Archive for August, 2006

The Candidates Respond

Monday, August 28th, 2006

Earlier this year, we featured guest blogger Ayca Ariyoruk with the Center for UN Reform Education who called for an end to “the age-old tradition of discouraging candidates for the top UN post from speaking and engaging in public debate.” The powers that be apparently heard her appeal, as the candidates have been freely campaigning broadly and engaging in numerous speaking engagements with regional groups and civil society.

Sri Lankan candidate Jayantha Dhanapala recently responded to the coalition’s candidate questionnaire, sharing his views on the North-South divide, civilian populations in conflict, civil society’s role in global governance, disarmanent concerns and gender balance in the UN system.

Indian candidate Shashi Tharoor is also expected to respond to the candidate questionnaire, reflecting perhaps the four-part approach he describes in the current Newsweek International. 

Update: Tharoor’s responses to the candidate questionnaire are now available.

In the Newsweek article, Tharoor insists that democracy must be a continuing priority for the UN, and that the world body should be focusing in those areas where it has a proven track-record, leaving those issues beyond its capacity to the world community. Overall, the UN’s operational capacity needs to be improved, states Tharoor, including strengthening the international civil service and improving peacekeeping efforts. Prevention of a North-South divide may be acheivable by “building issue-based coalitions to deal with specific practical problems…that have little to do with ideological politics,” writes Tharoor. 

It is not clear whether Minister Ban or Dr. Surakiart intend to respond to the questionnaire or make additional public appearances as the decision draws nearer.

SAJA Interview: Jayantha Dhanapala

Monday, August 28th, 2006

The South Asian Journalists Association will host their second Skypecast interview with Sri Lankan candidate Jayantha Dhanapala on Tuesday, August 29, 2006 @ 1pm New York time. (Click here for your local time.) The session will last for about 35 minutes, and be followed by a short Q&A with Tony Fleming, editor of, for his take on where things stand.

This is a Skypecast interview, and limited to the first 100 registrants. To participate, visit for complete instructions. If you would like to submit a question in advance, email it to

Update: The interview is now available as an mp3 file.

Sir Brian not that impressed

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

This month’s Foreign Affairs includes an article by former Under-Secretary-General and statesman Sir Brian Urquhart entitled “The Next Secretary-General: How to Fill a Job With No Description.” Sir Brian is widely regarded for his proposals for reforming the UNSG selection process. He wrote what is considered the definitive biography of UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld and, in 1996, co-authored A World in Need of Leadership with fellow UN statesman Erskine Childers. Earlier this year he was interviewed by UNA-USA’s Suzanne Dimaggio on this year’s process.

Despite the title, Sir Brian’s article concerns itself more with a history of the office of UNSG. He describes the weak consensus about the UNSG’s role in the early years, then discusses at length Dag Hammarskjöld’s administration which significantly transformed the office, before turning to the question of the next officeholder only in the last few paragraphs.

Apparently, Sir Brian is not too enthused about the current slate of candidates. 

“Unfortunately, but as usual, a crop of self- or state-nominated candidates has already come forward, discouraging the council from conducting a more serious search for the right person.”

Nor does he appear impressed with the unprecedented transparency marking this year’s selection.

“…improvements in the selection process are unlikely this time around, although many suggestions have been made: limiting the next secretary-general to a single seven-year term; creating a search and nominating committee; abolishing regional preferences; giving a greater role in the selection process to the General Assembly; requiring that all candidates publicly circulate a statement setting out their agenda, priorities, and proposed modus operandi…”

While he notes these formal proposals for opening up the process, he neglects to note the more influential, if informal, changes that we have witnessed this year: the Security Council requirement of a formal nomination, public appearances by known candidates, campaign visits to world capitals, greater engagement with civil society and the media, and generally well-known platforms.

As a colleague at the Canadian permanent mission noted, these informal developments will greatly facilitate the acceptance of those formal reforms in 2011 or 2016, but more importantly, they are opening up the process this year more than attempts to negotiate formal changes ever could have.

Sir Brian’s failure to look at this year’s process from outside the institutional box is unfortunate and deprives us of his unique insight as a UN statesman.

Shashi Tharoor: ‘…I intend to win’

Friday, August 18th, 2006

Welcome to members and friends of the South Asian Journalists Association visiting after hearing the interview with Shashi Tharoor discussed below. Your questions, comments and suggestions are welcome.  

India’s nominee for UNSG Shashi Tharoor participated in an Skypecast Q&A this morning hosted by the South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA), discussing what he views as “the most transparent race there ever has been for the Secretary-Generalship.” 

