Guterres Has to Be Ready for the U.N.’s Bad Luck to Get Worse

Guterres Has to Be Ready for the U.N.’s Bad Luck to Get Worse
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press conference, Nairobi, Kenya, March 8, 2017 (AP photo by Khalil Senosi).

Napoleon allegedly said that he liked his generals to be lucky. If he were around today to apply the same logic to secretaries-general of the United Nations, he might have some concerns about Antonio Guterres.

The new U.N. chief, who has now been in office for 100 days, is clearly an energetic and dedicated leader. But he has had a run of very bad luck indeed. The number and variety of crises that have sprung up around the U.N. since the start of the year is remarkable. Famine is looming in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. The new U.S. administration has made severely cutting U.N. budgets one of its foreign policy priorities. And last week’s missile strikes by the U.S. against a Syrian air force base threaten to intensify divisions in the Security Council.

Guterres presumably did not apply to be secretary-general because he wanted a quiet life. He has always made clear that he thinks the U.N. system is flawed and needs significant reforms. U.N. officials note that he tries to tackle as many problems as possible in person. He travels frequently, having already gone to see how the U.N. is doing on the ground in Iraq and Somalia since taking office. But he has also invested time and political capital in developing a direct working relationship with the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley.

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