In new UN chief, redefining what’s needed to be world’s ‘top diplomat’

By Howard LaFranchi — October 13, 2016

Christian Science Monitor

It makes a certain amount of sense that the person selected to lead the United Nations has almost always been a diplomat. They don’t call the UN secretary-general, who sits atop a global institution of 193 nations, “the world’s top diplomat” for nothing.

But when António Guterres takes the helm in January as the UN’s ninth secretary-general, the former head of the UN’s refugee agency will stand apart from all the other diplomats who have occupied the post.

That’s because the appointment of Mr. Guterres – a former prime minister of Portugal – will mark the first time a diplomat with national political experience has led the UN.

Advocates of the world body, and even some critics, are finding hope in Guterres’s executive experience. Tapping a politician might help make the sprawling and often remote institution more effective – and, they say, more responsive to major development and security challenges and the millions of lives affected by them.

“The ideal CV for a secretary-general would include two things: extensive experience at the multilateral level and evidence of strong political talents, because the ability to persuade is really the essence of this job,” says Michael Doyle, an international relations expert at Columbia University in New York who was also a senior adviser to former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

“If we look at Guterres, we see he has them both: He was a head of government, and he has the leadership at UNHCR [the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees] for 10 years,” Dr. Doyle says. “It’s really a combination we haven’t seen before, and I think it augurs well for the UN and the job he’ll do leading it.”

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