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UN Secretary General Candidates and Globalization

September 29, 2006


The United Nations is in the process of selecting a successor to Secretary General Kofi Anan. Seven candidates are currently vying for that position: South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon (the current front runner); UN Under Secretary General for Communications and Public Information Shashi Tharoor; Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga; former Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani; Thailand’s deputy prime minister Surakiart Sathirathai; Jordan’s UN ambassador Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein; and former UN Under Secretary General for Disarmament Jayantha Dhanapala. I was interested when the New York Times published remarks by all but two of these candidates (Ban — who might not have responded because he is the front runner — and Sathirathai — who is probably fully engaged dealing with Thailand’s coup). [“Why I Should Run the UN,” 28 Sep 2006] The paper asked them to discuss two issues: “First, we asked them to discuss an avoidable mistake the United Nations had made within the last five years. Second, we asked them what major reform they would undertake as secretary general.”

Their responses were interesting and touched on many of the points I have addressed when writing about our Development-in-a-Box approach. Jayantha Dhanapala, for example, selected the situation in Darfur, Sudan, as the most glaring mistake the UN has made in recent years. His remedy:

We need a swiftly deployable humanitarian disaster management team, made up of experts from different disciplines supplied by member states. Members that have advanced satellite reconnaissance technology could provide early warning of disasters, both natural and manmade. And a small, robust force of rapidly deployable troops, with clear rules of engagement approved by the Security Council, would be necessary to protect humanitarian workers from attack or abduction.

Dhanapala touches on three points I’ve made before. First, resilient organizations need to be able to connect the dots. That is what his early warning system requires. Second, the approach needs to be holistic, which is what I believe he means when he writes about “experts from different disciplines.” Finally, all progress starts with security — something he believes a rapid response force good provide. Dhanapala closed his remarks by reminding readers of “the United Nations’ founding mandate: to eliminate “the scourge of war” and ensure human rights, the rule of law and economic and social advancement.”

Zeid Al-Hussein began his remarks by reminding readers about the security environment that will face the new Secretary General:

The United Nations faces a daunting range of challenges in the 21st century: promoting development without fostering dependency; combating climate change without reducing growth; defending human rights without insisting on one true path. But in the past five years, a specter has risen, casting a shadow across the world: the specter of extremism, instability and injustice gripping the Middle East.

Hussein, like Dhanapala, underscores the importance of stability (which implies security) for achieving development and growth. He also noted the importance of organizational effectiveness and the importance of globalization for helping bring countries out of poverty.

The United Nations must also be effective. It should draw on the remarkable success of those societies — not least in Asia — that have seized on the promise of globalization to renew themselves. Like them, the United Nations must have the courage to discard the old and embrace the new in the name of progress.

Ashraf Ghani singled out the UN’s organizational flaws that permit fraud and mismanagement as the greatest issue facing that institution.

In his March report on reform, Secretary General Kofi Annan said that the United Nations “lacks the capacity, controls, flexibility, robustness and indeed transparency to handle multibillion-dollar global operations.” Describing the organizational culture as “damaged,” he acknowledges that a recent audit points “to both mismanagement and possible fraud” in peacekeeping operations. He concludes that reform efforts have addressed the “symptoms and not the causes of our underlying weaknesses.” These internal problems have undermined the moral authority and effectiveness of the United Nations, which ought to be the trusted global forum for reaching consensus and taking action on vital challenges. This loss is most directly felt in the poorest countries of the world. Yet distrust among member nations has slowed the momentum of reform. The United Nations should foster global stability by investing in effective states and legitimate institutions. But doing so requires us to renew an organization designed for a different era.

What Ghani is really saying is that the UN is not a resilient enterprise. A resilient enterprise adopts approaches and systems that successfully address issues like capacity, controls, flexibility, robustness, and transparency. If he gets selected, maybe I should contact him about Enterra’s services!

Vaira Vike-Freiberga, who fled to Canada with her family in the face of Soviet aggression, talks about the importance of helping vulnerable and displaced populations. She also stresses the importance of development.

Just as significant, if not more so for the long-term sustainable development of our planet, are the Millennium Development Goals. Progress toward the goals is still unacceptably slow. The statistics on infant mortality and maternal health, among others, remain particularly distressing. Unless we make better progress, the vicious circle of poverty, social strife and military conflict will require us to devote ever more resources to peacekeeping and humanitarian aid. At the same time, we should pursue intercultural and interreligious dialogue in order to find creative new ways to address the growing threats posed by terrorism, intolerance and religious violence.

She too stresses the need to make the UN a resilient enterprise:

To achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and to make the United Nations more effective both in its administration and in the field, we need to streamline its management, making it more accountable and transparent. If we eliminate unnecessary duplications, we can better finance our education, social and economic development efforts.

Shashi Tharoor, who cut his teeth in the UN in the Department of Peacekeeping, singled out Timor as one place where the UN had made errors. He then talks about the need for international commitment to shrink the Gap.

Few would deny that nation-building is a long and arduous task. But just how much international assistance is enough? And how do we keep conflicts from reigniting when peacekeepers leave? The organizational change I’d emphasize is one that’s just occurring: the establishment of a Peacebuilding Commission, a body charged with managing the transition from keeping a peace to building a stable society. We need to ensure that the commission becomes effective, pulling together Security Council members, troop contributors and development agencies to help bolster the economies and democratic institutions of countries emerging from conflict. To make peace truly sustainable, I would also involve our new Democracy Fund. If the United Nations can act to support democratic forces in post-conflict societies, we will help fulfill the founding ideals of our charter while preventing the horrible waste of lives, effort and money that occurs when peace, once established, proves too fragile to last.

Tharoor singles out the critical turning point where Development-in-a-Box™ can be the most effective — the transition between conflict and stability. The challenges that face the UN are not all that different than the challenges that face most organizations. The principles and processes that will help the UN become more resilient are the same principles and processes that can help any organization become more resilient.

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