Secretary-General is an auspicious start to what could be a more assertive UN in wrestling with the many crises of the world. Last week, 13 of the 15 members of the Council, including the five veto-wielding permanent members, sent the name of the former Portugal Prime Minister to the General Assembly for final approval. If the Assembly passes his nomination, then as the UN’s ninth Secretary-General Mr. Guterres will have to expediently attend to a number of pressing issues, including the worsening international refugee crisis and the scourge of terrorism, both in part linked to the debilitating Syrian war. His experience as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees will come in handy as he goes about negotiating to find shelter for and rehabilitate refugees from Syria, who at last count numbered well above four million worldwide. At the UNHCR, Mr. Guterres is said to have focused on organisational reform and innovation by taking funding out of the headquarters and pushing more money out to the field. It is clear that he is passionate about the cause of refugees; he has frequently appealed to the international community over the migrant crisis and has vowed to continue being their spokesman.

An equally challenging agenda point facing Mr. Guterres is to find creative ways to bridge the chasm between Western powers on the one hand and Russia and China on the other. Ironically, owing to his very commitment to address the refugee crises, he may be considered an “activist”. This could be a recipe for stasis, if not disaster, in any campaign to broker a peace deal in Syria. Mr. Guterres can ill afford such obstructionism. As an institution, the UN is frequently accused of being “bloated and bureaucratic”, and has come under fire over allegations of sexual abuse by its peacekeepers in the Central African Republic. Although he has a reputation for being an instinctive strategist, Mr. Guterres will have to hand-pick a capable team of advisers. But has he already struck bargains with China or Russia over who will get some key political posts? Will he stay true to his promise, made earlier, to ensure that the higher echelons of the UN have 50 per cent women employees? That goal, set 20 years ago by the UN, is far from being met. In fact, Mr. Guterres’ own candidacy came as a disappointment for some, given that there were no fewer than seven women in the race and not one of them even came close to winning.

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