Archive for May, 2006

10 Things To Look For in a New UN Secretary General

Wednesday, May 31st, 2006

Suzanne Nossel is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Security and Peace Initiative and founder of the Democracy Arsenal blog. She served as Deputy to the Ambassador for UN Management and Reform at the US Mission to the United Nations from 1999 – 2001 under Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke. Ms. Nossel graciously allowed to share with our readers her recent post on the UNSG selection from Democracy Arsenal. Rather than excerpt or comment on it, we felt its concise, inclusive and insightful suggestions merited offering it in its entirety. We look forward to your comments and reactions.

The labyrinthine and secretive process of selecting a replacement for UN Secretary General (SYG) Kofi Annan, whose second term ends in December, is now getting underway.  This site does a marvelous job of tracking the progress and prognostications.  Given the shape the UN’s in, its no exaggeration to say that the choice will have a major impact on the future role and effectiveness of the world body.   Here’s what anyone who cares about the UN ought to be looking for: 

1.  A Strong Manager – Some say the next SYG ought to be more of a politician than a manager, since the key underlings run things day to day.  But management skills are always critical for a top job, no matter how much is delegated.  The UN risks desuetude if its sprawling bureaucracy lapses into even one more serious scandal.  The SYG needs to surround himself with the right people, and his chief lieutenants must believe that the boss is watching, that he knows incompetence, laziness, and dishonesty when he sees it, and that he won’t tolerate it for even a minute.  The Admistration is right on this one, though may be focused on management skills to the exclusion of other vital qualities.

2.  A Charismatic Leader – The Bush Administration may well prefer a SYG who is not a leader in his own right, assuming that such a person will be easier to control.  But the divisions in both the UN’s General Assembly and the UN Security Council mean that only someone with charm, persuasive powers, and forcefulness will be able to make headway.  The organization’s tendency toward lowest-common-denominator indecision and passivity is what has made it so ineffectual on Darfur and, to date, Iran.  If the SYG doesn’t have the personality to help cut through it, no one will.

3.  An Asian – The UN has an informal agreed regional rotation system which dictates that this is Asia’s “turn” to have a SYG.  There’s been talk about alternative E. European candidates, and the idea that given the array of qualities on lists like this one, there whould be no limits on finding the right person for the job.  But everyone agrees that the two key parties who must acquiesce before white smoke billows from UN HQ are the U.S. and the Chinese.  The Chinese will demand an Asian, and they’ll get an Asian.  It’s almost certain that this will mean the next SYG is a man, which is why I use the male pronoun in this list.

4.  A Visionary of Sorts – While a highly competent functionary can effectively lead an organization like the World Food Programme or UNHCR that has a well-defined mission, leading the UN involves setting a global agenda.  The SYG needs to articulate his own views for how to prioritize among the UN’s dizzying array of programs, speaking from conviction when he argues for something.  At least rhetorically, Kofi Annan did well on this score, showing leadership in promoting a Responsibility to Protect and the promotion of democracy. 

5.  Someone who Enjoys the Respect of the Developing World – The UN is dominated by delegations from the developing world who are eternally suspicious that the wealthier countries who fund the UN and dominate the Security Council will shortchange their priorities.  They will make life miserable for a SYG they don’t trust, and can and will paralyze the UN in the process.  This sets a high bar for candidates from Japan or Korea who are not seen as “of” the developing world.

6.  Someone who likes the United States – Boutros-Ghali is an example of a SYG who, on balance, was probably more contemptuous than admiring of the U.S.  The feeling was mutual, and Washington ultimately ran him out of office.  The SYG works more closely with the U.S. than any other UN Member State, and needs relationships with both Administration officials as well as the (invariably Republican) Members of Congress who obsess over UN funding issues.  Finding someone who has been largely uninfluenced by the rising tide of anti-US sentiment in recent years may be tough, but its critical.  

7.  Someone Unafraid to Take Risks – A risk-averse SYG will do nothing more than ratify the UN’s natural penchant for inaction.  The UN needs someone who is willing to push on big governments, who doesn’t take no for an answer, who is willing to propose things to break through impasse, and who doesn’t suffer from a compulsive need to be liked.

