The Henry Jackson Society invited David Clark, chairman of the Russia Foundation, Steven Erlanger, London bureau chief of the New York Times and Natalie Samarasinghe, executive director of the United Nations Association/UK to Westminster to discuss “United Nations Secretary-General Selection: The Role of the Secretary-General in Russia vs the West.” Lord Hannay of Chiswick, crossbench peer and former ambassador of the UK to the UN introduced the discussion, saying the role is contentious and needs reform. The Secretary-General (SG) is appointed by the General Assembly, on the recommendation of the Security Council. The SG’s selection is subject to the veto of any of the five permanent members of the Security Council. During the last decade, the United States has exercised 10 vetoes and Russia only three.
In the past there has been a lack of transparency about the selection process but in April the first ever hustings took place in New York, as Mogens Lykketoft, president of the 70th session of the UNGA, has committed to running to the process in the most open and transparent manner possible. For the first time in 70 years, and after eight male SGs, the names of those standing are declared, giving all member states an idea of the candidate’s vision and an opportunity to engage with them. It is likely that a woman may be chosen for the first time; the Eastern European group believes it is “their turn”, with an eclectic collection of candidates from in and out of the European Union. Lord Hannay suggested that the West had effectively been in a partial Cold War situation with Russia for the last two years, viz., Crimea, Syria and the South China Sea, with the latter being the most threatening. The new SG will need to soften any confrontations.
David Clark put forward that Russia is the successor to the Soviet state and its membership of the UN. Russia has inherited all the rights and obligations, noting in particular how important Russia’s seat on the Security Council is to them. The UN cannot operate without the support and co-operation of Russia and Russia expects more engagement. It seems Russia wants to build relations with her neighbours and the right candidate would have some sympathy with Russian issues—Ukraine. Clark hopes for a candidate of the right quality and experience, a diplomat but not a former Prime Minister. The P5 need more of a “secretary” than a “general”, a servant with the ability to calm European relations.
Ten candidates have been nominated, including from seven from the Eastern European group (Croatia, Bulgaria, Moldova, Slovenia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia). It is likely that a successful candidate will be approved on merit without consideration to pre-emptive regional and gender issues.
Steven Erlanger wondered if today’s revanchist Russia will use its power of veto, wanting to undermine the post-Cold War era of control that stabbed Russia when it was weak. Erlanger proposed Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, as the favourite Russian candidate. Bokova is a red princess and daughter of the red prince, communist-era politician Georgi Bokov. Although he believes that the US prefers the smart and talented Vesna Pusic, Croatian Minister of Foreign and European Affairs. Erlanger was unflattering about Ban Ki-moon’s performance in this consequential position of peacekeeping around the world.
Natalie Samarasinghe pointed out that previously the selection process has been dominated by the five Security Council members behind closed doors. An abnormal recruitment process of regional rotation has been geared to finding a candidate acceptable to the P5, sidelining the wider UN membership. Previously, relations could possibly have led to the lowest common denominator being selected.
The new reforms will hopefully alter this, with the broader selection criteria with upfront names and member states meeting candidates at the next hustings in London on 3 June.
Russia has successfully positioned itself as an indispensable player. The Security Council is dependent on its goodwill, specifically regarding Syria as relations have been successfully bilateralised between US and Russia. Samarasinghe proposed the next SG be a strong leader capable of standing up for states without alienating others. Someone who will use the pulpit sparingly, who will play the role of advisor as in the original 1945 job specification that was never adopted and the candidate should appeal to the wider UN membership.
A non-renewable time of office was discussed such as one term of seven years.