The U.N. Security Council gave its blessing Tuesday to a second term for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
“The Security Council, having considered the question of the recommendation for the appointment of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, recommends to the General Assembly that Mr. António Guterres be appointed Secretary-General of the United Nations for a second term of office from 1 January 2022 to 31 December 2026,” Estonian Ambassador Sven Jurgenson, council president, read from a communique.
The council made its recommendation during a brief private meeting. Guterres’ nomination will next move to the 193-member General Assembly, where it is likely to be approved in a consensus vote on June 18.
The 15-nation Security Council’s approval is critical, because any of the five permanent members (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States) could block the nomination.
Ambassador Jurgensen said Guterres has done an “excellent” job in his first term and shown that he is “worthy” of the post.
“He’s a bridge builder,” Jurgenson said.
“The decision taken today by the Security Council to recommend to the General Assembly that I serve a second term as Secretary-General of the United Nations is a great honor. I am very grateful to the members of the Council for the trust they have placed in me,” Guterres said in a statement.
Guterres, 72, is running unchallenged for a five-year term. Candidates must be backed by a government — their own or another — to be officially considered, and he is the only individual to meet that requirement. A few other people have unsuccessfully attempted to nominate themselves for the post, including at least one low-level U.N. staff member who won some publicity, but no official backing.
The former Portuguese prime minister came to office in 2017, three weeks before Donald Trump was inaugurated as U.S. president. During his four years, Trump pursued an “America First” foreign policy that shunned multilateralism. He withdrew the United States from several landmark international agreements, such as the 2015 Paris Climate Accord and the Iran nuclear deal. He also cut hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. contributions to the U.N. budget and its specialized agencies, including the World Health Program.
Guterres spent much of his first term trying not to run afoul of the U.S. administration and ending up in the former president’s Twitter feed.
“I think Guterres has a little more political space to be bold now his second term is in the bag and Trump is out of the way,” said Richard Gowan, U.N. director for the International Crisis Group, a think tank.
Preventing conflicts and combatting climate change have been two of Guterres’ signature issues. Then came COVID-19. The U.N. chief has tried to turn a global catastrophe into an opportunity for “building back better.”
“He will probably ratchet up his efforts to get more progress on climate change, especially around COP 26, and I think he will position himself as a voice for poor countries struggling to recover from COVID-19,” said Gowan, referring to the climate review conference scheduled for November in Scotland.
Even with a U.N.-friendly U.S. administration in office, Guterres will still have to manage a delicate diplomatic balancing act.
“He still needs to walk a fine line between China, Russia and the U.S. over geopolitics, so I think he will stay cautious when it comes to most major conflicts like Syria and Ukraine,” Gowan said.
Rights groups have criticized Guterres not being more vocal about human rights abuses by China, Russia, the United States and their allies.
“With his reelection behind him, Guterres should use the next five years to become a strong vocal advocate for rights,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “His recent willingness to denounce abuses in Myanmar and Belarus should expand to include all governments deserving condemnation, including those that are powerful and protected.”
Guterres will also have no shortage of conflicts and humanitarian crises to deal with in a second term. Most, if not all, of the conflicts that were in progress when he came to office five years ago are still unresolved today, and several new ones, including in Myanmar and Ethiopia, present fresh threats to international peace and security.