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AIR spotlight summary on “Challenges before new United Nations Secretary General”



AIR spotlight summary on “Challenges before new United Nations Secretary General”.




Antonio Guterres, the new United Nations secretary-general is the former Prime minister of Portugal and he has also served as the head of UN Refugee agency for the last 10 years. He comes to the UN at the time when the world is facing lot of international crisis like the crisis in Syria, Refugee crisis and huge immigration problem which Europe is facing.all-india-radio

Selection process of the new secretary-general

  • The whole process of selection was a break from the past. The president of the UN General Assembly insisted that this time all the candidates for UNSG should be interviewed and they should put forward their vision as what they see as the future UN secretary-general. This also helped to dispel the myth that the UN secretary-general is selected behind closed doors by the P5.    
  • When the process started there were talks that it was the turn of East Europe or the turn of women because there has never been a women secretary-general. Antonio Guterres was the only candidate who was not discouraged by the P5 countries. He had extremely good credentials with the Russians because he was a socialist party candidate. He had extreme administrative ability. He comes from Portugal, although a small country it’s very significant in Europe. It has a colonial history, world vision, and ties all over the world.

Challenges for the new secretary-general

  • One of the crisis not just in UN but Europe, US is the immigration issue and the refugee crisis. It would be more difficult for Antonio Guterres while dealing with the issue of refugees and immigrants precisely because he comes from the southern part of Europe which has seen the brunt of the issue of uncontrolled migration.  
  • There is a difference between being called a refugee and a migrant. The EU where Portugal is an important member of EU has steadfastly refused to call them refugees because refugees are entitled for protection. They cannot be moved around the manner in which migrants are moved. So from that perspective he would have a problem since he is been the head of the UNHCR, he would hopefully devise some method by which the flow can be controlled, the manner in which they are treated can be improved. He would sit down with Turkey and other countries to work out a solution.
  • The situation in Syria is degenerating day by day. There is no guarantee that the P5 would agree in a united way to use force. The agreement between US and the Russian Federation has broken down and there is also the dynamics of US Presidential election. Whoever wins will play an important role in determining whether the UN will have a role to play in Syria and in that role whether the UN Secretary General will be allowed to play a role.
  • The top most challenge is to face the situation in Syria which is a great threat to international peace and security.
  • How to handle the Islamic State which is again a great threat to international peace and security and the International terrorism emanating from this.
  • The economic issues which are causing the migration, because it is not just Syrians who are coming to Europe. There are also people coming from other parts of the world.
  • He would have to look at the issue of funding for the UN and UN peace keeping operations.      

The issue of Kashmir

  • Ban ki-moon showed good understanding of the issue from India’s perspective and when Nawaz Sharif tried to raise it in New York, Ban ki-moon did not mention the k-word in his address to the General Assembly.
  • Antonio Guterres has good understanding of the issue. India would expect him to have a good understanding from our perspective of the kind of threat we face from across the border. We would expect him to play a restrain role and understand as far as Kashmir is concerned it is an internal matter and India has always said that the UN has no role to play.

Criticism of UN

  • The UN for many years has come under lot of criticism for being dysfunctional organisation and under Ban ki Moon we saw that there wasn’t really much happening on the ground like the Syria issue.
  • Unfortunately some of the actions moved outside the UN are because the UNSC reflects the power structure of the world after World War 2. It has not moved with the time. The UNSC does not have India, Japan, Germany, does not have a single Arab country, African and Latin American country as permanent members.
  • Because of lack of consensus among P5 there is no action and then the action is moved outside the UN and that results in the marginalisation of the UN. We would hope that Antonio Guterres would take some initiatives in persuading the P5 to agree so some kind of workable consensus by which it would be the UN troops on the ground rather than some kind of a bilateral deal between the interested member states outside the UN.

The issue of UNSC Reforms

  • The UN secretary-general does not have a significant role and the process is controlled both by the General Assembly and UNSC. The P5 has a very important role to play because they can veto any procedure which does not suit them.
  • The G4 no longer exists anymore. All the G4 countries have decided to go alone and that includes India. The UNGA has setup a negotiating mechanism which is a major victory for India. The negotiation is going very slow because of the pressure of some P5 countries.
  • China does not want Japan as P5 countries, and China is ambivalent about India’s membership for UNSC. So the process of UNSC reforms would take some time.
  • We would hope the new Secretary General take certain initiatives to bring back the prestige associated with the UN two decades back.


  • The NATO members are ready to work under the UN mandate. So the glory of the UN is still intact. Right to Protection (RTP) is propagated by the west and which many countries don’t agree with. When the RTP is brought into the UNSC and when the P5 countries object then they try to move it outside UNSC and do it through NATO.
  • NATO in the past has shown some reluctance to intervene on its own. We have to hope that the tight balance between NATO and the UN activity on the ground will prevail and become under Antonio Guterres.

Focus areas for Antonio Guterres

  • Issues related to international peace and security particularly in Syria.
  • Issues related to terrorism particularly those emanating from IS and other parts of the world.
  • Strengthen and make more effective the UN Peace keeping operations. There has been a narrow line between peace keeping and peace enforcement. These are the issues he needs to look at.
  • The other mandate like economic mandate, financial mandate, better management in the UN system, etc.
  • The UN Secretary General reports to the UNGA and the UNSC. He is bound by what the UNSC tells him. He has an important role to play in guiding the UNSC. In moments of crisis like in Syria he can bring a perspective which the P5 and the UNSC would listen to.