Archive for June, 2006

Clinton, Blair… and now Chirac??

Tuesday, June 20th, 2006

When French President Jacques Chirac visited Thailand in February, he diplomatically resisted pressure to announce support for Surakiart Sathirathai as the next UNSG. Earlier this month, the Philippine Ambassador to France Jose Abeto Zaide stated that he would join other ASEAN ambassadors in calling on the French Foreign Minister to signal French support for the Thai candidate.

UN Photo #UNE4304 by Michelle PoiréSuch lobbying may have been falling on deaf ears, if Anne Elisabeth Moutet, a free lance journalist in Paris, is correct. Ms. Moutet was interviewed today by BBC and PRI’s The World on the opening of a museum on indigenous art in Paris, during which she made the suggestion that President Chirac may have his own ambitions for the post. 

An excerpt can be heard by clicking here.

Moutet: “…more to the point, Chirac is rather interested in succeeding Kofi Annan as the head of the UN; this is something that he believes he has support across the globe for…”

Host: “And apparently, Secretary General Annan was at the opening of the museum today, is that right?

Moutet: “Indeed, and that’s another clear indication that Chirac has an eye on the UN…”

This is the first mention I have heard of Chirac’s interest, and, seriously, he doesn’t stand a chance. But what is it with former and soon-to-be former P5 leaders wanting to move to New York? 

(…on that note, I will be in New York myself tomorrow for a public discussion on the UNSG selection process hosted by the Center for UN Reform Education. Speakers will include Sir Brian Urquhart, Barbara Crossette and Ayca Ariyoruk.)


Duniya interview

Monday, June 19th, 2006

The Duniya interview, in which I comment briefly on Mr. Tharoor’s candidacy, can be viewed in RealPlayer by clicking here.

Establishing his independence

Monday, June 19th, 2006

Despite the Indian government’s strong reaffirmation for the regional rotation tradition during its nomination of Tharoor, the candidate himself may not necessarily agree with that practice. 

“I welcome any qualified candidate and hope there will be many more, from Pakistan or anywhere else,” he said ahead of his talks with the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh and senior external affairs ministry officials…The 50-year-old noted author underlined that each of the candidate, including him, “will have to stand on our own merits and will have to have own credentials, rather than our passports as the principal qualification“.

He also underscored that, as UNSG, this independence of views would continue as part of the daily routine.

“I do not see a particular problem with regard to any national policy that India may pursue at the United Nations because India would do so bearing in mind its own national interest whereas I would be in a position to work for the collective interest of United Nations… If I am elected, I would be accountable to 191 countries, not to any one (country).”

Welcomed speculation

Sunday, June 18th, 2006

In addition to Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and UN Ambassador Munir Akram, several reports suggest another possible Pakistani nominee who would bring an important and encouraged factor to the race.

Pakistan is trying to persuade Nafis Sadik…to be its candidate to rival India’s unexpected formal nomination of Tharoor. Sadik is the special adviser to the UN secretary-general as well as the secretary-general’s special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific. She is also a member of the secretary-general’s High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change.

Much more discussion has still to take place in Islamabad obviously, but if Sadik is nominated, she would be the first female Asian candidate in the race. She had been identified early on by Equality Now as one of several qualified female leaders that merit consideration.

Shashi Tharoor

Thursday, June 15th, 2006

Readers from India may be interested in watching my interview with Niharika Acharya, cohost of the weekly news program Duniya this Sunday evening, 18 June at 7:00pm in India. 

From UN Photo 105671 by Mark GartenThe long anticipated announcement of Shashi Tharoor’s nomination was made this week, surprising both no one and many, but perhaps none more so that the South Korean, Sri Lankan and Thai governments, which had strongly wagered on India’s support.

Tharoor’s eloquence, pleasant nature and cosmopolitan background have for years made him a popular candidate for the world’s top diplomatic post. But unlike Bill Clinton or Tony Blair, he has a reasonable chance of getting a nod from the Security Council. His experience and credentials alone make him a viable candidate.

His background and nationality are likely to be looked on favorably by the Asian group and more broadly from Southern governments. His awareness of having to include Southern interests in the UN’s work may help may help win support for necessary management reforms, which would in turn make wealthier governments happier over the organization’s fiscal management.

