The world's big powers are rallying behind the former Portuguese prime minister and U.N. refugee chief to lead the United Nations.
- By Colum LynchColum Lynch is Foreign Policy’s award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. He previously wrote FP’s Turtle Bay blog, for which he was awarded the 2011 National Magazine Award for best reporting in digital media. He was also the silver medal recipient of the 2013 Elizabeth Neuffer Memorial Prize for a three-part series documenting the U.N.’s systemic failure to protect civilians in Darfur, Sudan. Colum’s investigations have uncovered an American spy operation in Iraq, Russia’s monopoly of the $1 billion-a-year U.N. aircraft leasing market, and a Chinese diplomatic campaign to silence U.N. investigators scrutinizing Chinese arms deals in Africa. His deep digs into the U.N. bureaucracy have exposed sexual misconduct by U.N. blue helmets from Bosnia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and documented monumental dysfunction in the U.N. office charged with rooting out misconduct and corruption. He now devotes his reporting chops to documenting President Donald Trump’s efforts to reorder the international system. Born in Los Angeles, Colum received a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1985 and a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 1987. Before moving to FP, Colum reported on diplomacy and national security for the Washington Post for more than a decade. He has appeared frequently on national news programs, including the Lehrer NewsHour, as well as on MSNBC, NPR, and the BBC.
Former Portuguese Prime Minister António Guterres is poised to be selected as the next secretary general of the United Nations when Ban Ki-moon steps down at the end of the year.
Washington and Moscow rallied behind the former socialist politician and U.N refugee chief, offering a rare show of unity between two major powers who have been bitterly divided over a range of issues from Syria to Ukraine. It appears unlikely that the agreement will fundamentally reverse the downward spiral in U.S. and Russian relations or lead to an end to the Syrian war.
But it sets the stage for the emergence of a new U.N. leader who enjoys the trust of the key U.N. powers, including China, Britain, and France. And it shows that despite their differences, the U.S. and Russia can still find areas to agree.
Guterres secured 13 votes in favor of his candidacy in a closed-door straw poll, with two countries offering no opinion over whether he should pursue the job as the world’s top diplomat. But the secret poll made it clear that the five veto-wielding powers — who cast red ballots in contrast to the white ballots cast by non-permanent members — were unanimous in their support for Guterres.
Guterres emerged in the early stages of the campaign for secretary general as the front-runner, maintaining a clear edge on a slate of 13 candidates through five informal straw polls. But there were persistent questions about whether Russia would drop its insistence that the next U.N. leader be recruited from an Eastern European country.
But Russia’s Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who serves as this month’s president of the Security Council, put those suspicious to rest Wednesday. “We have a clear favorite and his name is António Guterres,” Churkin said.
Churkin emerged from the council to address the press flanked by ambassadors of the full council, including Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The council, he said, would hold a formal vote tomorrow and that he hoped Guterres would be elected by acclamation. If, as expected, the council selects Guterres, it will send a resolution to the 193-nation General Assembly to approve the selection.
After the poll, Power told reporters that the selection of Guterres proved “remarkably uncontentious, uncontroversial.”
“I think that speaks to the fact that each of us … knows how fundamentally important this position is,” she added. “People united around a person who impressed throughout the process and has impressed on multiple axes: in his service in Portuguese politics and then of course at the helm of UNHCR.”
The outcome marked the end of an international campaign to elect the first female secretary general. A late entry, Bulgarian national Kristalina Georgieva, a well-regarded European Commission official, could not build enough momentum to mount a serious challenge to Guterres.
Photo credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images