Letter to the New York Times: Portugal’s Antonio Guterres an “excellent choice” as the new UN Secretary General

The newly elected United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, pictured here last year while serving as High Commissioner of the UN refugee agency, together with the outgoing United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. (Image credit: UN News Center)
The newly elected United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, pictured here last year while serving as High Commissioner of the UN refugee agency, together with the outgoing United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. (Image credit: UN News Center)

The UN General Assembly yesterday appointed by acclamation the former Prime Minister of Portugal, António Guterres, as the next United Nations Secretary-General, to succeed Ban Ki-moon when he steps down on 31 December.

Coinciding with this event, Professor Najmedin Meshkati shared with Ismailimail, his letter to the New York Times editor, celebrating the appointment of Mr. Antonio Guterres as the next UN Secretary General and the inspiring legacy of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan’s leadership within the United Nations system.

Mr. Guterres, aged 67, was Prime Minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees from June 2005 to December 2015. He will become the world’s top diplomat on 1 January 2017, and hold that post for the next five years.


October 13, 2016

To the Editor:

Antonio Guterres (front) gestures after he was appointed as the new UN Secretary-General at the UN headquarters in New York, Oct. 13, 2016. (Image credit: Seth Wenig/Associated Press)
Antonio Guterres (front) gestures after he was appointed as the new UN Secretary-General at the UN headquarters in New York, Oct. 13, 2016. (Image credit: Seth Wenig/Associated Press)

As you suggested, Mr. Antonio Guterres of Portugal was an “excellent choice” among the declared 13 candidates to be unanimously selected by the UN Security Council as the new Secretary General of the UN (UNSG), and today he was officially appointed to the post by the UN General Assembly. Mr. Guterres has a distinguished career as a former prime minister of Portugal, who severed as the chief of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for a decade until 2015.

It is an amazing coincidence that after 25 years another strong candidate emerges from UNHCR for the UNSG post. Twenty-five years ago, I published a letter in response to an Editorial in the New York Times,”The Right Choice for the U.N.“ (October 4, 1991). That editorial strongly supported the candidacy of Dr. Boutros Boutros Ghali, who was later on appointed as UNSG (on January 1, 1992), but ended up serving only one term (to December 31, 1996). Using the same criteria of the Editorial, I demonstrated that Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, a luminary in diplomatic circles, a prominent international statesman and the longest-serving UNHCR (for 12 years), was a stronger and more qualified candidate for the post of UNSG.

Mr. Aga Khan, a most qualified candidate for the post of the UNSG in the history of the Organization, was passed over twice for this job. The first time in 1981, when Mr. Kurt Waldheim tried unsuccessfully for a third term as UNSG, Mr Aga Khan “drew more positive votes in the Security Council than anyone else, but was blocked when the Soviet Union, which thought him too pro-Western, cast a veto” (New York Times, May 15, 2003, Section B; Page 11).

Mr. Aga Khan, who died at the age of 70 on May 12, 2003, is smiling down from heaven on his UNHCR successor who is the new UNSG. And he is praying, as he has practiced, that Mr. Guterres restores credibility to the institution by also following Dag Hammarskjöld’s principled motto when running the UN: “Never, ‘for the sake of peace and quiet’, deny your own experience or convictions.”

Sincerely,

Najmedin Meshkati

The writer is a Professor of Engineering and International Relations at University of Southern California (USC).


About Najmedin Meshkati

Najmedin Meshkati Najmedin Meshkati is a (tenured, full) Professor of Civil/Environmental Engineering; Industrial & Systems Engineering; and International Relations at the University of Southern California (USC).  He was a Jefferson Science Fellow and a Senior Science and Engineering Advisor, Office of Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State, US State Department, Washington, DC (2009-2010).

He has also served as a member of the Global Advisory Council of the Civilian Research and Development Foundation (CRDF) Global, chaired by Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering (2013-2016).

For the past 30 years, he has been teaching and conducting research on risk reduction and reliability enhancement of complex technological systems, including nuclear power, aviation, petrochemical and transportation industries.

He has also been studying the UN and its specialized agencies and was invited and testified before the U.S. Commission on Improving the Effectiveness of the United Nations, which was formed by President George H. W. Bush, on February 1, 1993.

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