Sunday, November 12, 2006

Farewell, Kofi!

On Friday, my ambassador asked me to attend an insightful (and rather exclusivist :P) discussion on Kofi Annan's mandate as Secretary-General of the United Nations. The discussion, hosted by the International Peace Academy brought together a panel of experts (mostly NYU and Columbia law and politics professors: Simon Chesterman, Ed Luck , Shepard Forman) to comment on Jim Traub's (contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine) recent book "The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power".

The discussion was quite interesting, and so were the questions that came from the audience (composed mostly of UN experts, ambassadors and heads of various think tanks). Kofi received his fair share of criticism: not being confident enough in the organisation, not being confident enough in himself (his reaction to the "Oil for Food" programme/scandal is self-explanatory in this respect), being overly optimistic and handling global affairs with a sense of naivete, not adapting his expectations to the size of what's possible (see the case of the UN reform for that), carefully having PR specialists construct his image as some sort of iconic figure, and so on and forth.

Still, the panel failed to answer the question that started the whole discussion. What should we demand in terms of leadership from the world's "most hallow and perhaps hollow organisation" (Shepard Forman)? What do we want the next UN Secretary to do? Pay attention... not who! The whole debate before Ban Ki-Moon was finally chosen as Secretary-General was "Who should be the next Secretary-General?". And this is not what we should talk about. Do we want the new Secretary-General to be a technocrat? Do we want him to incline more towards balancing the whims and wills of the member state, as a political actor, or do we want him to be more concerned with the technicalities of the organisation? Do we want him to be as glamourous as Kofi? Do we want him to attempt at reforming the UN on a large scale or should he try piecemeal reforms? How should he push towards the implementation of the one thing that's considered a biggie right now at the UN, namely the responsibility to protect?

I believe specialists and the public at large really need to explore this questions before we can move forward with the newly elected Secretary General. Otherwise, the UN will continue to be as highly personalized an institution as it already is. And we'll deal again with "best intentions only"...

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