Continuing Pressure for Strong GA Role

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.

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