8.  Someone who likes Media Attention, but Not Too Much – Part of the task of the next SYG is rebuilding the organization’s global stature.  This will require being visible and making the UN visible for the good it does.  A dour SYG, or one who can’t make himself easily understood by the global media, will set the UN back.  Annan’s lilting voice, attractive wife, and affinity for the Manhattan social scene helped give the UN a bit of panache that made the organization seem slightly less depressing than it otherwise would have in its darkest hours.  But the UN membership will strike back against a SYG who they think is trying to steal too much limelight for accomplishments they see as their own.

9.  Someone Patient but Not Too Patient – Patience is essential to offset angina as the UN goes about its deadly, daily business of approving documents, acting on minute budget requests, and paying homage to two-bit holidays and marginal causes.   But impatience is essential in response to governments that delay and obfuscate, and functionaries who won’t or can’t get the job done.

10.  Someone with Moral Authority – It’s not essential, but it would be nice to have a SYG with something in his background that could enable him to make a passionate moral call to countries that might help overcome the pettiness, risk-aversion, and indifference that leads to situations like the inaction in Darfur.  A survivor of some sort of devastation or human rights abuse might be able to mount a more persuasive call than someone who has spent his career moving paper.

Clinton for President UNSG?

Sunday, May 28th, 2006

Last January, Harper’s Magazine took a serious look at Bill Clinton as a candidate for UNSG. This morning, the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times added an amusing twist to the possibility that poses a challenge to domestic politics… and maybe to domestic bliss too! 

“The best thing Hillary Rodham Clinton could do for humanity is not run for president. Nothing against her personally, mind you; it’s just that her aspirations could get in the way of her husband’s worthier ones.”

The editors note Bill’s currency among Africans, Europeans and Arabs as well as with many Americans. They suggest also that Bill “could bridge the growing divide between Washington and much of the world” and help his fellow citizens understand the UN’s mission. “Americans are largely disengaged with the [United Nations]’s actions,” they note. “Bill Clinton at the helm would change that overnight.”

But this won’t happen, say the editors, as long as Hillary continues to be a highly probable candidate for the U.S. presidency in 2008. Even if the practice of denying the office to P5 nationals were overlooked, having a Clinton both at Turtle Bay and in the White House may be too much for the rest of the world.

And the Times’ editors know which they’d prefer.

“If the Security Council members were truly inspired to pick the right man for the job, and if Hillary Clinton’s candidacy were the only obstacle standing between her husband and global leadership (granted, a big if), we’d like to think she’d do the right thing and put her presidential aspirations on hold. The world needs Bill more than the U.S. needs Hillary.”

And the rest of us thought the gives-and-takes in our marriages were challenging!

To whom it may concern:

Sunday, May 28th, 2006

William J. Taylor, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and adjunct professor at Georgetown, offers his pick for the next UNSG this morning in The Washington Times.

There appears to be a growing worldwide consensus the person should be Asian… Naturally, politics will play a heavy role, but serious attention should be given the personal qualifications of the individual chosen for this important position. He or she should be both a distinguished leader and a proven manager…

I am honored to know an Asian leader with such qualifications who has announced his candidacy. His name is Ban (pronounced Bahn) Ki-moon who, at age 62, is the Republic of Korea’s foreign affairs and trade minister.

Taylor shares definitions of leadership which he feels Ban embodies in his unassuming loyalty to family, friends and colleagues. All in all, however, his praise is a bit heady and sounds more like a recommendation letter for a bright student than an objective political endorsement for the next UNSG.

“This man has a deserved reputation for depth of character, high personal values and solid professional competence accompanied by sincere consideration for the welfare of others. He leads by personal example and by the power of his ideas supported by logic, reason and evidence.”

His commentary is a useful contribution to the conversation, but the choice of wording and pedantic tone may have the unfortunate effect of undermining the otherwise worthy intent.

Update from Security Council Report

Saturday, May 27th, 2006

Security Council ReportIn its June 2006 overview, Security Council Report is reporting that the more substantive discussions on the next UNSG has been put back to July. It is also noting that France, which will hold the Security Council Presidency in July, is reviewing past methods and guidelines on the selection and will present a working paper offering guidelines for this year’s decision, still expected to take place in late September or early October.

Blair at Georgetown

Friday, May 26th, 2006

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair at Georgetown UniversityBlair’s speech at Georgetown reitereated the UK’s support for the management reforms proposed by Kofi Annan earlier this year, but which are opposed by most developing nations as encroaching on the General Assembly’s oversight role.  (Watch the speech here.)

