Wanted: a mighty manager

Qualifications:

 Political sensitivity is a must, especially with regard to the USA, China, the UK, France and Russia. No-one who has offended any of these countries need apply.

 Financial integrity is also key. Due to a recent embarrassment involving at least $1.8 billion (and probably a great deal more), we are especially vulnerable to claims of financial incompetence or, worse, corruption. People with family members who want to do business with the organisation should not apply.

 A commitment to the rule of law is essential. Another recent embarrassment involved the investigation of a high-profile murder. The incumbent promised there would be no cover up, and then engaged in a ham-fisted attempt at cover up.

Availability: the position does not officially become vacant for another year, but in light of the embarrassments mentioned above anyone available immediately would be viewed with particular favour.

Nationality: no formal restrictions, but convention rules out citizens of the USA, China, the UK, France and Russia. In particular, anyone with a spouse seeking to become head of government in one of the above countries would have to be rejected, qualifications notwithstanding.

Salaries and expenses are generous, and perks include immunity from prosecution while in office, but anyone seeking to take advantage of the latter point should note the high profile of this position will lead to constant media investigation and pressure for prosecutions when the term of office is over.


Would an advert such as the one above produce a slew of responses? The challenges are considerable and the solutions sparse, but there is unlikely to be a shortage of applicants.

No doubt the Security Council will want to avoid the acrimonious debates of 1981, when the majority of members wished to reappoint Kurt Waldheim to a third term but China and a number of developing countries were promoting the candidacy of Tanzania’s Salim A Salim. China repeatedly vetoed Waldheim and the US was not prepared to accept Salim. Eventually both withdrew and Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru secured the role. Ironically, the US was Waldheim’s strongest supporter throughout the controversy, but subsequently barred him from entering the country, even during his term as President of Austria, after serious questions were raised about his role in the Wehrmacht during World War II.

To confront credibly the huge damage inflicted on the UN by the mismanagement of the oil for food programme and the attempt to suppress parts of the Mehlis report into the murder of Rafik Hariri, the next Secretary General will have to be someone from outside the UN bureaucracy. This should not be a problem. No Secretary General prior to Kofi Anann was an internal candidate.

More problematically, a credible candidate will need to have a political record untarnished by corruption. This makes it difficult to defend appointing any politician from a country scoring less than around five out of ten on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). Henceforth, Langley’s Law.

Asian countries contend that it is their turn, as no Asian has held the role since U Thant of Burma, whose term ended in 1971. Certainly if there is to be an informal rotation by region, Asia has a strong case. Europe, Latin America, Arabia and sub-Saharan Africa have each had a turn since then. But, of course, it depends how you define your regions. There has never been a Secretary General from North America, though Canada’s Lester Pearson was once a candidate – vetoed by the Soviet Union – and Mexico could reasonably claim to be of a different region to Peru. There has never been a Secretary General from Oceania nor from Eastern Europe – though considered as a whole Europe has had pretty fair crack at the job, dominating both the 1950s and the 1970s.

Among the Permanent Five, Russia and China have both declared that they consider it Asia’s turn and the US has rejected the notion of regional rotation and invited candidates from all regions to put their names forward. Thailand and Sri Lanka have both formally nominated candidates. Jayantha Dhanapala, a diplomat, is the Sri Lankan candidate while Thailand is supporting its Deputy Prime Minister, Surakiart Sathirathai. Unfortunately Thailand at 3.8 on Transparency’s CPI and Sri Lanka at 3.2 both fall foul of Langley’s Law, above.

Unfortunately for those who claim it is Asia’s turn, Langley’s Law is very demanding. Only a handful of Asian states qualify, and several of them – Israel and Taiwan, for example – are inconceivable for other reasons.

It is not merely citizens of Permanent Five countries that need not apply. All Secretaries General so far have come from medium sized powers. It is difficult to imagine Indian or Japanese candidates surviving a Chinese veto.

If Oceania is deemed to have a turn, then Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer might be considered a candidate – for about as long as it takes Jacques Chirac to say “veto”. The prospect of an Anglophone free-marketeer from the country with the third largest contingent of troops in Iraq is not one the French government could possibly stomach.

But Chirac cannot use his veto – or the threat of it – too widely for fear of American retaliation. If, for example, France threatened to veto any candidate from a country which supports the Coalition in Iraq it could provoke an American response to veto anyone from outside the Coalition, and thereby create an impasse similar to those of 1950 and 1981.

Probably, all countries will avoid proposing deliberately provocative candidates such as Downer or former German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, who would be utterly unacceptable in Washington.

Aleksander Kwasniewski, former President of Poland, has been mentioned as a candidate. While probably more acceptable to the White House than to the Elysée, he is nonetheless European and not an Anglophone, which could make him an acceptable compromise, however, he fails to meet the requirements of Langley’s Law (Polish CPI: 3.4).

If we assume that a candidate can either be a supporter of Anglo-Saxon free markets or a supporter of Iraqi liberation, but cannot be both or neither, then former Director General of the WTO, Peter Sutherland, who is Irish, would seem to be a possible candidate.

Entirely untainted by allegations of corruption Sutherland served with some distinction as Ireland’s Attorney General and as European Competition Commissioner – where he earned the remarkable distinction of gaining respect from both Margaret Thatcher and Jacques Delors – before becoming the WTO’s first DG. Since returning to the private sector he has been Chairman of BP and of Goldman Sachs International. Only this year he was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador by the UN Industrial Development Organisation. If his résumé sounds suspiciously Anglo-Saxon – an epithet which can make Celts everywhere bristle with indignation – it should be recalled that Ireland has been consistently hostile to any hint of an assertive foreign policy, strongly opposing both Gulf wars and the American bombing of Libya.

Sutherland’s compatriot, Mary Robinson, is a former UN Commissioner for Human Rights as well as a former President of Ireland, but a candidate so hostile to US foreign policy is inconceivable. Could the UN accept a woman? When visiting Arab countries in the 1970s and 80s Queen Elizabeth II had to be declared an ‘honorary man’ to be allowed to set foot in some buildings. But Arabs have become accustomed to women visitors in political as well as ceremonial roles – Margaret Thatcher, Madeleine Albright and Condoleeza Rice are hardly figures to be snubbed.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigerian Finance Minister since 2003 is one of the most prominent women politicians in developing countries, but would be the third African in a row if appointed, and Nigeria has a depth of corruption that is difficult to ignore. Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma would carry international support, but it is impossible to imagine the Burmese government allowing her to leave the country, if it was to take up such a high profile role abroad. Having held no government post in Burma, she is not covered by Langley’s Law. The decisive factor, however, is that her husband is a scholar of Tibetan culture, something sure to earn her a Chinese veto.

Benazir Bhutto has been tainted by allegations of corruption, and her appointment would simultaneously offend India and Pakistan. Given Pakistan’s role in the War on Terror that is not something the Bush administration could tolerate.

Prominent businesswomen such as Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman would earn vetoes from Russia, China and France, for the ultimate sin of being American.

Kim Campbell – Canadian Prime Minister in 1993, and before that her country’s defence minister – did not hold the highest office long enough to offend anyone, except perhaps the Canadian electorate who ejected her from power after just four months.

The requirement that any candidate should have broad support while not earning a veto from any of the P5, means the Security Council will end up nominating a low-profile candidate from a medium-sized country, so probably not someone any of the commentators has even considered.

Copyright (c) Quentin Langley 05 May 2006

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