Thursday, January 26, 2006

Next UNSG: Ashraf Ghani and the Scandinavians

[LATER UPDATE, SEPT 18: Ghani Runs for UNSG and Deserves to Win]

The battle over who will replace Kofi Annan as the next Secretary General of the UN is on: Annan's term expires at the end of the year, and several candidates either have or are perceived to have joined the ranks of contenders for one of the most influential and definitely important posts in the world. Financial Times has an interesting piece on the subject coming out of the World Economic Forum summit in Davos. As FT's people aptly summarize, the next UNSG faces several tough challenges (for further reflection of the general demands for the next UN SG see the next post):
[W]hoever assumes the job will need to push through major institutional reforms as the UN expands its operations around the world, and amid US congressional demands for managerial change following the oil-for-food and other corruption scandals. They will have to perform a delicate dance between great powers, disgruntled middle-income countries and the developing world, and develop new tools to cope with nuclear proliferation, international terrorism, human rights atrocities, persistent poverty, disease and environmental degradation.

The secretary-general is often consumed with trying to balance US objectives, without whose support the UN is impotent, with the rest of the world’s suspicion of US motives. The new secretary-general will also have to deal with a rising China and India. Finally, as Mr Annan has quipped, the SG – as the secretary general is sometimes referred to – often stands for scapegoat. The incumbent needs the mental strength to absorb savage criticism for events sometimes out of his or her control.

While the election procedure is murky, a principle of different parts of the world "taking turns" to "supply" the SG would this time in principle call for an Asian to become the next SG. Among the Asians mentioned, Surakiart Sathirathai who is Thailand's deputy PM looks in the lead so far. Other Asians include the foreign ministers of Korea, Ban Ki-Moon, and Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor.

The most interesting of the Asian lot, however, is probably Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan. Ghani has extensive UN system experience, is a renowned economist, understands both development and security qua his experience as the UN envoy in charge of seeing through the Bonn Agreement over the reconstruction of Afghanistan and its later implementation as the country's minister of finance from 2002-2004. Ghani has the intellectual ability, personal integrity, administrative experience, the necessary understanding of both security and development -- and he is both a top Western University graduate and a citizen of a developing country in many ways embodying the challenges of globalization in terms of the interconnectedness of security and development. Wikipedia has a nicely extensive bio here. Ghani, given that there are no nasty secrets, looks like my favorite.

As the US, through UN ambassador John Bolton, recently expressed that the American position is not primarily to follow the informal rule of taking turns, but that it wants to see the best possible candidate, a round up of the remaining, non-Asian candidates include most prominetly former Polish president Alexander Kwazniewski. Yet, as FT remarks:
It appears unlikely that the winner will come from any of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, although their blessing will be essential. The process of choosing a secretary-general is shrouded in secrecy and has been described as the papal conclave without the smoke. Many diplomats suggest the winning candidate’s name may not yet be in the ring.
The point about P5 members not running would rule out the probably most interesting candidate at all, former US president Clinton. Harper's Magazine's January edition runs an essay on "Why only Bill Clinton can save the U.N." (by Parag Khanna, main title: United they fall), which unfortunately is not online.

But, in keeping with DracObs' navel gazing claim of having a Scandinavian perspective, let's take a quick look at the possible or theoretical Scandinavian candidates (given that the fat lady has not sung yet, and that new contenders may enter the fray up until very late in the contest). The general argument for having a Scandinavian in the lead of the UN is that the Nordic countries have always been the most ardent supporters of the UN and espcially the development agenda, and that they are the most generous in relative development money terms, and even noteworthy in absolute terms. Moreover, the countries tend to represent the soft, positive agenda of the West while still retaining operative credibility with the US in security matters (Denmark more than others). A Scandinavian could then -- and this would certainly please the self-absorbed lot of us -- emerge as a compromise candidate because he or she would be the least disliked.

e theoretical Scandinavian candidates are, in this order, I would say: Carl Bildt (Sweden), Gro Harlem Brundtland (Norway), Poul Nyrup Rasmussen (Denmark), Martti Ahtisaari (Finland). All of them are former PM's or presidents, and all of them have experience in different international settings.

Former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt has a far more impressive international CV than Rasmussen does; he is only 56; has worked for and with both the UN, the Americans and the EU; and that in security related reconstruction subjects all over the Balkan. The security experience, just like his moderate-conservative outlook is probably a boon vis-a-vis the Americans. Unless he keeps some skeletons in the closet he would be my best Scandinavian bet.

Gro Harlem Brundtland is, for several reasons, the most obvious choice. As not only former Norvegian PM but also former leader of the WHO where she shoved competent leadership during her tenure. Rumor has it that the official reason for stepping down as leader of the WHO (she took ill) was in reality also a reaction to the renewal of Annan's contract -- she could be wanting this. Against her speaks her political stance as a pretty left-wing Socialdemocrat, her not always generous stance towards the US, and the fact that she has little security experience.

Former Danish prime minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, an economist, saw through a tight, fairly conservative economic reform in Denmark as head of both government and the Socialdemocratic party in the 1990s, and was partly responsible for creating and sustaining a long-lasting upturn. After stepping down he was elected to the European Parliament where he is president of the Socialist parties grouping at the EP (American readers: read 'socialist' as 'liberal'). Rasmussen, at 62, surely wants more for himself than sitting in the European puppet container for another term. For him speaks also his pragmatism and extremely efficient administrative skills. Against him speaks in principle his political stance, but he is probably much less of a loose cannon than Brundtland would be.

Former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari
had an extensive career with the UN before becoming president in 1994. Question is whether he would want to come back? At 69, though, he is probably to old, and has mostly worked on EU related subjects after stepping down in 2000.

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