The United Nations, once a focus of intense controversy in United States politics, is now broadly accepted. This has been confirmed by the unanimous vote of the UN Security Council on Oct. 5 to choose Antonio Guterres of Portugal as the next Secretary-General. He was UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) from 2005 to 2015, and prime minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002.

The lack of extensive media discussion of this succession is direct testimony to the effective leadership of outgoing Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon of South Korea. Ban’s tenure in turn followed the turbulent tenure of Kofi Annan.

Annan is credited with charisma and media flair, but also considerable controversy. He presided over the Iraq Oil-for-Food corruption scandal. A thorough investigation was led by the Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board, at the time a leader of the International Accounting Standards Board, and later a senior economic official in the Obama administration. The investigation assigned blame to UN officials, as well as representatives of member governments and corporations.

No such problems have afflicted the Ban administration. A relatively stable UN environment provides a firm foundation for the conduct of collaborative foreign policy, by not only the U.S. but most other governments in the world. Frustration with the UN is understandable and defensible. The global gabfest goes on endlessly, dominated by diplomats whose self-importance is frequently inversely related to the actual power of the nations they represent.

Yet, realism requires working with ― not against ― the United Nations, as initially unilateral President George W. Bush eventually recognized. From the beginning of that administration, Bush made major policy statements from the UN podium. As U.S. problems mounted in Iraq, the administration turned to the UN for assistance. When North Korea first exploded a nuclear device, the initial sentence of the initial public statement by Bush in response mentioned the UN.

That is a major change from previous hostility to the UN on the part of American political conservatives. Republican leaders Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, respectively the 1964 1980 presidential nominees, were UN critics. In significant contrast, Republican nominee Richard Nixon in 1960 selected UN Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge as his running mate, in part to underscore commitment to the world body, in part to improve ties with the East Coast internationalist wing of the party. President Dwight D. Eisenhower earlier had confirmed bipartisan commitment to the UN, initiated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and confirmed by President Harry S. Truman.

Guterres has established an impressive reputation for effectiveness, including directing the largest reorganization in UNHCR history. UN bureaucracy is notoriously hard to move. He has also addressed the largest refugee crisis since shortly after World War II. The new leader has the opportunity to continue the initial vision of a United Nations, defined by FDR and Winston Churchill and their staffs during the darkest early days of World War II

An asset for Secretary-General Ban has been the economic success of the Republic of Korea. Since the Korean War, his nation has been transformed from devastated battleground to industrial powerhouse.

Guterres brings important senior political as well as diplomatic credentials, and his nation is an influential member of NATO. That alliance has been engaged in armed conflict in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and the continuing confrontations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Portugal is also a member of the challenged but durable European Union.

— Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.” Contact acyr@carthage.edu.