Choosing the next Secretary General

Thomas P. Kilgannon
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Posted: Oct 02, 2006 6:06 PM
Choosing the next Secretary General

After the straw vote in the UN Security Council on Thursday, it looks as though South Korea’s Ban-Ki Moon may be on his way to the 38th floor of the UN building in New York to preside over the international body of anti-American misfits. Ban, who has now won three straw polls, is rumored to have the support of the United States, which would explain John Bolton’s desire to see the selection process come to a quick finish.

But Ban shouldn’t fumigate Kofi’s office just yet. The South Korean foreign minister has received one “discourage” vote in each of the straw polls, a fact that could doom his candidacy if that no confidence ballot belongs to one of the five permanent members of the Security Council. UN watchers are wondering if Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin is trying to flex his muscle in the Security Council. After the latest vote, Churkin commented that Russia “in principle” favors an Asian to take the top UN post, but quickly added that “we have a number of strong Asian candidates.”

And while Ban’s overall support remains strong, he did slip a notch in the cumbersome voting process from 14 “encourage” votes during the last contest to 13 “encourage” votes on the most recent ballot. That was still far ahead of the second place candidate – UN communications chief Shashi Tharoor – who received only eight “encourage” votes and whose support has dropped significantly enough to consign his campaign to a footnote in Indian history books. One candidate to watch is Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga who finished a respectable third place having only entered the race in the last two weeks.

One more straw vote is slated for Monday in the Security Council, and in that process the five permanent members will use special ballots to determine if the “discourage” vote for Ban amounts to a veto.

For all the talk of UN reform, the selection of the next secretary general has largely been carried out in secret. Private meetings and brokered deals dominate the process. Unlike presidential candidates in the United States who begin their campaigns years ahead of time, the candidates for the top UN post are known to only a handful of people.

Ban Ki-Moon, the leading candidate, has remained silent. He has given very few interviews and declined to answer candidate questionnaires from non-governmental organizations and media outlets. But the South Korean government is working hard to get Ban elected and has dramatically increased its foreign assistance in order to promote his candidacy. James Bone of The Times of London reports that South Korea’s aid to Africa has tripled since Ban announced his candidacy in February, including an $18 million pledge of assistance to Tanzania which holds a seat on the Security Council.

Such reports fly in the face of Ban’s observation that “the most serious issue facing the UN is the credibility gap.” But Ban himself has made no effort to set a new tone. He could begin that process by releasing to the Security Council, and the public, a full disclosure of his personal finances and require those who will serve with him in the top level of the Secretariat to do the same. Such disclosures are routine for American pols at all levels of government.

It is also clear that rooting our corruption, bringing more transparency to the organization, and making the UN more accountable are tasks that Ban Ki-Moon will not tackle himself, but leave to others. “I intend,” Ban explained, “to be more visibly engaged as secretary-general in addressing regional conflict issues while trying to delegate a significant portion of my day-to-day management duties to the deputy secretary-general.”

This is a new twist to the role of Secretary-General that Kofi Annan took to new heights. According to Article 97 of the UN Charter, the Secretary-General is the “chief administrative officer” of the Organization. But Kofi Annan views himself as a diplomat uber alles and obviously Ban Ki-Moon sees himself in the same light – as more general than secretary, as the saying goes.

This trend that makes the Secretary-General an independent contractor of global policy only undermines member governments and strips individual citizens in democratic nations of the ability to influence or hold accountable their governments on foreign policy decisions.

For those who are expecting the UN to improve under a new Secretary-General, I can only hope that you enjoy that fantasy while it lasts. The United Nations cannot be reformed and it should not be saved. Ten years ago, after Boutros-Boutros-Ghali’s embarrassing tenure, the United States put its faith in a guy named Kofi Annan. What did that get us?

I’ll make you a bet: put Ban Ki-Moon in charge of the organization and one year from now the United Nations will still be the same inefficient, corrupt, anti-American institution that it is today. Any takers?