The UN could use a lit­tle more democ­racy

The Myanmar Times - - News / Views -

AS much as it de­mands trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity from its mem­ber states, the United Na­tions has not al­ways been very good at pro­vid­ing them it­self. Now more than ever, the UN needs to bring more of its back­room deal­ings into the light – and it can start with the process for se­lect­ing its leader.

The 15 mem­bers of the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil took their first straw poll last week to pick the UN’s new sec­re­tary gen­eral. But they won’t tell the world the re­sults, much less how any of them voted.

That’s one of many ways in which the UN needs to im­prove the way it se­lects the sec­re­tary gen­eral. The process has been ba­si­cally un­changed for 70 years. With the bless­ing of its five per­ma­nent mem­bers, the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil presents one can­di­date to the Gen­eral As­sem­bly, which ap­proves him (and so far they have all been men).

It’s a long way from 1946. The UN now has to deal with crises that re­quire co­op­er­a­tion among a much wider range of ac­tors – not just states, but global cor­po­ra­tions, phi­lan­thropists and net­worked ac­tivists. The UN’s fu­ture le­git­i­macy and ef­fec­tive­ness de­pend on giv­ing th­ese new play­ers more of a voice, es­pe­cially with so­cial me­dia act­ing as a kind of global watch­dog.

The re­quired changes to the UN’s rules wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily tres­pass on the pre­rog­a­tives of the five per­ma­nent mem­bers of the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil (re­fresher: the US, China, Russia, the UK and France). And let’s be re­al­is­tic: With­out the dis­pro­por­tion­ate in­flu­ence granted to them by their veto power, the P-5 in­evitably would have let the UN go the way of the League of Na­tions.

But noth­ing pre­vents the UN from re­leas­ing straw poll re­sults (more will fol­low) with­out iden­ti­fy­ing how in­di­vid­ual coun­tries voted. Af­ter all, the UN for the first time this year held open hear­ings and de­bates among the can­di­dates, a wel­come change that has use­fully sharp­ened the dis­tinc­tions among them.

Even bet­ter would be for the Gen­eral As­sem­bly to re­quest, and the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil to present, a choice of can­di­dates – some­thing that UN “elders” have pro­posed. Of the 12 can­di­dates in the run­ning, in­clud­ing sev­eral former prime and for­eign min­is­ters, eight have high-level UN ex­pe­ri­ence, eight are from Eastern Europe and six are women.

Another smart break from the past would be to ex­tend the sec­re­tary gen­eral’s term to seven years from five, with no op­tion of re­newal. This would cut back on the re-elec­tion pol­i­tick­ing that trades high-level UN po­si­tions for votes. It would give the sec­re­tary gen­eral more time to launch dif­fi­cult in­sti­tu­tional re­forms and strengthen his or her in­de­pen­dence – which is all the more crit­i­cal given the “cri­sis of rel­e­vance” fac­ing the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

Find­ing the ideal blend of diplo­mat, politi­cian, man­ager and moral cham­pion is not easy. Mak­ing the process more open can only help.

– Bloomberg Views

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