Why the Next U.N. Secretary-General May End Up Regretting Winning the Job

Why the Next U.N. Secretary-General May End Up Regretting Winning the Job
Peacekeepers with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan on patrol close to Bor, South Sudan, Jan. 21, 2016 (U.N. photo by JC McIlwaine).

The race to be the new United Nations secretary-general is almost over. The winner may end up envying the losers. After much shadowboxing, the Security Council begins a decisive round of polls on Wednesday. For the first time in this year’s selection process, the five veto-wielding powers will use colored ballots to indicate those candidates they want to block.

Most of the 10 contenders are likely to find they have no way forward. The front-runner remains former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres, although Bulgarian EU official Kristalina Georgieva has shaken up the race by joining at the last second.

But the eventual victor may find that success tastes very bitter. The selection process is culminating during the worst institutional crisis the Security Council has seen since the Iraq war. The Russian-Syrian assault on Aleppo has sparked vicious exchanges in the council over the past two weeks, shattering the façade of diplomatic cooperation over Syria. As I’ve warned elsewhere, Russia and the West may now enter into a cycle of “confrontational public diplomacy,” using the U.N. as a stage to vent at each other.

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