Archive for April, 2006

GA Challenge Growing

Wednesday, April 19th, 2006

Mark Turner with the Financial Times writes today on the challenge being posed to the Security Council - and particularly to the P5 members - on their virtual monopoly in the UNSG selection process.

“At a General Assembly meeting, disgruntled second-tier nations will ask why the 15-member Council - and in particular the US, China, France, Russia and Britain - should secretly control the most important decision the organisation faces this year.”

Turner points out that Canada, with its “non-paper,” is driving this discussion. Michael Kovrig with the Canadian Permanent Mission alerted UNSG.org readers yesterday to Canada’s scheduled statement to the GA today, formally outlining specific proposals for improving the selection process. The text of the statement will be available on the mission’s website, www.canada-un.org.

Turner notes several proposed reforms that would enhance GA involvement in the process, including briefings by candidates to regional groups, multiple Security Council nominees and the possibility of the GA sending the nomination back to the Security Council and requesting an alternative candidate. He cautions that, “[p]rivately, many diplomats fear that it may already be too late to introduce any real change this time round, and that genuine reform will need to wait until 2011.” But the concern over the closed nature of the process is gaining voice.

“Jan Eliasson, president of the UN General Assembly and the incoming Swedish foreign minister, told the FT there was a ’strong sense’ that the General Assembly’s role should become ‘more meaningful and more substantial than in earlier elections… I find it in the interests of the UN, and the next secretary-general, [that he or she] be appointed with as much legitimacy as possible,’ he said.”

GA’s Role in Selection Process

Tuesday, April 18th, 2006

The Ad Hoc Working Group on GA Revitalization will be meeting at 10:00am on Wednesday morning, April 19th, in closed session. On the agenda is the specific discussion of the General Assembly’s role in the selection of the Secretary-General.

The topic gained renewed interest with the Canadian “non-paper” and is reportedly an important principle under discussion within the Non-Aligned Movement.  

ASEAN Reconsidering?

Tuesday, April 18th, 2006

Thailand’s ETNA News and The Nation are reporting that the ASEAN endorsement for Surakiart’s UNSG candidacy is a key issue on the agenda for the organization’s retreat in Bali, Indonesia this week.

Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon will seek reassurance of ASEAN support for the Thai candidate vying for the UN Secretary-General post. Thai Foreign Ministry Spokesman Kitti Wasinondh said the issue is high on the agenda…

This is not unexpected, of course, given Thailand’s domestic political upheaval, but it may also be reflective of Surakiart’s struggling campaign outside the region. The government is hopeful that the ASEAN endorsement is reaffirmed. But the scheduled discussion may signal interest in reconsidering the endorsement. If so, it may be presented as a willingness to allow Surakiart to re-focus his energies on domestic partisan concerns, and consequently, as flexibility for ASEAN governments to consider other candidates. South Korea’s recent overtures to Indonesia on nuclear power may be one such interest.

SC Discussions

Tuesday, April 18th, 2006

Remarks by U.S. Ambassador John Bolton to reporters on the UNSG selection discussions during the April 12, 2006 Security Council meeting:

Reporter:  (Inaudible) choosing the next Secretary General?

Ambassador Bolton:  That is what the bulk of the discussion was about as a matter of fact. 

Reporter:  I don’t know if you just spoke about it, but could you give a sense in terms of perhaps cause to give hearings or some sort of briefings of regional groups or perspective candidates; are these ideas being discussed now? 

Ambassador Bolton:  Well we are talking about all different aspects of the Secretary General selection process and particularly the role of the Security Council under the Charter and the Perm 5.

Reporter: Did anyone come to any ideas proposed?  Any kind of tentative conclusions?   Any progress report?

Ambassador Bolton:  No, as I said when I went in, this was a previously scheduled meeting.  We do this more regularly then we have before, which I think is a positive development.  And it is obviously an ongoing subject for us but we did not come today with a specific intention of making a decision but to continue to talk about the process.

 

NGO Press Conference on Next UNSG

Monday, April 17th, 2006

A press colleague alerted me to an NGO press conference taking place Tuesday morning, April 18th. The event, sponsored by the Canadian mission, will be at the UN for those of you in New York. For the rest of us, it will be webcast live at http://www.un.org/webcast/index.asp. (Archived webcast here.)

11:15am Press Conference: Mr. William R. Pace, Executive Director, World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy; Ms. Yvonne Terlingen, UN Representative, Amnesty International; Mr. Vicente Garcia-Delgado, UN Representative, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation; Ms. Taina Bien-Aimé, Executive Director, Equality Now; Mr. James A. Paul, Executive Director, Global Policy Forum, will discuss the selection process for the Secretary-General.

