Is that too much to ask?

Sir David Hannay comes out swinging in the Financial Times yesterday, suggesting fundamental reforms with which most other observers could agree, but may be politically unwilling to give due consideration, particularly this year. Former British Ambassador to the UN and a member of the UNSG’s recent High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, Lord Hannay asks,

“Does it still make sense to apply a Buggins’ turn regional rotation, thus excluding any candidate from other regions? Is it wise to choose someone without a clear idea of how they will set about the job and what their main priorities will be? How can one square the circle between the need for a super-diplomat with real political influence and the equally pressing need for an able manager and administrator? Is a five-year term of office the right one, or would a single, non-renewable seven-year term not be better?”

He dismisses from the start the continuation of regional rotation as a selection criteria as well as consideration of candidates on the basis of gender. “It is the right moment to break out of the system of rotation and choose the best candidate for the job, irrespective of origin,” he states, pointedly.

He suggests that candidates should aspire to a “real mandate vis-a-vis the member states and the UN bureaucracy” by publicly circulating their platform on challenges facing the world community and their approach to addressing them. (See update below.) Similarly, the NGO coalition,, has called for a more open timetable during which candidates would be asked to document their qualificiations for the office and meet with member state groups and other stakeholders for question/answer sessions.

More intriguing is Hannay’s suggestion that the next UNSG be appointed to a single 7-year term, a proposal also suggested by distinguished internationalist and former Under Secretary General for Political Affairs Sir Brian Urquhart for mostly the same reasons. But beyond even this, he argues for the under-discussed idea of selecting the UNSG and the Deputy UNSG as a single ticket.

“The appointment of a new secretary-general and that of his deputy should be seen as a single ticket, even if the procedures for appointment remain, as they should do, quite separate. Far more important than achieving regional or gender balance between the two (although those considerations will surely play a part) will be to achieve a functional balance, with complementary skills and experience and, as the present secretary-general has just proposed, clear allocation of responsibilities to the deputy.”

While there is strong merit in providing the UNSG the independence and authority in choosing his or her Deputy, selecting both on a single ticket could potentially resolve the regional question. By providing that the two candidates must be from different regions, it would weaken this politicization of the selection process, attract qualified candidates from a broader pool, and underscore the office’s “exclusively international character” (Article 100 of the Charter). 

As these proposals would not require changes in the UN Charter, Ayca Ariyoruk with the Center for UN Reform Education suggests, the the General Assembly has a real choice before it this year. By amending a 1946 resolution on the nomination of candidates, and reaffirming a 1997 statement on its role in the selection process, the GA could play a stronger role in the selection process this year. And as Lord Hannay notes, such changes would not

“…create an irreversible precedent that could not subsequently be changed if experience proved other approaches made more sense. Taken together they would send a clear signal that the membership wanted a strong, competent and effective secretary-general capable of adapting his office to the requirements of the situation. Is that too much to ask?”

I think not.

Update: In reviewing recent media, this item from the Feb 23rd China’s People’s Daily Online caught my eye:

[Thai candidate] Surakiart also outlined the platform for his candidacy to succeed Kofi Annan when he completes his second term late this year on six key platforms: The UN must adopt a “conflict avoidance” role through preventive diplomacy to ensure basic human rights for people, and strengthen communications links with its constituents, including non-governmental organizations and academics. To achieve management reform the secretary-general needed true administrative power in areas of staffing and at the same time must play the role of diplomat. This would need a business-like administrative system, such as a chief operating/executive officer, Surakiart said. Agencies dealing with disaster relief must be better coordinated and the UN head must be able to adapt quickly to developing circumstances, such as the spread of communicable diseases like bird flu.

One Response to “Is that too much to ask?”

  1. bpalmer says:

    Let the assembly choose UN’s next leader
    >By Edward Palmer
    >Published: March 27 2006 03:00 | Last updated: March 27 2006 03:00
    > >
    From Mr Edward L. Palmer.
    Sir, May I suggest that the points set out by David Hannay in his article “A better way to choose United Nations leaders” (March 23) border on arrogance. The choice of leadership is best left to the General Assembly, which includes all the member nations, to discuss and debate. Lord Hannay’s arguments smack of a wish for the Geneva Group to be empowered to frame the selection and reform processes and an effort to circumvent Asia’s regional turn for UN leadership. Asia has two countries with the largest populations on earth, and to shoulder this region aside, to change the rules at this stage, would invite ill-will at the UN, not an impetus for reform.
    Edward L. Palmer,
    Senior Research Associate,
    Institute of Government
    and Public Affairs,
    University of Illinois,
    Chicago, IL 60607, US

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