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By Micah Halpern

Tuesday September 12, 2006


It's one of the hottest topics under discussion at upper crust dining tables and along international political corridors. It's the question of the next Secretary General of the United Nations. The answer to the question will impact all of us world over - rich nations and poor countries, democratic governments and dictatorial regimes, Western thinkers and non-Western believers.

Try as some countries might, there is no hiding from the United Nations. And the UN Secretary General truly does wield a big stick. And he wields it at his own discretion. And that is why there is such curiosity, such consternation, so much conversation about the successor to Kofi A. Annan.

The burning question is: Will the new Secretary General have a better outlook on the world than the outgoing Secretary General? That is a polite way of really asking: Will the new Secretary General have an outlook similar to ours? And the answer, certainly for Western nations, is most probably not.

Truthfully, why should he? The Secretary General is not supposed to represent only certain nations, only wealthy nations, only powerful nations. The Secretary General is supposed to represent every country's interest. The Secretary General is supposed to have the best interest of the world at heart as he pursues his own diplomatic vision. And that's where the problem lies. His own diplomatic vision. If history is any real compass, one can expect that the new Secretary General will be an advocate for many causes that are not in sync with Western agendas.

Right now, there are four contenders for the position. They are:
Sri Lanka's Jayantha Dhanapala
South Korea's Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon
Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Suthirathai
UN Deputy Secretary General, Shashi Tharoor from India

No, I have not forgotten about Bill Clinton or about Shimon Peres, names that are popping up on many short lists. Either of these men would be excellent for the position, but they are just not contenders, they can't be. They are on wish lists, not real lists. Electing the Secretary General of the United Nations is not a popularity contest, it is a process, there is a pattern that is followed. It is a system that was created to give all nations an equal chance at the gold ring.

According to the charter of the United Nations there is a rotation that determines the region from which the candidates for Secretary General can be selected. That significantly narrows the field. The election takes place every four years and rather than weeding our numerous candidates from around the globe, the choice is limited to candidates from a particular region. It also evens out the power base so that one region does not, cannot, dominate for decades. According to the rotation, the next leader of the United Nations is supposed to be chosen from the Asian group.

A secret ballot is taken in the inner sanctum of the United Nations, in the Security Council. Only after the Security Council selects a candidate from the designated region is that name sent out to be voted upon by the General Assembly.

Now you see why neither Clinton nor Peres could be considered as candidates. Forget the fact that the body of United Nations voting countries would never elect a Western, a pro-Western, a Jewish, an Israeli or a pro-Israel Secretary General in today's international climate. Might there one day be an outside-the-region candidate who somehow sneaks in and is elected, it could happen, but not this time.

There is one dark horse candidate who meets the criteria and who has thrown his hat - or in his particular case, crown - into the ring. He is Prince Said Hussein of Jordan. The New York Times even covered his candidacy so you know it is a serious possibility. But I don't see the Prince of Jordan as a probable contender. I do, however, think that Hussein's bid underscores how unattractive the other candidates look to the West. But his backing by the West will be the reason for his downfall. In reality, Hussein is just like Clinton and Peres in terms of his chances for success in the UN election.

Jordan is seen as way too close to the United States and to Israel. There is no way that the authentic Asian countries would relinquish the power of the position to Jordan. And the Asians are not interested in a person with the same leadership style as the present Secretary General or his predecessor Boutros Boutros-Ghali and that is exactly the style that Hussein represents.

So how will the decision be made?

Before anything else, the Security Council will determine if they want a professional diplomat from the inside, which is the way Annan was elected, or if they want to go with regional power. If the choice is a professional diplomat, the next Secretary General of the United Nations will be Shashi Tharoor. If the Security Council opts for a leader with regional power, the choice is a little wider, but in my estimation, just a wee bit wider.

Actually, I do not think that the Security Council really wants a leader from either South Korea or Thailand. Security Council members, whatever the faults of their individual countries, understand the workings of nations. They know that countries suffering inferiority complexes, in this case Thailand and South Korea, will use the position of power, almost the only power they have ever had to wield, to further their own national agenda. They know that the Secretary General will be blind even to regional agendas let alone the advancement of international issues. And that, in and of itself, is a compelling argument to choose a Secretary General from within, to choose a professional diplomat.

I am certain of one thing. The election of a new Secretary General, no matter who it is, will not change the United Nations. There will be no change in vision, no change in direction. The United Nations was not created for enlightened nations, it was not created for the West. The United Nations is a collection of nations of the world with priorities that are antithetical to Western agenda. Western nations are left to deal with that reality as frustrating as it is.

We of the West tend to look past one of the most significant roles of the UN - to give voice to those nations who have little to no say in what happens to them and in the world. The United Nations was created to empower those countries that oppress their own populations. The United Nations gives credence to countries that inhibit and limit human rights. The United Nations gives a platform to the abusers in their fight against the defenders of justice.

Good luck to whoever wins the position of Secretary General of the United Nations. But when it comes to the United Nations, you should never get your hopes up.

4 June 2017 12:14 PM in Columns

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