The new UN chief is an ambassador of hope

#CriticalThinking

Peace, Security & Defence

Picture of Ana Gomes
Ana Gomes

Former member of the European Parliament and Trustee of Friends of Europe

Hope, when so many despair, has been rekindled by the choice of António Guterres as the United Nations’ new Secretary-General. Hope in a reinforced UN that is more efficient and able to intervene against whoever wages war. Hope for global security and conflict resolution. Hope for economic regulation, social justice, sustainable development, human rights and the international rule of law.

A former Portuguese prime minister, a former president of the Socialist International and a former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Guterres is highly intelligent, good-hearted but also has sang froid. Thanks to his personal and political journey through national, European and international institutions, he has been able to polish his exceptional diplomatic skills and in-depth knowledge of the UN machinery and of the many fields where it operates.

All of this contributed to his nomination by acclamation by the Security Council after an unprecedented selection process for the post of secretary-general, the most open and scrutinised ever allowed by its five permanent members, known as the P5. But what made Guterres win in all voting rounds – overcoming the ‘obstacles’ of being neither a woman (how ironic) nor from eastern Europe – was  the transformative and strategic ambition that he proposes to give back to the UN.

At a time of unprecedented challenges − from cyber warfare to the ‘post-truth’ information age, from a Putin-Trump duet aiming at destroying the European Union to the denial of climate change – it is only by sticking with the UN that we can generate some degree of legitimate and efficient multilateralism and global cooperation. This is not possible with the G7, G8, G20 and other groups that have no moral or binding power.

One cannot change the world all at once, but there is a moment in time when change begins

But clearly the UN does not currently match up to this challenge. This is mainly because the P5 have blocked urgently-needed reform of the Security Council, which, paralysed by vetoes, has left humanity to drown in the criminal and impudent slaughter of children and other innocent civilians in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, South Sudan, and elsewhere.

In such troubled times, can any secretary-general make the difference, especially with P5 members who are increasingly entrenched in the defence of indefensible privileges? Can any secretary-general make the difference when the post-Second World War architecture is under attack by some of those very same powers that shaped it?

If anybody can make the difference, if anybody can face up to these tremendous challenges, it is António Guterres. He fights for values, has strategic insight and has an abundance of political courage. Given the transparent process to which he was submitted, he has legitimacy and responsibility.

But humanity’s most representative institution cannot satisfy itself with self-congratulation on the smoothness of the process. It has to show results. One cannot change the world all at once, but there is a moment in time when change begins. It is when hope is rekindled. Change began when the international community managed to agree on António Guterres as the new Secretary-General.

Now, he must use his voice, influence and actions to press all member states to live up to their commitments according to the UN’s principles – an existential issue at a time when Trump and Putin seem willing to expose mankind to civilisational regression.

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