Portugal’s Antonio Guterres, most recently UN high commissioner for refugees, was put forward by his government on February 29, becoming the seventh candidate and the only one from outside the Eastern Europe regional group, which remains the only group to never hold the post.
While Guterres is well-regarded, it surprised many UN watchers that the Western Group put forward a candidate as it has had three previous secretaries-general, albeit the most recent, Kurt Waldheim, finished his second term in 1981. Nevertheless, promoting a fourth Western UN chief, when no other group has had more than two, looked insensitive to the overall UN composition.
Of the seven declared, three are women and in what may be another first, there is a strong desire among the general UN membership that after eight men at the helm, it’s past time for a woman to hold the post.
Only three of the declared candidates, Macedonia’s Srgian Kerim, Montenegro’s Igor Luksic and Moldova’s Natalia Gherman are from a non-NATO country, and, if the past is any indication, this could augur well for their bids – but worth noting that Macedonia and Montenegro are both aspiring NATO members, with Podgorica already in accession talks.
Of the three previous European secretaries-general, only one – the first ever secretary-general, Trygve Lie, was from a NATO member state – Norway was a founding member of the alliance in 1949, but this was three years after Lie assumed his post. In the case of Dag Hammarskjold and Kurt Waldheim, neither Sweden nor Austria have ever been NATO members.
Promoting a NATO-member candidate may well force a Russian and, perhaps, a Chinese veto, while Russia may also balk at supporting an EU candidate – and the four NATO member states with candidates are also EU members (Bulgaria, Croatia, Portugal and Slovenia).
The first set of interviews with candidates are set for April 12-14 when UN member states will have the opportunity to meet and question each of the seven.
To the credit of civil society and UN General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft, the process to select the next secretary-general, at this stage, appears to be approaching a broader basis, and less like a backroom deal among the P5.
- Denis Fitzgerald