“We should give the UNSG new powers:  over the appointments in the Secretariat – it is absurd they have to be voted on, one by one, in the General Assembly;  and over how the resources of the UN are spent.  We should streamline radically the humanitarian and development operations so that the UN can act effectively as one agency in country:  single UN offices, with one leader, one country plan and one budget. 

Blair also called for stronger use by the Secretary General of Article 99 of the UN Charter to address global problems:

“We should also strengthen the UNSG’s powers to propose action to the Security Council for the resolution of long-standing disputes; and encourage him in doing so.”


Avoiding a November surprise

Friday, May 26th, 2006

Canada's Ambassador Allan RockAmbassador Allan Rock spoke to the UN Correspondents Association last week on Canada’s proposals for picking the next UNSG. He elaborated on his government’s five proposals to open up the process, including two which he feels can and should be implemented this year.

“Number one, let’s see if we can develop a consensus among member states that we should be looking for a one-term secretary-general – a single mandate.  Let’s talk about how long that mandate should be, let’s weigh the merits of that step – if it’s agreed, let’s adopt it. And number two, let’s have an open process this year, let’s encourage candidates to come forward, let’s talk about a deadline by which candidates should be identified, so we don’t have a November surprise.  Let’s have open fora with member states, meetings among candidates with regional groups, questions and answers so we can develop a feel for who these candidates are.  Let’s not keep it a secret.  Let’s not have it done in the backroom.  Let’s have it done in the open.  We believe the post is too important for us to take a different approach.”

Rock admitted that it was unlikely the world body could agree on a formal deadline this year, but that

“…if enough member states in the General Assembly make known their desire to be part of this process, to have the GA play its full role as contemplated by the Charter, I think we might politically get to the same result.”

On putting together the proposed public forums, he suggested the ease with which they could be organized within this year’s selection discussions.

“I observe just in passing that this past February, in Davos, Switzerland, the World Economic Forum managed to get persons who identify themselves as candidates onto a stage in front of an international audience to talk about their approach to the job.  Well if the World Economic Forum can do it, why can’t the General Assembly of the United Nations?  Why can’t we convene something at that lovely auditorium next door and put our candidates on the stage and have them make presentations and respond to questions?  Why can’t we have them come and visit regional groups, and develop their understanding of regional issues, and respond to sensitive questions?  Even if it’s only in private for the benefit of member states, we think that’s the way this task should be approached.  So we commend these proposals to the membership, and we very much hope that we can put at least those two in place for the current year.”

Questioned on why there appeared to be silence from other governments on Canada’s proposals, the Ambassador replied, “Canada does not intend to let this matter drop.  We intend to pursue the objectives we set for this year.” He said the government was encouraged by support it has received in closed sessions from “…very, very many states…that expressed impatience to have the General Assembly play its full role, and expressed their desire to see changes in place this year.” A recommendation from a committee discussing revitalization of the General Assembly is forthcoming, after which

“…it will be up to the PGA, the President of the General Assembly [Jan Eliasson], for example to convene or organize those public fora we’ve talked about, and engage in discussion with the Security Council about the other changes we’ve proposed.”

Rock underlined the importance of healing the divisions between states over management and other reforms that will face the next UNSG when he/she comes into office.

“…job number one for the next secretary-general commencing on January 1st will be to repair and address the cleavages that afflict this institution at this moment.  Whether in the context of management reform, mandate review, the proposed resolution on development, the spending cap on the budget, the member states are riven by divisions.  And those divisions have to be addressed if this institution is to be functional and successful.  And I believe that the first responsibility of the new secretary-general in January will be to address those divisions and bring member states together in common cause.  Not an easy task, but task number one.”

Rock noted his government’s view on other long-standing traditions, suggesting that regional rotation is “a contributing but not a controlling factor” in the selection process, and even that “if there’s a candidate from one of the P-5 countries who offers us outstanding leadership, and if it’s the will of the member states, I see no reason why that person should be barred from office.”

Continuing Pressure for Strong GA Role

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006

The last two weeks have seen a flurry of activity surrounding the selection process for the next UNSG, most of which involves a strong role for the General Assembly.

This year’s selection will be shaped more by calls for greater GA involvement than any other proposed change. The regional rotation tradition will be maintained either by intentional choice or by the fact that an Asian happens to be nominated for other reasons. And, unfortunately, despite governments’ commitment to gender equity, no one of the several proposed female nominees has yet to gain an endorsement from their or any other government. But the well-publicized consultations taking place between the rotating Security Council presidents and General Assembly President Jan Eliasson have already sustained the GA’s role in the selection process and the strong positions taken by India, Canada and other middle powers will strengthen it. 

