What to look for in the next UNSG

Suzanne Nossel has published her “10 Things to Look for in the Next Secretary General”. (republished verbatim by UNSG). She always does lists of ten, so we will not feel restricted to that genre.

As readers may have noticed, we attempt to offer a different perspective. Here is our list:

  1. An Asian. As many have noted, there are questions about the legitimacy of the “Asian Rotation”. However, that’s not what this is about. This is about China and China asserting its authority. There is a fundamental shift at the UN from a US-France axis to a US-China axis. By asserting an Asian candidate, China is also asserting that the candidate comes from a region in which China has influence. As a corrolary, this means that China will be the arbiter of what it means to be Asian. An Asian could mean a Turkic style Asian (think member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization). An Asian could be a Sinic Asian (think member of ASEAN + 3). An Asian could be a member of “South Asia”. Or it could be an Arab Asian. Or sense is that China would not accept an Aran Asian, which would suggset that the Jordanian Prince or the recently floated Qatari are not viable candidates.
  2. A visionary. The UN is at a crisis point. It does not need a manager (here we differ from Nossel) so much as a leader. When the discussions begin in earnest in September, Doha could well have failed. And Bolton has successfully punted the financing questions into the same timeframe as the UNSG discussion. And there’s still no certain timeframe for Iran. In other words, the Security Council will be considering these questions just as the WTO fails, the UN finances are at the brink, and the UN struggles to deal with a fundamental “peace and security” question. In other words, to quote Tony Blair, the Security Council will be considering these questions when it becomes increasingly clear that, “there is a hopeless mismatch between the global challenges we face and the global institutions to confront them.” A voice that speaks to a new direction here will be extremely powerful.
  3. Someone who is respected by the developing world. The uprising in General Assembly and NAM’s resolution saying that it will only back a NAM national suggest that this election will be about more than picking the next UNSG. The developing world feels left out. The General Assembly is the only place it has any voice. And the failure of the developed world to address their development needs, as they perceive it at least, in Doha will leave the developing world with a hunger for a genuine seat at the table. Given the atmospherics, we expect that the winner will embody a possible solution to the problems faced by the UN and other international institutions. Since the North-South rift is one of the fundamental divisions, the only possible winner is someone who can credibly straddle this divide.
  4. Someone whom the US can work with. As we noted, Bolton has punted the question of US contributions to the UN to fall into the same time frame as the decision process. Does anyone doubt that, in addition to their veto, the US will hold the question of funding over the head of the next UNSG? The only question will be whether Japan and the G13 countries follow suit. Here we disagee with Nossel and we believe that this will go beyong “management” and “reform”.
  5. An Outsider. The problem is that the UN may well not be working any more. New ideas and new modes of operating will be needed. We believe that the UN is closer to a company that needs new blood to manage its struggles than one that promotes from the inside.
  6. A politician. Many SGs have been diplomats. Given the level of crisis and the problems that we are facing, we believe that this is not enough. It will not be enough to shuttle between P5 ambassadors and capitals. The new UNSG must be able to lead the P5. We live in a world in which the pope, Bono, and Osama bin Laden may be the most important international opinion leaders. The new UNSG will have to raise to that level in people’s consciousness to get beyond the problems faced by the institution.
  7. Someone who is pursuing an agenda for the whole world rather than their nation. The Asian rotation has limited to field to a set of candidates. And the senior leadership of Asian countries are looking around thinking, “That could be me!” That is the wrong approach for picking one of the most important leaders in the world. A candidate for the UNSG must be humble and offer their vision and their skills, not merely be a foil for their national glory. We encourage leaders to ask the questions, “Why are you the right man (or woman) for this difficult time?” and “How will you rally support for rebuilding our international institutions?”
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