REVIEW: Article

Viewpoints: United Nations

Kofi A. Annan will step down from his position as Secretary-General when his second five-year term ends on December 31. The search for a successor to Secretary-General Annan promises to create differences within the United Nations Security Council. Russia and China back the customary procedure of rotating the post among the world’s regions, while the United States (US) and Britain are questioning the need to do so.

Since the United Nations (UN) was established in October 1945, the post of Secretary-General has been held by Trygve Lie of Norway (1946-1953); Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden (1953-1961); U Thant of Burma (1961-1971); Kurt Waldheim of Austria (1972-1981); Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru (1982-1991); and Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt (1992-1996). Kofi A. Annan, who is from Ghana, has served since January 1997.

The list of candidates widely discussed in the international press include: Aleksander Kwasniewski, former Polish President; Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Latvian President; Kemal Dervis, Turkey, currently head of the UN Development Program; Surakiart Sathirathai, Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister; Shashi Tharoor, India, UN Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information and an award-winning journalist/novelist; Ban Ki-moon, South Korea’s Foreign Minister; Jose Ramos-Horta, Foreign Minister of East Timor and a 1996 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate; Jayantha Dhanapala, Sri Lanka, who served as UN Under-Secretary-General for disarmament and as Ambassador to the United States; Goh Chok Tong, former Prime Minister of Singapore; and Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, Jordanian Ambassador to the UN. The list is not exhaustive and the selection of a dark-horse candidate cannot be discounted.

The BBC (February 14) reported, “Analysts say there is much support for an Asian leader among UN member states, in line with an informal tradition that rotates the role on a geographical basis. But Washington’s UN Ambassador John R. Bolton said last month that Kofi Annan’s successor should be selected on merit alone.”

There have been calls for a woman as Secretary-General. Women’s groups have begun lobbying for a woman to succeed Secretary-General Annan. Their campaign has taken on new urgency with the recent announcement that Secretary-General Annan’s Deputy, Louise Fréchette, appointed in 1998 partly because she was a woman, will leave in April to return to her native Canada.

As the campaigns move forward, it is to be noted that there are no established qualifications for the post, no search committees, no interviews, no background checks, no campaign rules and no forums for showcasing aspirants and their ideas.

If history is a guide, it is likely that none of the discussed candidates will emerge the winner and that the person who does is not being publicly discussed.

Wang Guangya, China’s Ambassador  (the People’s Republic of China holds a Permanent seat on the Security Council) at a recent reception said China would support only candidates from Asia, a polite way of saying the PRC would threaten to veto candidates from elsewhere.

The current Chief of Staff for the Secretary-General is Mark Malloch Brown, recently Head of the UNDP (United Nations Development Program). He will take the post of Deputy Secretary-General in April.

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Meanwhile, the Secretary General has presented a far-reaching report with proposals for an overhaul ranging from setting up a 2,500-strong core of mobile peacekeeping professionals to multimillion-dollar investments in training and technology. 

His far-reaching report, “Investing in the United Nations: For a Stronger Organization Worldwide,” focuses on ensuring efficiency and accountability in a way that reflects the fact that more than 70 percent of the $10 billion annual budget now relates to peacekeeping and other field operations, up from around 50 percent of a $4.5 billion budget ten years ago. 

“Our current rules and regulations were designed for an essentially static Secretariat, whose main function was to service conferences and meetings of Member States, and whose staff worked mainly at Headquarters,” the Secretary-General said as he presented the report in the General Assembly Hall. “Today, thanks to the mandates that Member States have given us, we are engaged directly in many parts of the world, working on the ground to improve the lives of people who need help.”

In the 16 years since the Cold War ended, the Organization has taken on more than twice as many new peacekeeping missions as in the previous 44 years and spending on peacekeeping has quadrupled. Over half of its 30,000 civilian staff now serve in the field—not only in peacekeeping, but also in humanitarian relief, criminal justice, human rights monitoring, supporting national elections, and in the battle against drugs and crime. 

The Secretary-General’s comprehensive reform blueprint was called for in the Outcome Document adopted by national leaders at last September’s World Summit in New York. It builds on a package of reforms Mr. Annan launched last year to enhance ethics and accountability and to address weaknesses exposed by the Independent Inquiry on the Oil-for-Food Program as well as evidence of sexual exploitation in certain peacekeeping operations.

In the report, the Secretary-General urges Member States to seize the moment for change. “This is an opportunity, which may not occur again until another generation has passed, to transform the United Nations by aligning it with, and equipping it for, the substantive challenges it faces in the 21st century,” he writes. “It is a chance to give Member States the tools they need to provide strategic direction and hold the Secretariat fully accountable for its performance.”