In an op/ed piece, philanthropist and Open Society Institute founder George Soros backed GA involvement which others have advocated for reasons of fairness and democratic legitimacy, but on more practical grounds. Soros suggests that proposed administrative reforms, necessary in many observers’ minds but strongly criticized by developing countries, would be facilitated if the next UNSG could claim stronger backing by a GA more involved from the beginning.

The Secretary General has submitted a reasonable reform plan, but a majority of UN member states, acting together as the so-called G-77…object to the plan’s proposal to give increased powers and responsibilities to the Secretary General, whose selection is effectively in the hands of the Security Council’s five permanent members, which wield veto power.

The path to a satisfactory resolution is clear: give the General Assembly a greater role in the selection of the Secretary General so that members would be delegating powers to an authority of their own choosing. This solution would not only permit the much-needed administrative reforms to be implemented; it would also bring clarity and transparency to a process that is in great need of improvement.

Last week, Canada’s Ambassador Allan Rock stated that two key reforms – a single term of 5 or 7 years, and forums between candidates and regional representatives – could be implemented this year. Rock noted that “Canada will press for significant changes to the method of selecting the UN chief” and dismissed U.S. Ambassador John Bolton‘s suggestion of a Security Council monopoly of the process. 

“The General Assembly is the master of its own processes, and the General Assembly can make decisions, and ultimately makes the decision whether to appoint the candidate identified by the Security Council,” Rock said. 

Canada however has rejected calls by India and other developing countries for multiple nominees, as was circulated week, fearing it would split the membership and weaken the UNSG’s authority. A proposal under consideration by the 114-member Non-Aligned Movement at India’s initiative would call on the Security Council to present the General Assembly with a slate of three nominees for UNSG. U.S. Ambassdor John Bolton did not mince words in discouraging India from pursuing the proposal, suggesting it

“…would provoke a Charter crisis if they proceeded with that since obviously the General Assembly can’t tell the Security Council how to proceed.”

Update: I’m following up on a report by Mark Turner in today’s Financial Times that

“Permanent members of the United Nations Security Council yesterday rejected an Indian proposal to give more power to the General Assembly over the choice of the next secretary-general.

The UN’s top diplomat has traditionally been decided behind closed doors effectively by the permanent five council members, but India is seeking a resolution that would require them to offer the General Assembly a choice of names, rather than a fait accompli.”

Update II: Mark Leon Goldberg points out in the TPM Cafe that the Security Council’s rejection of the Indian proposal could intensify the animosity between wealthy and less-wealthy countries and make a financial crisis more likely this June.

Update III: The June financial crisis appears to be on hold – at least until September 30.

Whither the East Europeans?

Sunday, May 7th, 2006

The East European challenge to Asia’s “turn” in the regional rotation appears to have lost steam.

Both Poland’s Aleksander Kwasniewski and Latvia’s Vaira Vike-Freiberg have pubicly acknowledged that their chances of getting a Security Council nomination are slim. Both were rumored to be supported strongly by the U.S. Unfortunately, while the U.S. was backing East Europeans as deserving of a shot in the regional rotation, it was, in the same breath, denouncing the system of rotation. Perhaps not the best strategy for advancing your preferred candidates’ chances.

Aleksander KwasniewskiKwasniewski, who led Poland during the country’s support of the U.S. war in Iraq, suggested that “wavering White House support” could be due to the U.S. government’s difficulties there and falling approval ratings at home. “This (candidature) has turned into a shambles due to the situation in the White House,” Kwasniewski was quoted as saying by Poland’s PAP news agency.

Presidents Vike-Freiberga and HalonenDuring a visit last month by President Vike-Freiberg to Finland to discuss economic ties with her counterpart President Tarja Halonen – herself recommended for the top post – both recognized the virtual certainty that the next UNSG would be an Asian national.

A reporter asked the presidents whether they had decided which of them would be the next UN secretary general. Both replied by saying that it would be good if the next secretary general was a woman, but pointed out that Kofi Annan’s successor would probably hail from Asia.