This is a public event for UNSGselection.org, which is an effort to bring civil society groups together to press for a more democratic selection process. Today, the campaign released an NGO Open Letter to the Security Council on the Selection Process with four basic proposals endorsed by the campaign’s member organizations “to enhance the transparency, accountability and inclusiveness necessary for the selection of a qualified and effective candidate.

Not so fast…

Thursday, April 13th, 2006

The Athens News Agency suggested today that Greece

“…would support the candidacy of South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon for the post of United Nations Secretary General…”

But quick fact-checking suggests that reports of the endorsement may have been greatly exaggerated. The official statement from the Foreign Minister following her meeting with Ban - available from the Ministry’s website and confirmed by the Permanent Mission in New York - is not quite so definitive.

“As you know, he is a candidate for the position of UN Secretary General. Greece has already come out in favour of an Asian candidacy, because we believe that it is the turn of Asia. Beyond that, the Foreign Minister has a strong candidacy.”

No doubt Ban is seeking support, currently being on a whirlwind campaign tour. He earlier reportedly secured the endorsement of Uzbekistan. But it might be a bit early to move Greece - a Security Council member - firmly into the Ban column.

CURE Interview: Vaira Vike-Freiberga

Wednesday, April 12th, 2006

Ayca Ariyoruk’s earlier interviews with Jayantha Dhanapala and Surakiart Sathirathai provided the public a desired insight into their goals as candidates for the world body’s highest office. Her most recent interview of Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga - who has not yet confirmed her candidacy - focuses more the office and the selection process from the candidate’s perspective. It also provides more background on what inspired her to work for the well-being of people, regardless of office.

In offering a different view on the selection of the UNSG, Vike-Freiberga challenges the fervent calls for more openness in the process.

“It is not the kind of job where you can submit your CV and apply.  If they did that, it would, severely restrict the candidates to those who would only go for an open candidacy.  The idea of it being very discreet and behind the scenes is very much like the search for top level executives for large multinationals or large corporations.  It is usually done very discreetly so as not to embarrass potential candidates who would want to be considered or whom the organization would want to consider without causing embarrassment to others who are not selected.”

While she believes “transparency and some kind of coherence in the process are important,” she wouldn’t want to see it turn into a ‘circus’.

“I would hate to see the selection of the secretary general being the sort of a process where candidates run around the world looking for financial supporters, where financial supporters affect the selection process and where votes are bought. It opens up a rather horrifying prospect.”

As regular readers will understand, Vike-Freiberga’s principle obstacle remains the likely veto by Russia to any candidate from its former sphere of influence. Aside from her geographic origins, her public demand during a WWII commemoration parade in Moscow for an apology for Stalin’s aggression against Latvia won’t help. Nonetheless, the President believes there are “positive signs” for understanding.

In addition to her thoughts on the selection process and relationship with Russia, Vike-Freiberga shared her views on what Ariyoruk describes as “geographic discrimination” (the regional rotational process), the opportunity for women candidates for UNSG, and the administrative authority of the UNSG in overseeing the Secretariat.

On the Campaign Trails

Tuesday, April 11th, 2006

Either in conjunction with official visits or during trips specifically related to their campaigns, each of the announced candidates for UNSG has begun seeking formal support from the world’s governments.

Most recently, Ban Ki Moon visited six European states, four of which - Russia, Denmark, Greece and Slovakia - are Security Council members. He previously met with the U.S. Secretary of State in January and reportedly wowed Parisian audiences with his command of the French language in early February.

Jayantha Dhanapala has just completed a visit to the United States during which he promised to “push ahead with reforms to the world organization” if chosen and ”to address the scandals that have weakened the United Nations’ credibility” - an approach that speaks clearly to the present U.S. government’s view of the world body. Last month, he visited France and Austria, highlighting his background in disarmament issues relative to the present impasse with Iran. Earlier in the month, he sought the support of Qatar, itself a Security Council member.

Thai candidate Dr. Surakiart met with parliamentarians and administration officials in London, Paris and Washington in February. In Washington, he also consulted with ambassadors from the Gulf Cooperation Council and ASEAN member governments on his campaign strategy. In late January, he met with Ministers of various African governments during the 8th Ordinary Session of the Executive Council of the African Union, pledging support for continued strong Asian-African partnerships.

In the unannounced camp, Nirj Deva was in Washington and New York at the end of March. During his visit, he had a meeting with Under-Secretary of State Paula J. Dobriansky and the Director of the Office of UN Political Affairs, Robin Meyer, as well as several Members of Congress on his possible candidacy. Later, Mr. Deva chatted with U.S. Ambassador John Bolton, China’s Ambassador to the UN Wang Guangya, and the EU Ambassador to the UN Fernando Valenzuela.

Lastly, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Abdelelah al Khatib may be testing the waters on behalf of Prince Zeid. Today, he was in Moscow short on the heels of Ban, seeking support for his country’s unannounced candidate. Zeid has reportedly already impressed the U.S. Ambassador.

