The next UN sec­re­tary gen­eral

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Mu­nir Akram

BY the end of 2016, when Ban Ki-moon's se­cond term ends, the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly will ap­point the next sec­re­tary gen­eral "upon the rec­om­men­da­tion of the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil". The UN Char­ter de­scribes the sec­re­tary gen­eral as the "chief ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer" of the world or­gan­i­sa­tion who also per­forms "such other func­tions" as are as­signed to him by the UNGA, the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil and the Eco­nomic and So­cial Coun­cil. Im­por­tantly, the sec­re­tary gen­eral has the au­thor­ity "to bring to the at­ten­tion of the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil any mat­ter which in his opin­ion may threaten the main­te­nance of in­ter­na­tional peace and se­cu­rity".

Over the years, the UN sec­re­tary gen­eral has come to per­son­ify the world or­gan­i­sa­tion. His role, pro­nounce­ments and ac­tions re­flect di­rectly on the im­age and cred­i­bil­ity of the UN. He is ex­pected to pro­mote the lofty prin­ci­ples and pur­poses of the UN Char­ter. Of­ten, he has been de­scribed as the "sec­u­lar pope". The best sec­re­taries gen­eral have been those able to act in­de­pen­dently of the in­flu­ence of the ma­jor pow­ers.

The UN's non-per­ma­nent mem­bers have con­sis­tently com­plained of their vir­tual marginal­i­sa­tion in the sec­re­tary gen­eral's ap­point­ment. The Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, in in­for­mal con­sul­ta­tions, agrees on one can­di­date and 'rec­om­mends' his ap­point­ment to the Gen­eral As­sem­bly which has vir­tu­ally no op­tion but to ap­prove the rec­om­men­da­tion. In fact, the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil's crit­i­cal con­sul­ta­tions take place in closed quar­ters among the five per­ma­nent mem­bers, each of whom has the right to veto a can­di­date.

In 2006, the Asian coun­tries unan­i­mously claimed the sec­re­tary gen­eral's post. This was agreed in prin­ci­ple by all ex­cept the US. The story is that at a bi­lat­eral lunch, the US am­bas­sador, John Bolton, asked his Chi­nese coun­ter­part: which Asian can­di­date was ac­cept­able to China. The lat­ter replied that China could ac­cept any of the five Asians. Bolton re­sponded the US would veto all ex­cept Ban Ki­moon. That was how the cur­rent sec­re­tary gen­eral was se­lected. He has been loyal to his bene­fac­tors.

This is re­flected in the UN's Western-ori­ented pri­or­i­ties over the last decade: ter­ror­ism, non-pro­lif­er­a­tion, hu­man rights, cli­mate change. Is­sues that are dif­fi­cult for the West, the Arab- Is­raeli dis­pute, for­eign in­ter­ven­tions in the Mus­lim world, de­vel­op­ment as­sis­tance, have been pushed to the side­lines. All ma­jor UN de­part­ments and agen­cies are headed by rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Western pow­ers. To­day, it is the real pope, rather than the sec­u­lar pope, who speaks truth to power and ad­vo­cates the rights of the down­trod­den.

In re­sponse to calls for greater trans­parency in the sec­re­tary gen­eral's elec­tion, it has been agreed that this year, can­di­dates for the post will be in­ter­viewed in the UNGA. It is un­likely this will change the out­come. In the fi­nal anal­y­sis, the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil will again sub­mit one name (not two or more as de­sired by re­form ad­vo­cates) which the UNGA will be hard put to re­ject. Among the UN's five re­gional group­ings, the East Euro­peans have never pro­vided a sec­re­tary gen­eral and have claimed the post this time. Sev­eral East Euro­pean can­di­dates have en­tered the field, in­clud­ing an ex-pres­i­dent of Slove­nia and two Bul­gar­ian women - an EU com­mis­sioner and the present di­rec­tor gen­eral, Unesco.

But East Europe no longer ex­ists as a political group since all its mem­bers, ex­cept Be­larus, Ukraine and Rus­sia, have joined or are in the process of join­ing Nato or EU or both. As a per­ma­nent mem­ber, Rus­sia can­not be a can­di­date. Be­larus and Ukraine would be un­ac­cept­able. Thus po­lit­i­cally an East Euro­pean can­di­date will in fact be a can­di­date from a West­dom­i­nated Europe.

Since East is now West, a num­ber of West Euro­pean can­di­dates have also en­tered the race. Among them, Por­tu­gal's for­mer prime min­is­ter Gu­tier­rez and He­len Clark, for­mer New Zealand prime min­is­ter. The New York Times has en­dorsed Chan­cel­lor Merkel for the post. But, since Ger­many (like Ja­pan, In­dia and Brazil) as­pires to a per­ma­nent Se­cu­rity Coun­cil seat, would this dis­qual­ify her for the sec­re­tary gen­eral's post?

Sev­eral Latin Amer­i­cans also feel they are el­i­gi­ble since their group last held the post 20 years ago. The new for­eign min­is­ter of Ar­gentina; the for­eign min­is­ter of Chile (and ex-chair­man of the Be­nazir Bhutto as­sas­si­na­tion in­quiry com­mis­sion), even the serv­ing Chilean pres­i­dent may be can­di­dates. There is a strong move within the UN in favour of a fe­male sec­re­tary gen­eral since all have been males hith­erto. Thus the emer­gence of sev­eral women can­di­dates. How­ever, this po­lit­i­cally cor­rect con­sid­er­a­tion will not weigh de­ci­sively with the per­ma­nent mem­bers when de­cid­ing which can­di­date best serves their in­ter­ests.

The his­tor­i­cal record shows that can­di­dates who en­ter the field early sel­dom suc­ceed. Most suc­cess­ful can­di­dates have emerged from the shad­ows to­wards the end of the process. The in­ter­view process agreed this year may change this dy­namic, es­pe­cially if a cut-off date for the pre­sen­ta­tion of can­di­da­tures is agreed.

On at least two oc­ca­sions, the choice has fallen on 'in­sider' can­di­dates. Un­der-sec­re­tary U Thant be­came act­ing sec­re­tary gen­eral af­ter Dag Ham­marskjold's death and was later con­firmed in the post. Kofi An­nan, un­der-sec­re­tary gen­eral for peace­keep­ing, was spon­sored by the US sec­re­tary of state when she de­cided to be rid of an overly in­de­pen­dent Boutros-Ghali. This time also, the highly re­spected deputy sec­re­tary gen­eral, Jan Elias­son, could emerge as a com­pro­mise se­lec­tion. To play an ef­fec­tive role, a sec­re­tary gen­eral must not be be­holden to one or more of the per­ma­nent mem­bers.

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