Thoughts on Davos “Debate”

The audience at the Davos panel listened attentively to yesterday’s panel describing the UN’s numerous successes over the past decade and looming reform challenges, while patiently waiting to get to the crux of the event. The sole question from the audience – on what the three potential SG candidates participating would consider their top priorities if chosen as the next SG – is excerpted here from the full podcast. Speaking of the ongoing reforms, Kofi Annan remarked that, “…my successor — since I understand several members of this panel may be interested in the position — need not worry. Changing the mindset of the United Nations, so that it can both reflect and influence the temper of the times, is a never-ending challenge. There will plenty more work to do in the years and decades to come.”

Each candidate – in alphabetical order, as Minister Ban affably pointed out to the audience’s amusement – gave a brief response that emphasized the current UN reform efforts. While President Zedillo moderated expertly, one had to wonder whether Jim Lehrer simply wasn’t available for the international version of a campaign “debate”.

Minister Ban stressed the need for a cultural change in the management of the UN system, a responsiblity of both the Secretariat and member states. He suggested that the UN’s body of resolutions should be reviewed and reaffirmed according to today’s priorities, and that a high standard pf service and professionalism should be set for the UN civil service, emphasizing the desirability of introducing practices from the private sector.

Ambassador Dhanapala concured with Ban on the practicality of adopting some business practices, specifically citing the Gingrich-Mitchell report on UN reform, suggesting “there is a lot in that that could be looked at.” He emphasized the ownership of member states in making the institutional and necessary program reforms, which were to then be implemented by the SG. He also noted the threat of a North-South hiatus replacing the Cold War’s East-West divide, and the importance of addressing not just threats to the North, but also mobilizing resources to address poverty, disease and famine affecting developing countries.

President Vīķe-Freiberga noted the main responsibility of the UN in intervening in humanitarian crises as rapidly and efficiently as possible. She proscribed this responsibility not only in response to natural disasters but also to man-made tragedies, noting specifically the continuing massacre taking place in Darfur. The UN’s capabily to mobilize national resources in response is crucial, she stated. She emphasized the importance of meeting the Millenium Development Goals, which, in her opinion, would lessen the scale of other problems. Lastly, she called for improvement in the coordination among UN bodies, civil society and donors in development efforts.

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