View Full Version : Nominating an Arab for the Post of UN Secretary-General

29 Aug 06,, 11:09
Nominating an Arab for the Post of UN Secretary-General
V. Balaji Venkatachalam, Arab News —

DUBAI, 28 June 2006 — “Can an Arab be the next UN secretary-general?” This question could truly be a great reality TV show, even giving a run for “Superstar” (the Arab version of “American Idol”). In fact this issue has all the spice of an Indian curry and all the ingredients of a Korean kimchi to grab international headlines in the coming month.

After the Iraq war, the Arab public has viewed the United Nation as an organization which is powerless and lacks the will and muscle to control world affairs in general and the interests of Arab states in particular. Given this scenario, the nomination of an Arab for the post of UN secretary-general can send the right message to the Arab region. This can also herald a paradigm shift in the way Arab states envisage their role in multilateral institutions.

Kofi Annan’s term is ending on Dec. 31, and a handful of aspirants are already hard at work, advertising their qualifications at international summits and appealing for backing from Washington and other Security Council members. Traditionally, the selection of the UN secretary-general has been by a regional rotation, and in theory its Asia’s turn. Thus most of the candidates who have officially and unofficially put their hat in the ring are from that region. But apparently the Eastern European group, not an official UN region, has noted that no one from their region has held the UN’s top post. This scenario, for the time being, is not foreseeable as it goes against Moscow’s interests.

The odds of an Asian becoming UN secretary-general are very high because an Asian has not held the job since 1971, when U Thant of Burma completed a 10-year term. Moscow and Beijing agree on this, but Washington opposes the concept of regional rotation and has urged aspirants from around the world to compete.

Typically, the selection of the UN secretary-general is clouded in secrecy, similar to the election of the Pope. A bunch of potential names are floated around for a couple of months, the Security Council goes into closed session, and a new secretary-general appears. The labyrinthine and secretive process of selecting a replacement for UN secretary-general is the same as that used in selecting the Pope.

No permanent member of the Security Council may occupy this position — so no Americans, Russians, Chinese, English or French have ever made it to the post. A woman has likewise never held the post. The fundamental prerequisite is that some of the permanent members like the candidate and that the others at least do not dislike the candidate.

One permanent member that will play a decisive role in terms of the next UN secretary-general selection will be China. Its growth as a regional power, as well as on the global stage, has coincided nicely with the clamor for Asia’s “turn” at the helm of the UN, thus a successful nominee has to earn the support of both Beijing and Washington.

Whoever takes charge of the UN, he or she will come into an organization in crisis and evolution. It’s a job with few perks and all the blame. A serious crisis is emerging in the UN. There is a problem between member states who are lobbing accusations at each other over the organization’s governance, reforms and funding. Unresolved, these deep and growing differences could have a profound and protracted impact on security, development, humanitarian relief and international cooperation, which in turn will affect many member states.

The UN currently maintains the world’s second-largest standing army, operating 18 peacekeeping missions and three political missions in some of the world’s most hostile environments. Every year, UN agencies raise more than $2 billion to help respond to devastating natural and humanitarian disasters. Working in conjunction with NGOs and other major aid organizations, the UN leads global efforts to provide rapid and essential life-saving assistance in the aftermath of disasters. Unless a good leader is provided to the UN to help reconcile differences between member states through respectful diplomacy and compromise, there is a risk of disruption in the work of UN and a serious breach in international relations affecting many member states.

There have been many candidates in the frays, from all corners of Asia. But the main qualities that will be important are that he or she should be both a distinguished leader and a proven charismatic manager with a vision, and last but not the least one who can deal with Washington.

The person should be able to respect and understand the multi-polarity of the world. One of the important tasks will be to bridge the growing divide between Washington and much of the world and help Washington understand the UN’s mission.

To date, three governments have officially declared candidates: Sri Lanka named diplomat Jayantha Dhanapala, Thailand named Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, and recently India named Shashi Tharoor, Undersecretary-General for Communications and Public Information. But the Tharoor race caused surprise and consternation in Bangkok where the Thai government had apparently taken for certain India’s support for its candidate. Thailand is still confident that Surakiart will come out on top, since India might not win support from Beijing, while Washington might not reverse its position that it would not back any candidate from within the UN. There were similar debates in the Colombo and Seoul camps regarding the prospects of their candidates, Jayanta Dhanapala and Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, respectively.