Host Sree Sreenivasan, with the Columbia University School of Journalism, started the interview by asking Tharoor about his recent travels around the world to present his credentials. Tharoor jokingly responded by noting how this year’s selection presented unprecedented challenges for the candidates.

“…this used to be a job for which people didn’t have to campaign. I remember Kofi Annan when he entered the race in 1996 being able to do his work as Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping while the Security Council discussed names behind closed doors…  [N]ow governments expect that if some candidates come to them, why shouldn’t all candidates come to them? And so it is necessary to go out and present one’s credentials to the world.”

There are presently four official nominees under consideration, but several other names have been floated as possible contenders. Asked whether the “conventional wisdom” still applied and that these individuals will enter the fray late in the game, Tharoor noted that it was of course possible, but that new candidates would not be unknown “dark horses” as they would have been in previous years.

“The reason for that is that the emphasis on the need for transparency and openness on Security Council action on this and other issues has increased dramatically in recent months, and in the course of 2006, there have been a couple of unprecedented developments on the Security Council consideration of the Secretary-Generalship.”

Tharoor noted especially the push initiated by Canada to make the Security Council’s procedures more transparent as well as the India-led campaign for multiple nominations, and in response, the Security Council’s decision to consider only candidates openly nominated by member states.

“The four names that therefore came to the Council are the result of a more open process than has ever happened before, and the only way in which someone else could now emerge would be through the same process, through officially putting their name forward in a public manner to the Security Council…”

 Yet he subtly discouraged any further challengers.

“…yet it doesn’t look like, if one looks at all the media, the names discussed in the media, it doesn’t look as if there are any plausible ones out there right now.”

Tharoor is the only candidate in the running who does not have political experience within his sponsoring government, a fact which has not gone unnoticed by his critics. But he suggested that a lack of parliamentary experience is, in actuality, an advantageous qualification in practical terms.

“…the Secretary General of the UN has in every case without exception been largly unknown diplomats or civil servants when they got elected; they were all people who emerged with the ability to run an organization that has become more and more complex over the years, and that is simply not analogous to running a government. [The UN is] a government in the sense of 192 prime ministers telling you what to do, so it’s not a job that someone who has actually been a prime minister or president would find particularly palatable. So for all of these reasons, I don’t really see any credible names out there…”  

Of course, as Tharoor noted, he himself has served as an international civil servant from the age of 22 – he is now 50 – having worked on refugees and humanitarian issues, peacekeeping, management reform and, currently, as Under Secretary General for Communications. Asked the obvious question of why he is running for the post, Tharoor noted,  

“I have a first-hand experience from the inside and from the ground up of some of the most important issues and challenges which a Secretary General can face… I also feel quite strongly that whereas being an insider may not be the ideal from everyone’s point of view because many feel that the UN needs a new broom to come in and sweep clean, but the UN is the kind of organization where an old broom can sweep cleaner because it will know where to sweep and how to sweep… we really have an extremely complex system which would be difficult for a purebred outsider to deal with. The learning curve for somebody who’s not familiar with the UN would be extraordinarily steep… [Most CEOs] brought into the UN would probably find themselves resigning in frustration in six weeks having to deal with a system where there are 192 countries looking over their shoulder and limiting very severely how much they can do.”

Following his nomination, there were Indian columnists which suggested that Tharoor’s nomination signaled an end to any chance for India to secure a permament Security Council seat. Asked about this, Tharoor’s explanation of the issues’ separate importance was both more eloquent (unsurprisingly) and much more informed than the usual response from Indian officials.

“Until there is agreement among 2/3 of the member states about a formula for Council expansion, a formula that can then be ratified by 2/3 of the world’s parliaments including those of all five permanent members, until that happens, there will not even be a framework within which India can seek a permanent seat. And that will take time, whereas the Secretary-Generalship will be decided one way or the other within the next few months.

…[I]t is important to understand that the unwritten convention… rests on the fundamental principle that no one country should be afforded the right to initiate action of the United Nations through the SG and stop action through the veto. Now, that doesn’t apply in the Indian case. India is not currently a permanent member of the Security Council, and should it obtain this status, it has already agreed to forego the veto for 15 years. So the next Secretary General, whether me or somebody else, is not going to have to face a veto-wielding India.

…I don’t see why Indian columnists should be suggesting that India should deny itself a candidacy for the Secretary-Generalship in the name of a Security Council seat it doesn’t actually have and when there isn’t yet a framework within which it can pursue such a seat.”

