Russia to Run DPA, US Seeks to Rule Management Department Under Guterres

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November 17, 2016 – Russia will run the Dept. of Political Affairs under incoming secretary-general Antonio Guterres while the United States is said to seek control of the Dept. of Management where it will attempt to rein in a bloated bureaucracy and cut waste, knowledgeable insiders have told UN Tribune.

While peacekeeping is seen as the face of the United Nations to the outside world, inside the UN, the Dept. of Political Affairs has quietly gained influence and in the future is viewed as the most important division in the United Nations system. Going forward, the thinking is that the greater impact DPA has in its preventive diplomacy and mediation, conflict prevention, electoral assistance, and peacebuilding mandates then the less need there will be for peacekeeping.

This fits with the overarching emphasis the United Nations has placed on resilience, with the aim to build stronger systems and societies and to prevent fragile states from falling back into conflict.

Control over the Dept. of Political Affairs will also give Russia much greater leverage inside the Security Council as the Council’s agenda is increasingly set by DPA. “It’s DPA that pitches up to the Security Council,” is how one insider put it to UN Tribune.

The US currently controls DPA where former State. Dept. official Jeffrey Feltman is the current undersecretary-general. What has not been said is whether Russia will be getting DPA because of its decision to support Guterres. The permanent five members of the Council divvy up the top UN positions among themselves and it is not unlikely that if Russia does get to run DPA, it will part of a secret P5 deal to get Moscow’s support for Guterres.

That the United States is seeking the Dept. of Management, currently run by Japanese diplomat Yuki Takasu, makes perfect sense, even more so in the wake of Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the recent US presidential election. The US Congress has long griped that US taxpayers money going to support UN programs and agencies is wasted. Staff costs account for some two-thirds of the budget of UN agencies and these same agencies often have overlapping mandates.

The US provides 22 percent to the UN’s regular budget, a contribution of about $600 million, while it provides 28 percent of the UN’s peacekeeping budget, some $2.4 billion of the almost $9 billion budget for blue helmet operations. In addition, Washington contributes to the budgets of about 20 other UN agencies and programs including WHO, IAEA, UNDP, UNICEF, UNAIDS and UNHCR. It is also the top contributor to UN aid appeals.

- Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

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Antonio Guterres Recommended as Next UN Secretary-General

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Oct. 6, 2016 – The Security Council on Thursday made a recommendation to the General Assembly to appoint Antonio Manuel de Oliveira Guterres as the next and ninth UN secretary-general.

The move came after Wednesday’s sixth straw ballot which saw Guterres, 67, emerge as the clear winner with no opposition among the 15 Council members. He will take office on January 1 after a formal vote by the General Assembly.

Guterres will be the first former prime minister to take the helm at the United Nations having headed Portugal’s government from 1995-2002 as leader of the Socialist party. From 2005-2015 he was head of the UN refugee agency, winning wide praise for his stewardship during the agency’s biggest refugee crisis.

Guterres will also be the first UN secretary-general from a NATO-member country. Portugal was a founding member of the alliance.

Although he led all straw ballots, his victory will be regarded by many as a surprise given the widely held view that it was time for a woman to lead the organization after eight successive male secretaries-general. It was also expected that the next UN chief should hail from Eastern Europe, the only region never to have held the post.

Guterres qualified as an electrical engineer in 1971 but soon became involved in politics and was involved in Catholic youth movements. A committed Catholic to this day, he recently cited the Biblical “parable of the talents” [Matthew:25] as the reason why he entered the race for the UN’s top job. He cited the same parable in a 2005 interview with the Migration Policy Institute.

During interviews with the General Assembly in April, Guterres mooted introducing a Global Tax to fund humanitarian efforts, telling delegates that the UN and international financial organizations need to find ways for humanitarian efforts to be “funded by global funding sources,” such as fees on plane tickets and financial transactions.

In his lengthy vision statement submitted to the UN General Assembly back in April, Guterres called for a surge in diplomacy as a preventive tool, greater accountability in the UN system, and gender parity in senior posts.

While there is little doubt that he has the experience and leadership qualities needed to guide the UN as it confronts multiple crises, some views he held as prime minister will cause unease at Turtle Bay and beyond.

In a 1995 interview with Portuguese television, he said that “homosexuality is not an aspect I particularly like.” He was not questioned about his current views on sexual orientation during the General Assembly hearings and his views may have evolved in the twenty years since. Ban Ki-moon has been widely hailed for consistently speaking out against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Guterres too was opposed to legalizing abortion during his term as prime minister, campaigning actively in a referendum that successfully overturned a parliamentary vote that legalized the procedure. He was also reportedly in favor of a law that sent women who had an abortion to prison.

Speaking at a press conference in Lisbon on Thursday, Guterres expressed his ‘gratitude and humility.’

“To describe what I’m feeling at this moment, I just need two words: humility and gratitude,” he said. “Gratitude firstly towards the members of the Security Council for the confidence in me, but also gratitude towards the General Assembly of the United Nations and all its member states for having decided in an exemplary process of transparency and openness.”

- Denis Fitzgeald
On Twitter @denisfitz

 

Race for Next SG Enters Crucial Week

Kristalina Georgieva is the latest entrant into the race for next secretary-general

Kristalina Georgieva is the latest entrant into the race for next secretary-general

Oct. 3, 2016 – Wednesday’s Security Council straw poll for selecting the next secretary-general will be the first to use color-coded ballots, showing whether a candidate has received a discourage vote from a veto-wielding member.

All of the candidates have at least two discourage votes in the previous ballots with front-runner Antonio Guterres receiving two in the Sept. 29 poll – Russia is suspected to be behind one of the discourage votes though Moscow has predictably been coy on its preference, only stating in the past that an Eastern European woman should get the nod, and Guterres satisfies nether of these criteria.

