The consensus of the UN Security Council members to nominate the veteran Portuguese diplomat Antonio Guterres to succeed Ban Ki-Moon as UN secretary general comes amid sharp tensions between the US, Europe and Russia over the Syrian issue, and amid dented confidence in the credibility of the UN because of its failure to put an end to the ongoing massacre in Syria and failure to uphold the principle of accountability for war crimes.
His expected confirmation in that post would put in the post a man well versed with the issue of refugees, having served in related functions over the past decade as UN High Commissioner for Refugees (2005-2015). But this time he will have different tools and powers at his disposal. Guterres is no ordinary bureaucrat and he is the first secretary general who would have previously served as prime minister.
Guterres began his career at 25 in 1974, when he joined the Portuguese Socialist Party, rising up the ranks shortly after the end of Salazar’s dictatorship. He was elected MP for Lisbon in 1976. In 1988, he became leader of the Socialist Bloc in parliament, and in 1992, he became leader of his party, paving the way for the post of prime minister he assumed in 1995. In 2000, he was appointed as president of the European Council, highlighting his international ambitions leading up to the top job at the UN today.
His experience, his skillful campaign, and his daring scramble for a post that was supposed to have been earmarked for a woman or an Eastern European candidate put him ahead, helping him dodge criticism that he had “hijacked” the post. The man who will now lead the UN is thus not an unknown entity, but may well be viewed as the necessary choice at this juncture. So how might Guterres act amid the Western-Russian duel, the collapse of US-Russian partnership, and the increasing international anger over the deafening silence vis-à-vis the war crimes and child killing in Aleppo and other Syrian cities?
Nothing today indicates Western-Russian relations will soon be mended with regard to Syria, especially as the Russian government appears intent on pressing the battle of Aleppo to its conclusion, no matter how much time it takes and no matter the cost. The Russian envoy to the UN Vitaly Churkin was clear. Russia will not apologize for the bombardment and the human tragedy it is causing, as it restricts the issue to fighting the al-Nusra Front even if that means leveling Aleppo.
Since Russia has inserted itself into a battle that will be fateful for it and not just Syria, and in light of preparations for a Turkish-Gulf Plan B with a European umbrella and US blessing, the coming phase in international relations will be very complicated and full of flagrant brutality on the part of Russia and its allies in Syria, all at a prohibitive human cost.
Not an easy task
Guterres is likely to focus on the refugee angle of the Syrian crisis, rather than the war crimes perpetrated by the regime, Russia, Iran, allied militias and terrorist groups like ISIS and the al-Nusra FrontRaghida Dergham