United Nations: Discord Expected Over Kofi Annan's Successor

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in São Paulo, Brazil. (Photo: Rose Brasil - Abr)

The search for a successor to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan promises to create differences within the U.N. Security Council. Russia and China back the customary procedure of rotating the post among the world's regions, while the U.S. and Britain are questioning the need to do so.

Annan will step down from his position as secretary-general when his second five-year term ends on Dec. 31.

Since the United Nations was established in Oct. 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). 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 U.N. Development Program; Surakiart Sathirathai, Thailand's deputy prime minister; Shashi Tharoor, India, U.N. undersecretary-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, served as U.N. undersecretary 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 U.N. The list is not exhaustive and the selection of a dark-horse candidate cannot be discounted.

Calls For a Woman as Secretary-General

The London Times (Jan. 4) reported, "Since 1945, the world's top diplomatic job has been held by three Europeans, two Africans, one Latin American, but no women. Kofi Annan is due to step down as U.N. secretary-general at the end of the year, or even earlier, and women's groups have begun lobbying for a woman to succeed him. Their campaign has taken on new urgency with the recent announcement that Mr. Annan's deputy, Louise Fréchette, appointed in 1998 partly because she was a woman, will leave in April to return to her native Canada. 'Starting with the Charter of the U.N., it has always been among their goals to reach gender parity,' Taina Bien-Aime of the women's rights group Equality Now, which is leading the effort, said."

According to Thailand's Asian Tribune (Feb. 23): "While there has been no woman appointed as the secretary-general since the inception of the U.N., there has been no one from Eastern Europe either. It is on that basis that the names of two former presidents from Eastern Europe, Vaira Vike-Freiberga from Latvia (woman) and Aleksander Kwasniewski (Poland), were strongly suggested. While both were considered extremely capable, Vike-Freiberga had another advantage being a woman. Nevertheless, Russia naturally had strong opposition to have someone from her former 'vassal states;' China expressing displeasure over a candidate coming from outside the Asian region."

Selection Based on Merit, Not Geography?

The BBC (Feb. 14) reported, "Analysts say there is much support for an Asian leader among U.N. member states, in line with an informal tradition that rotates the role on a geographical basis. But Washington's U.N. ambassador John Bolton said last month that Kofi Annan's successor should be selected on merit alone."

The Asian Tribune (Feb. 19) elaborated on Bolton's disagreement with the tradition: "The United States Ambassador for the United Nations John Bolton is well aware that so far the announced candidates for the U.N. secretary-general position are all from the Asian region and that three permanent members out of five in the Security Council have already declared that it is Asia's turn to lead the United Nations. The United States disagrees with them. Instead, Ambassador Bolton has started laying down guidelines as to who should be the next secretary-general when the incumbent Kofi Annan completes his term at the end of this year. Bolton does not agree that the post should rotate by geographic region, but Asian and African nations, who represent the majority of the 191 U.N. member states, believe it is Asia's turn this time."

Australia's The Advertiser (Feb. 18) reported along the same lines: "Mr. Bolton reiterated strong U.S. opposition to the principle of geographic rotation, a view backed by Britain."

According to The London Times (Jan. 4), "Britain and the U.S. are skeptical of a 'buggins's turn' system that would award the job to an Asian simply because of geographical rotation. Both powers hold a veto on the selection through their permanent membership of the 15-nation Security Council. But it is unlikely that the two allies can muster the votes to block a qualified Asian winning in the 191-member General Assembly, which must confirm the Security Council 's choice."

The Irish Examiner (Feb. 18) reported, "Britain is thought to favor a European candidate. Former Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski is heavily touted while Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and British leader Tony Blair have also been mentioned."

