Friday,24 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1312, (22-28 September 2016)
Friday,24 November, 2017
Issue 1312, (22-28 September 2016)

Ahram Weekly

The new UN secretary-general: Which model?

In the history of the top job at the UN, there have been administrators and leaders. Which will the new UN secretary-general be, asksAl-Sayed Amin Shalaby

Al-Ahram Weekly

The search is ongoing to select a new UN secretary- general to succeed Ban Ki-Moon. This article will not discuss the nationality of the new secretary-general or the region he or she represents, rather the issue of personal integrity, the willing to defend his or her and the UN organisation’s independence, and the ability to introduce a vision and initiatives to develop the role and performance of the UN organisation. In this respect, one can recall two former secretary-generals who were close to those characteristics: Dag Hammarskjold (1953-1960) and Boutros Boutros Ghali (1991-1996).

From his first day in office, Hammarskjold committed himself to defend the independence of the UN organisation. He opposed US attempts to insert in the UN Secretariat personnel from US intelligence. His real battles to defend the UN Charter were when he opposed the aggression of two major powers, Britain and France, against a member state — Egypt. He even threatened to resign if the aggression did not retreat. The crisis gave Hammarskjold the chance to show his creativity in designing new mechanisms to develop the role and performance of the UN. Together with Canadian Minister for Foreign Affairs Lester Pearson, they created the concept of “UN peacekeeping forces” as an instrument to end the crisis. Today, the UN peacekeeping force is one of the main UN tools in addressing regional conflicts.

Hammarskjold was rightly called, “the man of the newly independent countries”. The Congo crisis proved that. He indulged in the complications of the crisis; he opposed the interference of the Soviet Union, a major power at that time, which led Moscow to demand he be removed from his job, a demand the UN General Assembly unanimously rejected. The tragic death of Hammarskjold in Congo was historic proof his commitment to his job.

If Dag Hammarskjold was elected at the beginning of the Cold War, Boutros Boutros Ghali came at its end, where the US emerged as the sole superpower.

The US was reluctant to elect Boutros Ghali on the assumption that he would “politicise” the job. Washington wanted a secretary-general in the form of a senior official to “administrate” the UN. But the US succumbed to the pressure of French President Chirac, who wanted a Francophone in the job. The African countries nominated Boutros Ghali and in his performance as secretary-general I believe he was inspired by Dag Hammarskjold. Years before his election, when introducing him my book, Dag Hammarskjold: His life and thought, he said: “You wrote on the greatest secretary-general in the history of the UN.” Like Hammarskjold, Boutros Ghali was determined on his and the organisation’s independence. This was clear when he refused US permanent representative Madeleine Albright’s demand to not publish the UN report on the Qana massacre that condemned Israel. This was the moment when Albright decided — and convinced the US administration — that Boutros Ghali should not serve a second term as secretary-general.

Boutros Ghali was not just an administrator but, as did Hammarskjold, provided vision and ideas to develop the UN role and performance. He built on and developed Hammarskjold’s concept of UN peacekeeping in his “Agenda for Peace”. He invented the concept of “preventive diplomacy” to try to contain conflicts and prevent their escalation. He also invented the concept of “peace building”, to root peace after the end of a conflict. In his time, UN peacekeeping forces engaged in 14 conflicts in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Two major issues occupied Boutros Ghali as secretary-general: development and democracy. He issued an “Agenda for Democracy” and an “Agenda for Development”.  On democracy, he argued that as we demand democracy in every country we must work for democracy in international relations.

When Boutros Ghali left his job, some UN veteran experts blamed him, saying he did not recognise the transformation that had occurred in the international order when he opposed the power at its top. I don’t believe that Boutros Ghali — a renowned professor of international relations — does not recognise the new international order. Rather, he was determined to defend his and the UN’s independence.

What model will the new secretary-general follow? The model of defending the UN’s independence, proposing creative ideas to deal with serious crises, or the model of the UN administrator who does not antagonise anyone, thus guaranteeing a second term in office?


The writer is a former Egyptian ambassador.

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