Update: The response reported above did not reflect entirely the actual answer given by President Vike-Freiberg, according to her Press Secretary, Ms. Aiva Rozenberga. In a personal email, Ms. Rozenberga noted that, : 

“When asked about the possible next UNSG, President of FINLAND gave an aswer that is quoted in your web. President of LATVIA from her side said that she would like to see that a possible candidate of UNSG have to be seen first and foremost as to his/her`s personal qualities are and not the regional rotation aspect as the first principle. On the gender issue both presidents agreed that it is a time for a women at this high post as 60 years have passed without one and women are representing a half of a globe.”

Spec growing on Ramos-Horta

Saturday, May 6th, 2006

Jose Ramos-Horta’s recent visit to Australia sparked heavy discussion on his possible candidacy. As reported here back in February, the East Timorese Foreign Minister is on the U.S. short list. Ramos-Horta noted that his meetings with U.S. Ambassador John Bolton and other U.S. State Department officials on the possibility have been positive, and that he has been approached by European governments about his candidancy.

Timor Leste Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta

Ramos-Horta has responded to questions about standing for office citing the demands of the office and his political obligations at home. He has also stated that, should he be asked, he would prefer to stand for election to the Presidency of East Timor than be UNSG and that East Timor would favor the ASEAN-endorsed candidate, Thai Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai. Should he throw his hat in the ring, he would be the fourth Asian to do so, and may soon be joined by others, including Indonesian Foreign Minister Noer Hassan Wirajuda.

But, while he may be backed by the U.S. and some European governments, a respected colleague suggests his chances of being accepted as Asia’s candidate is slim. Apparently, he is more widely perceived as an “European” than an “Asian.”

“I know from spending time in Asia in recent months that he is not taken seriously, nor considered an Asian. ASEAN has reservations about him generally — the not-unfamiliar story of a rebel spokesman who cannot translate easily to a government official [or so I’m told]. Timor Leste is also considered to be too insignificant and still too troubled to produce a world leader.”

ASEAN has been reluctant to admit East Timor as a member since the country’s independence, and Ramos-Horta was on the defensive while seeking continued UN police support regarding the recent riots there.

All this suggests either 1) a continued, entrenched inability of the region to come together on political questions, 2) a not-so-pretty prejudice within the Asian community over the candidate’s background, or 3) both.

Mission Impossible?

Friday, May 5th, 2006

Shashi TharoorLast month, Shashi Tharoor, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, opened the Committee on Information meeting at the UN urging reforms to restore public trust in the world body’s ideals and its actions. 

“One of our key challenges, therefore, is to close this gap and once again make the UN not only a symbol of our collective hope, but also a powerful instrument for translating that hope into everyday reality.”

Last week, Mr. Tharoor offered a penetrating look inside the UN that helps close the gap between the “ideal” and the “reality” of the office of the UNSG.  Tharoor’s acclaimed eloquence was undiminished in his bestowal of “the most impossible job on earth” – the reality part – with a sense of glory and reverence – the ideal.

“True, the secretary general has an unparalleled agenda-shaping authority. But he does not have the power to execute all his ideas, and he articulates a vision that only governments can fulfill. He moves the world, but he cannot direct it.”

As he described in each paragraph one impossible challenge after another, he yet left the reader inspired by those willing and entrusted to hold the office.

“The secretary general knows he can accomplish little without the support of members whose inaction on one issue or another he might otherwise want to denounce. He cannot afford to allow any frustration on any one issue to affect his ability to elicit cooperation from governments on a range of others.”

With three declared candidates and several potential but unannounced others (including Tharoor?), a number of reformers have lamented the lack of a formal job description for the UN’s top post. In closing, Tharoor offered a list of qualifications which makes any further effort pointless. 

“To be effective, [the UNSG] must be skilled at managing staff and budgets, gifted at public diplomacy (and its behind-the-scenes variant), and able to engage the loyalties of a wide array of external actors, including non-governmental organizations, business groups, and journalists.

He also must convince the nations of the poor and conflict-ridden South that their interests are uppermost in his mind while ensuring that he can work effectively with the wealthy and powerful North. He must recognize the power and the prerogatives of the Security Council, especially its five permanent members, while staying attentive to the priorities and passions of the General Assembly. And he must present member states with politically achievable proposals and implement his mandates within the means they provide him.

Above all, the secretary general needs a vision of the higher purpose of his office and an awareness of its potential and limitations. In other words, to be successful, he must conceive and project a vision of the UN as it should be, while administering and defending the organization as it is.

Truly an impossible job.”


An open thread for readers: Which of the declared or undeclared candidates reflect these qualities or skills? Any? None?