Kristalina Georgieva is the latest entrant into the race and appeared before the General Assembly Monday to take questions. While she satisfies both of Russia’s criteria, that she is an official of the European Commission that has imposed sanctions on Russia makes it unlikely she will get Moscow’s support. That is unless a secret deal is struck which would involve the lifting of EU sanctions on Russia and guaranteeing it a top post in the UN Secretariat, with Foreign Policy reporting Sunday that Moscow wants to head up the dept. of political affairs, currently a U.S.-held post.

The Council remains deeply divided with regards to Syria and last week’s interventions by the U.S. and the UK when they accused Russia of war crimes and barbarism over its actions in Aleppo will have repercussions, and this could impact the selection of the next secretary-general. Russia holds the rotating presidency for October and it appears an increasing likelihood that the Council will not settle on a candidate this month, and that may well mean Ban Ki-moon extending his term until into 2017. There is noting in the UN Charter preventing this happening.

The failure of the Security Council to act on Syria has damaged not just the Council but the United Nations as a whole and the Syrian people have paid dearly for this. Russia and the U.S., along with Germany and the other permanent members of the Security Council, have worked together over the past decade in negotiating a deal with Iran to halt Tehran’s quest for an atomic weapon. That deal was finalized in June last year but it appears that, among other calculations, the Obama administration was not willing to risk the deal falling through by taking action on Syria.

At this stage there’s still a slim chance that the Council’s permanent members will settle on a candidate to replace Ban but Wednesday’s straw poll is really the determiner and the ball is in Moscow’s court.

- Denis FItzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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Doubts Raised Over Georgieva’s Qualifications for Secretary-General

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Sept. 15, 2016 – Speculation continues to mount that Kristalina Georgieva, a Bulgarian who is the current EU budget commissioner, will be nominated for the post of UN secretary-general by a grouping of countries including Croatia and Hungary.

Her compatriot, Irina Bokova, the current UNESCO director-general, was Sofia’s choice, but Bokova’s results, in the four straw polls to date, show her with an average of five discourage votes, and that she is regarded as Russia’s preferred candidate is not likely to see her curry favor with veto-wielding Britain, France and the U.S.

Before the race for next SG got started in earnest, the widely-held view inside the UN was that Ban Ki-moon’s successor should be a woman – the first in the UN’s history, and that she should hail from Eastern Europe, the only UN regional group not to have held the post.

Results from fourth straw poll

Despite her laudable background, including a career with the World Bank and two EU commissioner posts – prior to her current assignment she was the EU commissioner for humanitarian aid, Georgieva is seen as lacking both UN and diplomatic experience.

Of the ten current candidates, all have either held, or currently hold, positions inside the UN or have served as their country’s foreign minister – with a few having done both, while Helen Clark and Antonio Guterres both served as their country’s prime minister before their senior UN appointments.

Next week’s high-level segment of the General Assembly is expected to include high-level talks on the margins about charting a way forward in finding a successor to Ban, and if Georgieva is to be nominated then it seems that would have to happen next week at the latest. Some Security Council members have indicated that it is already to late for a new entry to the race.

Whatever the outcome from talks next week, one thing is for sure – the race is far from over.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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Veto-Wielding China Says Supports Malcorra for Next SG

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Sept. 6, 2016 – Susana Malcorra’s campaign to become the next UN secretary-general received a boost over the weekend with Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly endorsing the Argentine foreign minister’s bid in a meeting with his Buenos Aires counterpart Mauricio Macri.

Jinping told Macri that Beijing would “support” her candidacy when the pair met on the sidelines of the G20 summit, according to a report in the Argentine daily La Nacion.

Malcorra came in fifth in the recent Security Council straw poll with seven encourage, seven discourage and 1 no opinion.

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Malcorra’s bid is still seen as having an outside chance given the high number of discourage votes but with Russia said to be refusing to budge in its opposition to front-runner Antonio Guterres, China may be trying to galvanize support for Ban Ki-moon’s former chief-of-staff.

That she hails from the Global South, one of only two candidates – the other fellow Latin American Christina Figueres – will put her in good stead with China, and indeed with the majority of UN member states.

Malcorra is also seen as the favorite of the United States, who are said to view her as a steady pair of hands. Opposition comes from the UK, who went to war with Argentina in 1982 over the disputed Falkland islands.

Guterres, the former high commissioner for refugees, has seen his number of discourage votes rise to three since the first straw poll on July 21. While widely admired inside the UN for his capable leadership of UNHCR during the biggest refugee crisis in the agency’s history, it looks increasingly likely that Russia will veto the former Portuguese prime minister’s bid.

During his reign as PM, he was a strong advocate of NATO expansion and EU expansion. There has never been a secretary-general from a NATO country with former secretaries-general from Europe, Dag Hammarskjold and Kurt Waldheim, hailing from neutral Sweden and Austria respectively.

The UN’s first secretary-general Norway’s Trygve Lie was appointed prior to the founding of NATO. Lie, in fact, saw both NATO and the Soviet Union’s network of alliances as a threat to the United Nations.

Another straw poll is set for Sept. 9 and none of the ten remaining candidates look like vacating the race, with each calculating that Russia’s apparent unwillingness to support Guterres will see a change of dynamic in the race.

Whether that means mobilizing behind a candidate that has the support of both the US and China, or the late entry of a compromise candidate, is anyone’s guess, but Malcorra’s odds have shortened.

If elected, Malcorra would be the first woman to hold the post of UN secretary-general and the second Latin-American.

Prior to her appointment as chef-de-cabinet to Ban, Malcorra was under-secretary for field operations for UN peacekeeping. She was appointed Argentina’s foreign minister in Nov. 2015.

- Denis Fitzgeald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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