A Time of Transition
In October of 2016, UNA-NCA celebrated the 71st Anniversary of the United Nations and UN Day with a program honoring the legacy of outgoing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and discussing the challenges and opportunities of António Guterres, the new Secretary-General and former High Commissioner for Refugees and Prime Minister of Portugal. The program was presided by UNA-NCA President, Ambassador Donald T. Bliss (ret.), with keynote remarks from the Honorable Robert C. Orr and an engaging conversation with Dr. Esther Brimmer and Mr. Joshua Black. The event was sponsored and hosted by the National Education Association.

The Honorable Robert C. Orr, Dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, served as UN Under-Secretary-General for Ban Ki-moon and special adviser for climate change, and was also part of the transition team from previous Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In Dean Orr’s eyes, we cannot underestimate the role legacy and leadership play in shaping world events.

Dean Orr summed up the legacy of Ban Ki-moon’s tenure as Secretary-General of the UN with two key contributions: the Paris Agreement on climate change and the framework on the Sustainable Development Goals. In his tenure, he strongly advocated for a global solution to climate change and was a catalyst for global agreements. Dean Orr said that without Ban Ki-moon and the leadership of the Obama Administration, there would be no climate agreement.

Ban Ki-moon also established a global transparent process to follow up on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), inviting the participation of civil society and the private sector in shaping the 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development (SDGs), which were unanimously adopted by the member states in the General Assembly in September of 2015. The aspirational goals of the SDGs are much more ambitious than the MDGs. Both Ban Ki-moon and Dean Orr stressed that these goals must be achieved through a connected multi-stakeholder approach.

Looking forward, António Guterres faces the largest refugee crisis since WWII but he is highly qualified for the job as former head of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Guterres will bring new energy to the problems in Syria and the Middle East. As the world changes quickly, the UN must change accordingly. Internal operations and systems need to be strengthened. Geopolitics are changing. We need to bring all the actors into the fold; strengthening the UN’s commitment to security and investment.

Dr. Brimmer, former Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, acknowledged several other concerns for Guterres as he takes office in January: member states shirking their duties; power competition between member states; and anti-globalization. She highlighted the importance of the US role in UN challenges and opportunities. Dr. Brimmer also touched on the importance of the evolution of the UN and the need of multilateral reform moving forward.

Mr. Joshua Black described the new transparent process of selecting the Secretary-General and the way the White House assessed the experience and qualifications of the 13 applicants. While there were excellent female candidates, he felt that the Security Council consistently came together on the most qualified person for the job with substantial UN experience and the first former head of state to assume the post. Mr. Black expressed concern that the rules of international conflict and engagement are being abused. Among the challenges for the next Secretary-General, he stated that Guterres must address these issues of morality (i.e. attacking schools and hospitals, chemical/biological warfare, etc.). We must look for continued opportunities for collaboration and bring all parties together on common ground. 
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