Beijing and Washington’s interests are important for any candidate, but have a particularly interesting twist for Tharoor. Both governments were no doubt consulted regarding Tharoor’s nomination, as would have been London, Paris, Moscow and other important nations, and apparently did not react negatively. Pranay Gupte, an Indian-American journalist who covered the UN for many years, noted that “Countries don’t make nominations to be embarrassed… That India made a nomination, says a lot.”  

China and India have long competed for leadership within the region and the larger developing world, but China has recently committed to forming more strategic and cooperative ties with India. Plus China has all but stated it is not happy with Tharoor’s competitors, but will not let a non-Asian assume the post.

The United States’ pursuit of a nuclear exchange program with India could translate into support for the country’s nominee, but no doubt some in the administration would have preferred an outsider. U.S. Ambassador John Bolton’s hope of cleaning house is not likely to come to fruition should Tharoor get the nod. Added to this is the general U.S. position that the UNSG is to be more “secretary” than “general” and not presume an air of independence in the job.

Japan – also on the Security Council – may favor Tharoor over his Asian colleagues both due to his support for reform and its shared desire with India for a permanent seat at the Security Council table.

Two factors may give pause to Tharoor’s candidacy however.

India is a big country, and others have already pointed out that big countries – particularly those with nuclear weapons – don’t field candidates for UNSG. Pakistan has already suggested it might nominate its own candidate, simply as a response to the Indian nomination. India is also an increasingly important leader on global issues, which may worry others, despite the UNSG’s nominal independence from national politics. Fortunately, Tharoor’s non-involvement in Indian politics may mitigate this factor.

However, his own popularity both as an author and an international civil servant may concern some governments, such as the U.S., which would prefer the UNSG to rely on their beneficence rather than possess a popular following.

(Fun fact: Tharoor’s most recent novel, Bookless in Baghdad, rose from #386,452 to #59,612 on in the last 24 hours.) 

All together, however, Tharoor knows what an impossible job he could be getting himself into. And despite this, he still deserves the strongest consideration by the world’s governments.

Update: In addition to India’s campaign for a permanent Security Council seat, it has also pushed for the Security Council to submit three UNSG nominees for consideration by the General Assembly. Yesterday, however, Tharoor himself noted that the proposal for multiple nominees appears to have lost steam. No surprise, now that India has its favorite son up for the office, but still a development for which Tharoor himself is probably relieved.

The Battle for NAM

Thursday, June 15th, 2006

The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) represents the largest bloc in the international community – 114 out of 191 UN member states. So it’s no surprise that both Jayantha Dhanapala and Surakiart Sathirathai are pursuing an endorsement by the group. (Ban Ki Moon cannot be endorsed, as the NAM’s rules require it to endorse only nationals from its member governments – and South Korea is far from “non-aligned.”)

By some accounts, Dhanapala reportedly “wooed” the member governments during their recent two-day ministerial summit in Putrajaya, Malaysia, playing up his credentials as both an “insider” and an “outsider.”

“I have seen the UN from the outside, and from within. That combination of being an outsider and an insider, equips me with the capability of implementing the reform more successfully,” he said. “One may step on landmines and find that reforms may backfire unless they understand the UN is a complex inter-governmental body with diverse cultures and diverse ethnic groups. You have to proceed with firmness but also tact.”

In response to criticisms, he has suggested that the renewed strife in Sri Lanka, which as Secretary General of the Peace Process Secretariat he was tasked with resolving, as giving him a unique expertise to bring to the office.

“[He] thinks that the domestic conflict would give him an edge to help handle conflicts, especially terrorism, a raging hot debate now. “There are many countries which have conflicts affecting them. We have Northern Ireland that is unresolved, we have the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is unresolved, and in Spain we have Basques (separatist) problems. “That does not disqualify a diplomat from that country from assuming responsibility in international organizations because the experience in dealing with terrorism in your own country gives you the necessary lessons which you can learn from and use for the future in conflict resolutions,” he said.

As to who’s supporting him at this point, he’s not keeping count, he says.

