Portugal’s António Guterres is unanimous choice to be next UN Secretary-General. In general, why him and what do you expect from him?
Martin Edwards, Associate Professor and Director, Center for UN and Global Governance Studies, Seton Hall University
1) This was a bit of a surprise. Guterres was the leading candidate in the straw polls, but this vote marked the first time that the Security Council used color-coded ballots to separate the choices of the permanent veto-holding members. Many were expecting a Russian veto since Guterres is not from Eastern Europe, and he is not one of Russia’s preferred candidates. Russia is holding the Presidency of the SC right now, so for them to delay proceedings a bit would not have been out of the ordinary.
2) Many in civil society are not happy about this selection, since there was a great deal of pressure to approve one of the female candidates. All of the previous Secretaries General have been men. But the failings of these candidates were political ones rather than being just about gender.
3) That Russia did sign off on Guterres raises questions about whether there was a deal reached that bought off Moscow. We do not yet know this, but their support for Guterres could have been obtained in exchange for one of their candidates being named Deputy or heading a department.
4) This process is a quiet victory for transparency. In contrast to past years, this process has involved public consultations with candidates being interviewed by states as well as civil society representatives. It could well be that because Guterres was an early frontrunner because of his performance in these informal dialogues, coupled with his lead across multiple straw polls, made it difficult for the Russians to veto him.
5) It should be noted in all of this that this is a great day for the UN. Not only do we get a Secretary General approved quickly, but the Paris Agreement on Climate reached enough signatory parties to enter into force. The UN remains a powerful force for bringing countries together to help solve the world’s most vexing problems.
But to answer your question about “what do you expect” I think we’re going to get a lot more focus on refugees, not only because he’s a European but also because he spent the last ten years leading the office of the High Commissioner for Refugees.
Daniel Serwer, Senior Research Professor of Conflict Management, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, John Hopkins University, Scholar, Middle East Institute
Guterres is an experienced UN-system executive who has apparently managed to maintain good relations with both the U.S. and Russia. That is the main qualification for Security Council approval.