While the report identifies a number of areas of potential cost savings and efficiencies, the primary financial message is that it is time to reverse years of under-investment in people, systems and information technology to address operational deficiencies and ensure that the UN can reach the level of effectiveness expected by Member States. 

The Secretary-General said that although the UN had made a number of major organizational changes in recent years to keep up with the increasing expectations of Member States, these efforts had only addressed the symptoms, not the causes, of the Organization’s shortcomings. “It is now time to reach for deeper, more fundamental change,” he said. 

Along these lines, the proposals encompass a revamped version of how to recruit, contract, train, assign and compensate staff, with an emphasis on bringing conditions for field-based personnel up to par with those at other UN agencies operating in the field. This will include proposals for converting 2,500 existing short-term peacekeeping positions into a new flexible and mobile core of dedicated specialists who can be deployed rapidly in urgent peacekeeping and special political missions. 

“Increasingly complex mandates require staff with different skills,” the Secretary-General told the Assembly. “We need to be able to recruit and retain leaders, managers and personnel capable of handling large multidisciplinary operations, with increasingly high budgets. “As things stand,” he added, “many of our staff, especially the field staff who serve with great idealism and integrity, often in situations of hardship and danger are demoralized and de-motivated by the lack of opportunities for promotion, and by the frustrations of dealing with a bureaucracy that can seem both excessive and remote.”

The report calls for consolidating reporting to address logjams associated with the current system, where over 100 senior UN officials are directly answerable to the Secretary-General. It also proposes the formal delegation of responsibility for management policies and overall operational matters to a redefined post of Deputy Secretary-General to help free the Secretary-General to focus on political and policy issues. 

The report also proposes significant investment to overhaul the Organization’s information and communications infrastructure by replacing current antiquated, fragmented technology systems with an integrated global platform that should be led by a dedicated Chief Information Technology Officer. 

Separately, the report identifies significant opportunities to realize cost savings and efficiency gains, recommending that the Secretariat explore options for alternative service delivery, including the potential for relocating core functions from Headquarters to lower cost duty stations and possible outsourcing of less central functions such as printing. 

One area where investment could yield substantial savings is procurement, where the report outlines changes that would improve transparency and realize up to $400 million. 

A number of the proposals fall under the direct authority of the Secretary-General, who said he intends to immediately carry them out. But most of the fundamental changes, particularly with regard to budget and personnel issues, require approval from Member States. 

To help ensure momentum for this agenda through the end of his term and to help equip his successor to follow through, the Secretary-General also proposes creating a Change Management Office that would seek to work closely with Member States to drive the implementation of the reforms. 

In the report, Mr. Annan cautions against complacency, stressing that the proposals must mark the beginning of a process that will be carried over the next several years.  “One of the weaknesses of the old culture is precisely the view that a report or a vote in itself represents change,” he notes.  “In practice, reports and votes enable and authorize change, but change itself is the long march that follows.”

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In March, the international community took an important step forward in the fight for global human rights by way of the General Assembly voting to adopt a new Human Rights Council. The new Human Rights Council represents a significant improvement over the old, discredited Human Rights Commission because it includes a number of new provisions and characteristics that will significantly strengthen the UN’s human rights machinery and prevent human rights violators from participating in the Council.

The President of the General Assembly, Jan Eliasson, has done a masterful job of diplomacy, as demonstrated by the broad support that exists among governments and non-governmental organizations.

His proposal was made considerably stronger through pledges by a large number of countries. These recent pledges will help ensure that countries with dubious human rights records will not be elected to the new Council and that countries under Security Council sanctions are prevented from participating in the Council. The new commitments significantly enhance the proposal and set the stage for additional efforts to strengthen the new body as it is formed and made operational. Countries committed to human rights must know that leadership and diplomacy can continue to improve the Council as it gets up and running and into the future. While it is unfortunate that the United States found itself virtually alone in New York and was unable to join the consensus, it is a positive sign that the United States did not abandon the Council altogether.*

Building on these principles, the US should participate actively in the next phase of the Council, exercising leadership and summoning enlightened diplomacy to advance the Council and the cause of human rights. The creation of this new Council—which was mandated by world leaders in last September’s summit at the UN—also fuels the momentum in the ongoing reform process at the UN.

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I have worked for three Secretaries-General and been at post for some 20 years. I am honored to have worked for the House of Peace. As we approach the new era of a new Secretary-General, I say it is time for renewal.

* Editor’s Note: According to the United Nations, the result of the General Assembly resolution on the Human Rights Council was 170 in favor, four against (US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau) and three abstentions (Venezuela, Iran, Belarus).

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