Given that the Iraq fiasco and the Middle East conflict are taking a large chunk of time and resources of the UN, it would not be a bad idea if Arab states put forth their own candidate. The Arab world has a serious image problem. Its global role is often interpreted too narrowly through the lens of energy supply, while in reality many states in the region have major positive contributions to make to global affairs. This raises two questions: First, are Arab states doing enough with their influence and resources to advance global issues such as poverty reduction, economic development and conflict resolution? Second, what are the political, economic or cultural factors preventing Arab states from enhancing their involvement in multilateral institutions?

With so much cash coming into the treasury, oil-rich Arab states are becoming top donors to UN agencies. On a per-capita basis, they’re now among the world’s most generous, bankrolling relief efforts for the victims of Asian earthquakes, African famines and American hurricanes.

Already this year, Saudi Arabia’s $15 million in donations to the UN World Food Program (WFP) have surpassed those from France and Australia and sit just under Japan’s donations of $17 million. This trend is greatly noticed in the corridors of UN. Now, Arab states are making their fundraising capabilities available to major aid groups including the UN. This clearly indicates a marked shift in the perception that aid isn’t just a Western enterprise. More than 40 percent of the relief for the last year’s Pakistan earthquake victims came from Arab states.

Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE were also among the first responders to last month’s Indonesian earthquake. Last summer, when Hurricane Katrina destroyed America’s Gulf coast, Arab states responded with startling largesse. The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and tiny Qatar donated $100 million each. Even the small Arab state, Bahrain contributed $5 million.

The election of Haya Rashed Al-Khalifa, as president of the 61st General Assembly session in June was a great achievement, sadly unnoticed by many regional media. She becomes only the third woman who will hold that post and the first one elected since 1969. The election of Haya can also bring another Arab candidate in the reckoning for UN secretary-general. Jordan’s Prince Zeid has been a dark horse for months, and has a greater chance of being supported by both Beijing and Washington.

Though there have been years when the heads of the two highest bodies came from the same regional group, Haya’s and Zeid’s high level of resemblance (moderate, Muslim and Arab) can make a good combination.

By nominating a candidate for UN secretary-general from this part of the region, Arab states will be given the right platform from which to make a jump start in global affairs and enable them to better put forth their views.

29 Aug 06,, 11:10
Does it matter actually? An Arab or an Indian or an ASEAN?

Will giving Arabs an oppurtunity to head the UN help them understand the world order better,the values of democracy and better governance.

29 Aug 06,, 11:33
Does it matter actually? An Arab or an Indian or an ASEAN?

Will giving Arabs an oppurtunity to head the UN help them understand the world order better,the values of democracy and better governance.

No, I think they would manage to fudge that up royally too. In the end it would turn into an even greater tool for the arabs to smear the Israeli image...

29 Aug 06,, 12:31
Can an Arab be the next UN secretary-general?”


29 Aug 06,, 14:05
If the UN were allowed to be truly egalitarian then the ethnicity of the canididate would be totally irellevent. Gender and religion should be out as well, its about who's best for the job.
And in all honesty it might make some Arabic people trust the UN a little more, but in my experience a lot of Arabic people don't trust eachother (Syrians and Egyptians for example) so I don't really see it changing much. And then there's the whole "not all Arabs are the same religion" thing that everyone forgets/ignores/never knew about in the first place.

29 Aug 06,, 16:17
It should go to a smart, practical who is more interested in what's actually going on than politics or theory. Like that's going to happen. We'll probably get someone more corrupt, incompetent, or naive than Kofi.

30 Aug 06,, 08:21
wow not a single post supporting the idea

30 Aug 06,, 11:11
Neither the US nor Europe will take the risk.

Islam is always paramount in their mind as the first and foremost issue and then comes other niceties.

02 Sep 06,, 13:01
Boutros Boutros-Ghali......


02 Sep 06,, 16:03
Lord Balaji aka MahaVishnu will not forgive this decrepit soul of balaji venkatachalam for indulging in and propagating half baked illicit ideas.

02 Sep 06,, 17:33
just make me the UN secretary general... and i'll make sure everyone goes home happy... ;)

02 Sep 06,, 18:27
wow not a single post supporting the idea
Just get Kofi out.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali......

Beat me. :(

03 Sep 06,, 04:51
No, I think they would manage to fudge that up royally too. In the end it would turn into an even greater tool for the arabs to smear the Israeli image...

well said!