China Backs an Asian Candidate

On May 31, 2005 Pakistan's Dawn reported, "China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, recently announced its intention to back an Asian candidate for the job but didn't name names. Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar said last week that China has expressed its 'possible willingness' to support former U.N. undersecretary-general for Disarmament Affairs Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka. 'China has written to us saying that our candidate will be seriously considered,' he said. Asia has not had a secretary-general for nearly 34 years, since Burma's U Thant. But Eastern Europeans with covert backing from the United States appear poised to challenge Asian claims to the job. U.S. President George W. Bush 'might prefer Annan's replacement to come from a region seen as more sympathetic to U.S. interests: Eastern Europe,' according to Newsweek magazine."

Iran Daily (Nov. 22, 2005) announced: "China wants an Asian to succeed Kofi Annan as U.N. secretary-general when his term runs out next year. Declared candidates to date include Thai Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, currently visiting Beijing, and Sri Lankan peace negotiator Jayantha Dhanapala. 'Asian people haven't taken the important post for 34 years and Asia is the most populous continent,' foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told a news conference, referring to U Thant of Burma, now Myanmar, who served from 1961 until 1971."

India's Zee News (Feb. 9) reported that the Chinese government felt that, "An Asian could assume the position of the next U.N. Secretary General if nations in the region reach a 'consensus' through 'friendly consultations' on the candidature.

According to Radio Australia (Feb. 28) a prominent diplomat has expressed a dissenting opinion on an Asian taking the reigns at the U.N.: "Australia's ambassador at the U.N. over the past four years believes that Asia's candidates for the position are 'not traveling well,' as he diplomatically puts it. John Dauth says that despite the so-called 'rotation principle,' questions about the quality of some of the candidates could see the secretary-general's position slip from Asia's grasp."

Proposed Selection Process Changes

Radio Free Europe (Feb. 21) had this to report about the selection process: "there is an unwritten agreement that the secretary-general will not be a national of any of the five veto-holding permanent members of the council — China, France, Russia, Great Britain, and the United States. So far, this informal rule has held. And some U.N. diplomats express regret behind the scenes that because of it, former U.S. President Bill Clinton probably is not eligible to head the world body."

On Feb. 15 the Canadian Permanent Mission to the U.N. suggested that the process should become more 'open,' in an informal proposal: "The existing selection process for the post of secretary-general of the United Nations has produced several distinguished secretaries-general. But the lack of transparency and inclusiveness of the exercise has become increasingly noticeable, and the U.N. process compares poorly with the practices of some other international organizations … At a time when member states are discussing the reform and renewal of so many aspects of the U.N., it seems entirely appropriate that we should critically examine the way in which we choose the person who will serve as the organization's leader."

The Angola Press (Feb. 16), reporting on the Canadian proposal to reform the selection process, informed: "No list of qualifications is agreed, no formal screening takes place, and the U.N. membership is asked to declare itself on the nominated candidate without the benefit of relevant information or even informal consultations. The candidate's vision for the U.N.'s future and program of action for the U.N. Secretariat remain unexamined, and there is no established way for the member states to develop a sense of the candidate's skills in key areas like communication and political leadership."

The Canadian proposal further suggested that: "roundtables or public briefings be organized in the next few months to allow candidates to introduce themselves to U.N. member states and explain their vision on the U.N. post and the U.N. role in the years ahead."

According to Thailand's MCOT news agency (Feb. 16), heads of state have become personally involved in politicking for the U.N. secretary-general position: "Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra revealed that he would personally seek a support from French President Jacques Chirac, who is due to pay a state visit to Thailand, for Deputy Prime Minister Surakiate Sathirathai's bid for the next United Nation's secretary-general."

Professor Laksiri Fernando, writing in the Asian Tribune (Feb. 23) said, "To make the long story short, what is required at the moment is a capable secretary-general for an effective U.N. A comprehensive reform of the U.N. is underway. It might not come in one stroke given power politics at the highest levels. It can go in a few stages without dragging on for too long. The role of the U.N. is quite crucial in the coming few years in issues such as nuclear non-proliferation, anti-terrorism, environmental protection, human rights, conflict resolution and in strengthening democracy. The new secretary-general could be someone in-between, who comes with supple political and managerial skills and paves the way for a strong managerial office. By the time he or she leaves, the U.N. should be different."