Antonio Guterres was sworn in as secretary-general of the United Nations a month after the presidential election in the United States. During the last eight years the U.N. has strengthened its bonds with the U.S. But that bond is about to be tested again.
The new secretary-general’s priorities appear far removed from the president-elect’s. Take humanitarian issues. Nora Bensahel is a national security expert and professor at American University. She says for years Guterres headed the U.N.’s refugee agency, “and he’s been very outspoken in encouraging both European countries and the U.S. to resettle larger numbers of refugees. That obviously goes against the platform candidate Trump ran on, saying that U.S. borders should be tightened and we shouldn’t be accepting any refugees.”
That’s not the only area where the two men differ. Michael Doyle, formerly of the U.N., now teaches at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. He says the U.N. has spent years advocating for global education, healthcare, and working to slow climate change.
“If there’s any two things President-elect Trump is against, it’s globalization and climate change,” he said. “So there’s the very start of a rocky relationship.”
And yet. Doyle said there’s at least one thing about Guterres that Trump will surely admire. The ability to make a deal. It’s something the incoming secretary-general was known for in his humanitarian work.
“Maybe the talents of deal making might bring them together in some common action,” he said.
Such as ending the bloodshed in Syria, with Russia’s help.
Stewart Patrick is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He says conflict prevention is another area where the two men might find common ground. Guterres has said that’s urgent for him. And in a way it’s a priority for Trump, too. After all, Patrick says, Trump wants to focus his energies at home and keep America out of foreign wars.
“U.N. peacekeeping actually is a very good deal for the U.S.,” he said. “And it allows the U.S. to support peace and end atrocities around the world without actually putting U.S. troops in harm’s way.”
Trump will outsource at least some of his relationship with the United Nations to Nikki Haley, his pick for U.S. ambassador. Nora Bensahel of American University said he might be totally hands off, giving Haley’s more diplomatic personality free reign. But the key word is “might.”
“Not only the United Nations, but lots of other countries and global leaders, don’t exactly know what they’re going to be dealing with, with the new president – what he’s going to prioritize and how he’s going to approach issues,” she said.
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