Every five years, the United Nations Secretary General role comes up for renewal. As the current incumbent, a Korean gentleman named Ban Ki Moon comes to the end of his tenure, people are starting to ask about who might replace him in the role. Each new Secretary General must come from a different part of the world to his/her predecessor.
One of them is former Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark. Since she left New Zealand politics following Labour’s defeat in 2008, Ms Clark has held office at the United Nations Development Agency, with a $4 billion budget. Her credentials as a leader are well established and she has considerable experience in governance, having led New Zealand for nine years. All this is just as well given the office of Secretary General has been tarred by scandal in the last two decades.
The United Nations under Secretary General Kofi Annan took several major hits to its credibility with scandals that should probably have forced him to resign, but he did not. Under his tenure large scale ethnic atrocities took place in Serbia where Serbian forces were committing significant atrocities against Kosovo Albanians, and in Darfur where Janjawid militias were slaughtering big numbers of . These took place with not so much as a raised finger of disapproval by the United Nations. Scarred by infighting over whether or not to recognize the American attempt to restore democracy to a post-Saddam Iraq, the United Nations Security Council was a disparate body. Under his tenure, significant scandals involving the misuse of United Nations funds also came to the surface in the food for oil scandal where in return for oil, Iraq, which was then still under the rule of Saddam Hussein, would be able to purchase food. Billions of dollars worth of revenue was misappropriated and during the course of various countries implicated making inquiries into conduct, numerous officials were made to resign or were sacked.
When Mr Annan left, Mr Ki Moon had a significant job to do just trying to restore credibility to his office, without getting involved in any of the ongoing crises around the planet. This, Mr Ki Moon appears to have done to his major credit. However, he has been exposed by a sharply divided Security Council showing the highest level of international distrust of each others motives amongst the Permanent 5 members to have existed since the 1980’s.
I like the idea of a person not from the United States, but preferably from a country where transparency is held in high regard, being selected to be the next Secretary General of the United Nations. The job is one of the most high pressure employment gigs one could ever do, with a degree of loneliness that the heads of State or Government from the major nations around the world would recognize and understand even if they do not personally agree with the purpose of the United Nations. It comes with perks, but also immense responsibility wrestling with dilemmas whose length of existence is a good indicator of how hard they might be to resolve.
I hope that Helen Clark does become Secretary General of the United Nations, if she can put some distance between her and activist groups wanting support for their own agendas. I think at a time when there is so much polarization of international politics and mistrust between nations, having third party Secretary General who can see both sides of the argument and deal with bit players on the side is a very good idea. How well she manages to make groups work together is another story altogether.