In addition to discussing the selection process and his own qualifications in standing for the post, Tharoor answered questions from listeners about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran’s nuclear program and addressing religious intolerance. Tharoor noted that he is having to do a bit of “running around” to catch up with the other candidates in presenting his credentials. Tomorrow he will be in Washington, followed by visits to Security Council members Argentina, Slovakia, Denmark and the United Kingdom in the coming weeks.

Asked what his plans were should he not be nominated by the Security Council, Tharoor’s response reflected the more aggressive, campaign-oriented approach typical of national elections but unheard of until now in choosing the UNSG.

“I don’t have a Plan B. Never did and don’t now. I’ve really devoted my adult working life from the age of 22 to working for the United Nations so you’ll really forgive me for not having entertained any other possibilities. If this doesn’t work, then I will have to start thinking about it, and of course, all good ideas will be welcomed. But at this stage, I am very much focused on a race I intend to win.

Colleague (Up) in Arms

Tuesday, August 15th, 2006

As important as “who will run an organization whose functions range from offering neutral ground for superpower diplomacy to operating clinics in remote Third-World villages” is, coverage of the UNSG selection has been “superficial,” rails former UN Wire editor Steve Hirsch in yesterday’s World Politics Watch.

What reporting does occur, Hirsch writes, is akin to a broken record.

“Too much coverage of this issue has been repetition of conventional wisdom — the candidate is likely to be an Asian;… the Americans do not back the idea of an automatic regional rotation… U.N. insider status very likely would prevent P-5 endorsement…”

Yes, perhaps the selection process and governments’ secretiveness about their top picks prevents ongoing coverage, Hirsch acknowledges, but the “scant attention” which the media has given the deliberations is, in his view, inexcusable.

“…readers would have benefited from any insight into the talks’ direction. It is possible to find UN diplomats and P-5 country officials willing to talk, as I found out when I reported a story on this subject for National Journal earlier this year. If the press can worm stories out of the CIA, it can work the UN universe to get better information on the moves to select Annan’s successor.”

Considering that the results of the Security Council’s straw poll last month leaked within hours of the vote only supports Hirsch’s contention that someone will talk if the media cared to probe. And it is not as if this discussion is taking place in a conflict zone, or amid the rubble of a natural disaster or otherwise far away from the comfortable surroundings of journalists’ desks. They are talking about it right down the street, for crying out loud! Hirsch seems to be pleading.

The most important work of the United Nations is poorly covered in Western media anyway, Hirsch reminds readers, with the consequence being a poorly informed public with “no way of knowing whether this kind of work is being done badly or well.” The lack of quality coverage on who will succeed Annan, likely to be decided with the next month or two, likewise weakens public confidence in the process.

“At a time when many in the press are cutting back on international news coverage, and giving more space and time to softer, fluffier content, this is exactly the sort of story they should be putting more resources into. There is no excuse for the scant attention an important, but easily covered, story like this one has received.”


Just tea with Tony

Tuesday, August 15th, 2006

A get-together between the British and New Zealand Prime Ministers and their spouses last week was not so casual after all, suggested Fran O’Sullivan with the New Zealand Herald this past weekend. UK Prime Minister Tony Blair greets NZ Prime Minister Helen Clark during his visit to New Zealand in March 2006Rather, O’Sullivan writes, Helen Clark had a bit of a chat with her British counterpart Tony Blair about her entering the race for UN Secretary General.

But Clark denied discussing the post with Blair and said today that the report was “piece of fiction.”

“I have had no approach about that position, I have made no approach about that position, it is not on my mind, I have consistently said that the best job for me in the world right now is the one I have as Prime Minister of New Zealand.”

Regardless of whether Clark and Blair discussed her entering the race, O’Sullivan suggested that Clark is being discussed in New York.

If Clark is to get a run at the job, which is being seriously talked about behind the scenes, her best chance is to portray herself as a suitable Asia-Pacific candidate, then play up the potency of her appointment as the first female to be the UN’s Secretary-General.

New Zealand’s United Nations team would have to quietly canvass views in New York backrooms if they are not already doing so, as I am informed.

Clark was originally mentioned as a candidate by the women’s group Equality Now as representative of many female leaders qualified to hold the top post. Despite interest in a female nominee arising from many quarters, not of least of which is current UNSG Kofi Annan, the four current nominees for the post are all male. (There has not been a female UNSG in the UN’s sixty-year history.)