Bolton pushing for female UNSG?

Monday, April 10th, 2006

The Daily Yomuri’s headline last week, “[U.S. Ambassador] Bolton suggests next U.N. head be female,” may have placed more weight to an off-the-cuff comment by Bolton than it merited. It is quite likely Bolton made the remark (during a Q&A session; it’s not included in the official record), but it’s not news.

Bolton has raised the subject of a female UNSG before - but always in the context of challenging the practice of regional rotation - and specifically Asia’s claim to be next in line. 

“It is our view that we should pick the best qualified person, whatever region of the world that person comes from,” he said….If there is geographic rotation, Bolton asked journalists, “do you believe in gender rotation?” 

“There never has been a woman secretary-general,” the ambassador said.  “If the best qualified person is a woman, we’ll be pleased to support her.”

Michael Roston suggests Bolton’s “progressive” view may be due his annoyance at not being able to make the case for East Europe.  

John Bolton, our man at the UN, is back to employing one of America’s favorite dirty tricks to knot up diplomacy at the institution: propose a policy that sounds progressive, but with which no one else really agrees. At home it makes the US sound exceptional, rather than exceptionalist, and puts the halt on things moving forward via the leadership of others…

This idea clearly ties back to US animosity to the notion of regional rotation determining who will be considered for the next Secretary-General. The US doesn’t like the idea that Asian candidates are all that are out there, and perhaps just doesn’t like the candidates enough, so let’s throw a fit about them being all men in the hopes that a woman is selected instead who is more amenable to our interests.

The woman that Bolton likely has in mind is Latvia President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, whom, along with fellow East European Alexander Kwasniewski, Russia may as well have vetoed already. But to give Bolton the benefit of the doubt, there are a number of Asian female leaders qualified for the post. It’s just too bad none are from “New Europe.”

Is the UN Reformable?

Saturday, April 8th, 2006

Welcome to readers of The Stanley Foundation’s Courier. We hope you find the views and commentary presented herein of interest. As an introduction, we’re pleased to again welcome David Shorr, Program Officer and Policy Analyst with TSF, as a guest contributor to share his thoughts on UN reform and its challenges. As always, we welcome your comments

Time for another interlude from UNSG.org’s excellent horserace coverage. I have been thinking about ways that the big reform push launched by Kofi Annan will shape the agenda for his successor. The short answer is that the breadth and ambition of the reform agenda will leave plenty of work still to be done. But the ambition itself and the lessons learned from the 2005-06 push raise a bigger question about whether major change is even possible in the UN. This is an important question because it tells the new UNSG whether he or she should view herself as a change agent or simply accept significant organizational inertia. 

The early verdict points toward accommodation, but is it a fair verdict? The conventional wisdom is that the current SG sought too much reform all at once. Tom Weiss and Barbara Crossette made this criticism in their very thorough chapter in the Great Decisions book. For my part, I think this assessment says more about dysfunctions in the debate surrounding the UN than about the organization itself. In other words, the idea of an inherent resistance to change is part of a story line - “the hopeless UN” - that commentators (most of us, really) slip into almost unconsciously.

So, to sharpen the question, was it unrealistic to expect the scale of proposed change be adopted and implemented? Putting it another way, was the fragility of the reform push structural (more than the system could bear) or political (i.e., a function of freely made decisions)? Maybe it’s the existentialist in me, but I believe the shortfall stemmed from the choices of free agents (i.e. member states), and claims about overambition and inertia use the organization as a scapegoat for its members’ weak commitment.

Since I am not only an existentialist but a pragmatist, I do feel compelled to look at whether the reforms proposed before the September summit were radical or unrealistic. This question can actually be put very concretely: should it have been possible to garner support and momentum for the facilitators’ draft document so that it stayed on track? Are the reform proposals reasonable enough - appealing to widely held interests - that they could be adopted by enough UN member states? Yes, and yes.

There is a UN pathology that stands in the way: lowest common denominator politics. Member states consistently defer to small minorities who favor an indecisive and slow-acting United Nations. What really was needed for reform was for proponents of effective multilateralism to recognize the proposed package for the very good deal it was and negotiate constructively for its adoption. The diplomatic dynamic needed to be shifted from interminable wrangling to coalition building.

But it’s all working out in the end, right? Yeah, but… GA President Jan Eliasson and his co-chairs are working mightily to deliver on the commitments in the summit Outcome Document. If you believe slow change is good enough, all right. But I share the High-level Panel view that the times demand a new international consensus and much more assertive action. I see the mismatch between mounting threats like underdevelopment and proliferation and the international response to those threats, and I fear we don’t have the luxury of time. And this will be the challenge to the next UNSG - and to all of us.