Politico reports: Can António Guterres scare Donald Trump into taking the United Nations seriously?
Since taking office in January, the United Nations secretary-general has done his level best to build a decent working relationship with the new administration. He has kept criticisms of the White House’s nationalist agenda to a bare minimum. While pleading with Washington to refrain from deep cuts to the U.N. budget, he has worked assiduously to build a rapport with U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley. Testifying in Congress on Tuesday, Haley noted that Guterres had agreed that the U.S. could safely make some cuts to its funding of blue-helmet peace operations – a message likely to rile up other U.N. members who may have to make up the difference.
But there are limits to even the most discreet international civil servant’s patience. Over the last month, Guterres has been trying out a new message: Trump is handing the world to China.
The secretary-general, who is also visiting Washington this week for consultations on Capitol Hill, tried out this line for the first time in late May. Speaking on the eve of President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement, he warned that if the U.S. created a “geostrategic vacuum” by giving up its global role, “I guarantee that someone else will occupy it.” He clearly implied this would be Beijing.
Guterres, who was once a professional physicist, summoned up the vacuum metaphor in a mid-year press conference last week, but with more of a pro-American twist. “I don’t think this is good for the United States,” he said of other powers’ potential power grab, “and I don’t think this is good for the world.”
Many pundits have highlighted how China is benefiting from Trump’s foreign policy mess in far starker terms. But it is striking that a U.N. secretary-general is talking even this frankly about geostrategic power shifts. Whatever the U.N.’s conservative foes say about the organization, international officials hate criticizing America in public. The U.S. remains the organization’s predominant funder. Washington has been brutal with previous secretaries-general who have criticized its policies, as Kofi Annan did over Iraq.
So Guterres will not have played the China card lightly. He is not the sort of politician who picks unnecessary fights. A former Portuguese prime minister with decades of experience in top-level political wheeling and dealing, the secretary-general prefers to work quietly behind closed doors. [Continue reading…]