What the next UNSG needs to focus on

Last week, for the first time in history of the United Nations all member states got a chance to ask questions to candidates for UN Secretary-General, in a move designed to make the usually secretive selection process for the world’s top diplomatic post more transparent.

Last week, for the first time in history of the United Nations all member states got a chance to ask questions to candidates for UN Secretary-General, in a move designed to make the usually secretive selection process for the world’s top diplomatic post more transparent.

Ordinarily, the process for nominating a candidate would be in the hands of the P-5 (veto powers) in a secretive way. They are US, France, Russia, United Kingdom and China.


The P-5 would focus attention on the popularity of candidates with the General Assembly, and the winner could still be selected by Security Council in order to be formally recommended for election by the 193-member General Assembly.


However, the General Assembly vote has long been seen as a rubberstamp because the UN Security Council has the upper hand. This has been a practice for the last seven decades since the establishment of the United Nations.


Just from Tuesday through Thursday (last week), candidates fielded a series of questions from members of the General Assembly. So far, there are eight candidates vying to take over from Ban Ki-moon: half of them are women: UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova of Bulgaria; former Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic; Moldova’s former Foreign Minister Natalia Gherman; and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, who heads the UN Development Programme.

The men are: former Macedonian Foreign Minister Srgjan Kerim; Montenegro Foreign Minister Igor Luksic; former Slovenian President Danilo Turk; and former UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.

For the first time in the history of the UN a big number of women has submitted their candidatures for the UN’s supremo job. Ever since the creation of the UN, no woman has had a change to take up this prominent position.

Actually, this is one of the world’s most high-profile jobs—hence one of the most coveted jobs. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a South Korean, ends his tenure later this year.

In my view, it doesn’t matter, whoever is elected, but he/she needs to have the right mix of proven experience of realities and challenges of developing countries. Most precisely, the incoming Secretary-General needs to prioritise the reform of the UN Security Council. Today, UN needs a new set of tools to face modern peace and security.

At any rate, no change of the status quo unless the next S.G adds fresh impetus to the reform that has long been recommended. Unfortunately, all previous efforts to reform have been unsuccessful.

The P-5 have persistently resisted the amendment of the UN Charter to bar bringing on board other members.

This seems like a monopolistic business designed, presumably, to serve the self-interests of permanent members.

I tend to liken veto powers to a person possessing an ‘exclusive key’ to a room that can never be shared or fabricated by anyone else. That being said, no one else can have access to the key unless the person who possesses it decides to open for anyone he/she wants.

If the veto powers decide not to allow any other members on board—through wielding veto—no possibility of circumventing the UN Charter. Any amendment of the UN Charter, as set forth in Article 108 of the Charter, requires a vote of Two-Thirds of the members of the General Assembly, including all the permanent members of the Security Council.

As well known, the P-5, especially the USA, can use their hard lobbying tactics to persuade, or through vote-buying, some of the developing countries to vote against any move to bring on board other members to the P-5.

The Security Council’s checkered record of successes and setbacks gave rise to divergent questions regarding its effectiveness and legitimacy. Conventional critiques have identified either the Council’s insufficient power or inadequate representativeness as the source of its problem and generally have recommended enlargement of the Council’s permanent membership as the solution.

Arguably, the Council lacks power sufficient to fulfill its duty of maintaining international peace and security. For example, it has failed to resolve the crisis in Burundi, the Syrian war (which has become a dead-end), and the tension between Ukraine and Russia over the self-declared Donatsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.

More precisely, UNSC has two major problems: first, it is unrepresentative and lacking in geographic diversity.

Second, the veto powers enjoyed by the P-5 members creates a collective action problem in which the Council can only act effectively to address threats when the action would not threaten the interests of any of the permanent members.

The UN Charter, which was signed in 1945 in the shadow of the devastation of Second World War, has been amended three times but only with respect to membership rather than its substantive purposes. It is no longer reflective of the contemporary realties.

Thus, the next Secretary General needs to support two things in the reform of the Security Council: first, to increase the Council’s representativeness, especially of the developing world (Africa, South America and Asia).

Second, to ensure that it doesn’t impair its effectiveness.

The Council must modernise itself to remain relevant.

The writer is an international law expert.

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