New man at the UN

The post of UN secretary general is a thankless job carried out by an uninspiring figure. A candidate has no chance of being selected if either the US or Russia oppose him – and for its entire history it has been a ‘him’ – which automatically disqualifies anyone who may try to add teeth to the organisation. The main work of the UN secretary general is to manage an unwieldy bureaucracy that seems to exist only to slow action down, make optimistic speeches and appease the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. It is easy to be cynical about the UN and its secretary general because the UN was introduced to the world after the Second World War as a guarantor of world peace but quickly descended into a forum for ineffective squabbling between countries while the major powers continued in their imperialistic ways. The newly-elected secretary general, Antonio Guterres, will likely provide more of the same. That yet another man was chosen to the post even though seven of the 13 candidates were women is a sign that the status quo will be retained. Guterres’ own performance as head of the UNHCR shows that he will be the perfect establishment man. When confronted when one of the largest refugee crises ever in Syria, he would implore the Western world to do more to take care of the refugees but refuse to shame them when his pleas were rebuffed. Before that, as prime minister of Portugal, Guterres was notable only for being affable and pragmatic – qualities the superpowers might like but which will not shake up the UN at all.

Guterres is unlikely to be much different to Ban Ki-moon. The current secretary general was responsible for some improvements on the margins, particularly in his advocacy for women’s and LGBT rights and in speaking out about climate change. But he was absent too much of the time. The UN is supposed to stop the slaughter of innocent civilians but the UN under his stewardship has been ineffective in Syria, where Russia and the US are on opposing sides, and silent on Yemen, where the US-backed, Saudi-led coalition is guilty of war crimes. He has not been able to do anything about the horrifyingly routine abuses by UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic. On issues that go back to the UN’s founding, such as Kashmir and Palestine, he has been typically timid. The problem with the UN is a systemic one which is why it is hard to recall any memorable speech or decisive action taken by Ban Ki-moon, just as it is hard to recall Kofi Anan or before him Boutros Boutros-Ghali doing anything noteworthy. Antonio Guterres will surely be more of the same too.

Source: Daily The News

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