Since its birth in the aftermath of World War II, the United Nations has faced innumerable crises. The eternal messiness of global affairs is, of course, exactly why the UN was created. But perhaps never in its 71 years of existence has the biggest of global institutions been faced with so many simultaneous fires — and seemed to struggle so hard to be heard above both the hostilities and cries for help.
After what was largely considered an unremarkable tenure by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, it is time for somebody new to take over one of the toughest jobs in the world. The choice announced yesterday of António Guterres, 67, has been a cause for some degree of optimism. Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister, proved his worth during 10 years as the head of the UN's refugee agency, demonstrating what The New York Times called a wealth of "experience, energy and diplomatic finesse." Officials in Portugal also lauded his appointment, with President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa writing in Diário de Notícias that Guterres was "the best candidate" for the job. Former President Anibal Cavaco Silva, meanwhile, declared that "all the world listens to him."
He will need all ears indeed to help stem the killing in Syria, avoid escalation in Ukraine and North Korea, solve a series of refugee crises, reset the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, hold countries to their promises of last year's Paris Agreement on climate change ... and the list goes on and on.
Writing in the Portuguese paper Público, Jorge Almeida Fernandes sums up the challenge: "There are always more crises to control and always fewer means to do so," he writes. "Guterres knows he won't be the leader of the world. He only knows that the UN is in the eye of the storm."
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