Antonio Guterres Took the Reins of The U.N. on New Year’s Day Promising To Be A "Bridge-Builder"
Secretary-General-designate Antonio Guterres
Antonio Guterres took the reins of the United Nations on New Year's Day, promising to be a "bridge-builder," but facing an antagonistic incoming U.S. administration led by Donald Trump, who thinks the world body's 193 member states do nothing except talk and have a good time. The former Portuguese Prime Minister and U.N. refugee chief told reporters after being sworn-in as secretary-general on December 12 that he will engage all governments - "and, of course, also with the next government of the United States" - and show his willingness to cooperate on "the enormous challenges that we'll be facing together." But Trump, with his "America First" agenda, has shown little interest in multilateralism, which Guterres says is "the cornerstone" of the United Nations, said AP. So, as Guterres begins his five-year term facing conflicts from Syria and Yemen to South Sudan and Libya and global crises from terrorism to climate change, U.S. support for the United Nations remains a question mark. And it matters because the United States is a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council and pays 22% of the United Nations' regular budget and 25% of its peacekeeping budget. Immediately after the United States allowed the Security Council to condemn Israeli settlements in the West Bank on December 23, in a stunning rupture with past practice, Trump warned in a tweet: "As to the United Nations, things will be different after January 20th," the day he takes office. Guterres has made clear that his top priority will be preventing crises and promoting peace. In the first minute after taking over as U.N. chief on Sunday, Guterres issued an "Appeal for Peace." He urged all people in the world to make a shared New Year's resolution: "Let us resolve to put peace first." "Let us make 2017 a year in which we all - citizens, governments, leaders - strive to overcome our differences," the new secretary-general said. He has said there is enormous difficulty in solving conflicts, a lack of "capacity" in the international community to prevent conflicts, and the need to develop "the diplomacy for peace," which he plans to focus on. Guterres has said he will also strive to deal with the inequalities that globalization and technological progress have helped deepen, creating joblessness and despair especially among youth. "Today's paradox is that despite greater connectivity, societies are becoming more fragmented. More and more people live within their own bubbles, unable to appreciate their links with the whole human family," said the new U.N. Secretary- General after his swearing-in. Guterres said the values enshrined in the U.N. Charter that should define the world that today's children inherit - peace, justice, respect, human rights, tolerance and solidarity - are threatened, "most often by fear." "Our duty to the peoples we serve is to work together to move from fear of each other, to trust in each other, trust in the values that bind us, and trust in the institutions that serve and protect us," he said. "My contribution to the United Nations will be aimed at inspiring that trust." Guterres won the United Nations' top job after receiving high marks from almost every diplomat for his performance in the first-ever question-and-answer sessions in the General Assembly for the 13 candidates vying to replace Ban, whose second fiveyear term ended at midnight on December 31. In an interview with three journalists during his campaign, Guterres said the role of secretary-general should be "an honest broker, a consensus builder," who engages as much as possible, in many circumstances discreetly. "It is not just to have a personal agenda, because it would be regrettable or ineffective, or to appear in the limelight. No. On the contrary, it is to act with humility to try to create the conditions for member states that are the crucial actors in any process to be able to come together and to overcome their differences," said Guterres. Whether the Trump administration will join Guterres and U.N. efforts to tackle what he sees as "a multiplication of new conflicts" and the myriad problems on the global agenda remains to be seen. Trump's choice as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley who is the governor of South Carolina, has a reputation as a conciliator, which could be very useful especially in dealing with the Security Council and the four other permanent veto-wielding members - Russia, China, Britain and France, all of whom have their own national agendas. But she will be taking instructions from the President. Richard Grenell, who served as U.S. spokesman at the United Nations during President George W. Bush's administration and has been working with Trump's transition team, down played the prospect that Trump will withdraw from or even disregard the United Nations. He said in an AP interview earlier this month that Trump is talking about reforming the United Nations and other international organizations so "they live up to their ideals." Guterres also wants to reform the United Nations to make it "nimble, efficient and effective." He said "it must focus more on delivery and less on process, more on people and less on bureaucracy," and ensure that the more than 85,000 U.N. staff working in 180 countries are being used effectively. (It is the pleasure of Diplomacy Magazine to inform you about this story - the new U.N. Secretary-General on "New Year's Day" - which used quotes from the AP regarding the United Nations.)