Can Guterres Turn the U.N.’s Bureaucrats Into Heroes?

Can Guterres Turn the U.N.’s Bureaucrats Into Heroes?
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during a news conference, Feb. 1, 2017, New York (AP photo by Mary Altaffer).

All bureaucracies need heroes. The employees of most large organizations spend their days taking notes and bickering over their vacation dates. They require a few exemplary individuals, past or present, to inspire them. Bankers laud the financial wizards who landed big deals. Lawyers lionize the legal eagles who won famous cases.

The United Nations is no different. U.N. officials tend to be smart, highly educated and distinctly frustrated by the organization’s struggle to stay relevant on the world stage. Anyone who has encountered this admirably cosmopolitan tribe of officials knows that they are also collectively obsessed by their right to travel business class.

But U.N. insiders hark back to a few archetypal heroes who epitomized the spirit of international civil service. One is the organization’s second secretary-general, Dag Hammarskjold, who hurtled around the world mediating Cold War conflicts in the late 1950s and early 1960s, dying in a mysterious plane crash in Africa. The star of the early post-Cold War era was Sergio Vieira de Mello, a charismatic Brazilian who served in the Balkans and East Timor, losing his life in a bomb attack in Iraq in 2003.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.