Factors that would support a Clark run include an continuing dissatisfaction among the Security Council with the current slate, and New Zealand’s small-power status on the global stage. A Clark campaign has also received a nod of support from the opposition National Party in New Zealand, not an insignificant statement. (India’s opposition party strongly opposed Shashi Tharoor‘s nomination until recently.)

Nonetheless, Clark’s chances are slim. The focus this year is on Asian candidates, which Clark is not of course. Despite O’Sullivan’s suggestion that Clark is considering a run as an “Asian-Pacific” candidate, the regional groups that dictate UN leadership posts place New Zealand squarely in the Western European and Others group. Most observers doubt China would support a non-Asian this round, regardless of gender. While Pakistan reportedly considered nominating Nafis Sadik and Maleeha Lodhi, but both women turned down the offer.  

An August Lull

Monday, August 7th, 2006

It has been quiet on the race in the last week, most reporting being reiterations of the straw poll results, the occasional guess at who voted for whom and where the candidates are traveling on the campaign trail. There is no sign of candidates dropping out, and contrary to the spec just before the straw poll, no new candidates are jumping into the race. Both Surakiart and Dhanapala intend to continue in the race, hoping those “no opinion” votes shift over to the “encourage” column later this month.

Ban Ki Moon will be paying his respects at the funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryutaro this week. Japan, one will recall, is strongly considered the government which “discouraged” Ban in the straw poll. Afterwards, Ban will visit Security Council members Argentina and Peru, followed by a trip to New Zealand and Australia. He does appear to have secured the support of Uruguay, as announced by that government’s ambassador at the reopening of Uruguayan embassy in Seoul.

“We support the candidacy of Minister Ban for the U.N. secretary general,” he said. “We hope he will win.”

Second place candidate Shashi Tharoor, playing catch-up with his fellow Asians on the campaign trail, recently returned from his campaign stop in Singapore during which he reiterated his independence from Indian politics. Described as having “just the right mix of idealism and pragmatism and even a trace of romanticism,” Tharoor nonetheless admitted the UNSG must acknowledge UN realpolitick: 

“A future secretary general who sufficiently antagonises one of the P-5 members could again find himself in the situation of Boutros-Boutros Ghali (…who incurred the wrath of the US and was consequently denied a second term),” he replied when asked how he would handle American pressure and recurrent interventions of the US in UN decision-making.

“No one who is not acceptable to the P-5 can become elected,” he said.

“The practical reason that any UNSC has to cooperate with P-5 is that you can’t achieve results without them,” he added.

Ban is the only candidate who can claim permanent member backing, but a quick & dirty analysis of the straw poll results show at least seven governments marked “encouragements” for both Ban and Tharoor on their ballots. (This raises to either 9 or 10 if leaks about two ballots are accepted.) 

A source at the Thai UN mission though has suggested that Shashi Tharoor’s good showing in the straw poll was more an acknowledgement of India’s growing role on the world stage than genuine support for the Indian candidate. Sour grapes, perhaps? Dr. Surakiart will also be visiting Argentina and Peru, followed by trips to Africa. His perception as a potential leader of the world body suffers from the situation in Burma, and he is routinely dismissed in editorials at homeChapter 15 takes an interesting look at Surakiart, and particularly his pregnant claim to be “an ASEAN candidate…not a candidate of Thailand.”

Chapter 15 also links to an article on Dhanapala’s blog suggesting a breakdown of his vote tally. The reported votes don’t offer any surprises, and even show the P5 split on his candidacy. One Canadian editorialist, however, suggests a not-so-bright future for the UN from which Dhanapala might want to quietly walk away. 

Whether these gentlemen decide to continue their campaigns or serve in other roles, it is important for governments to keep in mind what tasks will be before the next UNSG, as Edgardo B. Espiritu eloquently reminds us:

“…the next UN secretary-general will play a very vital role in the future direction of global affairs. There is much unfinished business in the international stage. The achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs—goals and specific targets at improving overall human welfare that the international goals have set for the year 2015—is still at risk. There are huge global problems—terrorism and security issues; the threat of the emergence of widespread and prolonged war in the Middle East; the still widening North-South gaps and global inequality, including the growing digital divide; the problems of accelerated urbanization and the related tremendous pressures on the environment; the need for vital public services to keep up with population growth particularly in the developing world. The new UN secretary-general will have to institute the required reforms in the UN and galvanize the international community to effectively address all these challenges, and at the same time balance the concerns of the global powers and the poor countries.”

Let us hope that governments will look that over again before they cast their next straw vote.