“We’re not keeping a scorecard of who’s for us and who is against us,” he said. “International diplomacy doesn’t operate in that crude manner, we pay the highest respect to governments whom we canvass, we place our credentials and allow them the courtesy of taking decisions at their own time, without pressing to let us know what their views are.”

Surakiart’s colleague, Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon, who was also in Putrajaya, was a bit more confident, suggesting several NAM governments “have shown a positive attitude towards supporting” Surakiart.

“…he asked all 114 NAM member countries to consider Surakiart as a candidate for the role of UN post. He said the members had agreed in principle and issued a statement saying that that the next UN secretary-general should come from Asia.”

No surprise there. NAM members are mostly African, Asian and Latin American countries, regions which have already endorsed an Asian national for the post, even discounting the handful of “aligned” governments in those regions.  

Surakiart’s boss, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, may have another chance to lobby for his candidate, having been invited to the bloc’s September meeting in Cuba.

Haya in, Zeid out?

Monday, June 12th, 2006

Haya Rashed Al Khalifawas chosen as President for the 61st session of the UN General Assembly last week. She will be the first Arab and Muslim woman to chair the United Nations General Assembly, and will be presiding over the selection of the next UNSG. Her election however may have a more direct, and thus far unmentioned, impact on the nominees for the post. 

Welcoming the election, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he was “particularly pleased” that a woman would occupy the post. “I met her yesterday and I found her quite impressive,” he told reporters. “All the Member States are determined to work with her and to support her, and I think she’s going to bring a new dimension to the work here.”

While her election to the top post in the General Assembly reaffirms the ability of women to hold leadership positions the world body, it almost certainly robs the political will from the effort to nominate a female for the top post in the Secretariat. 

Secondly, her election may also knock one of the male candidates out of the running for UNSG. Jordan’s Prince Zeid has been a dark horse for months, and is believed to be supported by both Beijing and Washington. Though there have been years when the heads of the two highest bodies came from the same regional group, Haya’s and Zeid’s high level of similarity (moderate, Muslim and Arab) makes me doubt this would be one of those times. 

At a minimum, the development merits discussion.  

May you live in interesting times…

Monday, June 12th, 2006

From the beginning, the number one government to watch in terms of the next UNSG selection has been China. Its growth as a regional power, as well as on the global stage has coincided nicely with what is considered Asia’s “turn” at the helm of the UN. As I and others have stated on previous occasions, the nominee will be that diplomat (by any definition) who can earn the support of both Beijing and Washington.

But China’s role in the selection process won’t be a cakewalk. For precisely the same reasons that it’s role is so important, the difficulties it faces will be challenging.

Yun Tang, with the World Affairs Council in Washington, DC, points out three specific factors associated with the UNSG selection that could complicate China’s global and regional leadership.

First, consolidating Asian countries on the issue. Presumably, Beijing has to break a lot of diplomatic impasses in mediating for a common Asian candidate, given the political complication of the vast continent. Nevertheless, if a consensus could not be reached, Asia’s chance might be in danger. Furthermore, if China fails to help deliver an Asian to the post, its influence in Asia will unquestionably suffer a setback.

Second, dealing with the US. To a certain extent, the selection of the next UN secretary-general is a test for China-US relations, putting on trial their mutual trust and willingness to cooperate in world affairs. Though some tensions remain, China-US relations are presently in a stable condition. In the next few months, if there is no serious confrontation between China and the US on Iran and on the upcoming UN budgetary dispute, it should not be very difficult for the two countries to find common ground regarding the nomination for secretary-general.

Third, addressing the concerns of other UN members. Canadian Ambassador Allan Rock wrote in mid- February to all UN members, proposing more transparency and broader member-state involvement in choosing Annan’s successor. Recently, some members also called for a greater role of the General Assembly in the recruitment, suggesting that the Security Council forward more than one candidate for approval. With all these developments as background, people will watch carefully to see whether Beijing can contribute to make the selection as open and fair as possible while vigorously pushing for a UN chief from Asia.

For those involved in Chinese or Asian affairs studies, this will be very important process to watch, not only from the global perspective, but also in terms of China’s bilateral affairs in the region.