By Wu Miaofa
Although Kofi Annan's second term as UN secretary-general does not expire until December 2006, the campaign to replace him is shifting into high gear.
The Security Council will start discussing candidates for the job in July, with bidding for the world's most prominent diplomatic job then expected to take center stage.
The new secretary-general is supposed to be first nominated by the Security Council, which means that he or she must get the support of nine votes of the 15 members, including the five veto-holding permanent members, before the appointment is confirmed by the UN General Assembly.
The campaign for UN secretary-general presently focuses on two questions. From which region should the candidate come? And will the short-listed candidates be acceptable to UN members, notably the five permanent members of the Security Council China, France, the United Kingdom, Russia and the United States?
John Bolton, US ambassador to the United Nations, said in February that the continent the next secretary-general comes from should not matter. According to Bolton, what matters most is whether the next secretary-general is a competent diplomat. His remarks were soon echoed by British UN Ambassador Emyr Parry and many influential voices in the Western media.
Reading between the lines, Bolton's statement rejects the understanding that a diplomat from Asia should be elected to the post of the UN secretary-general.
Thirty-four years have passed since an Asian, U Thant of Myanmar, stepped down from the post of the UN secretary-general. The long interval has seen six people from Europe, Latin America and Africa holding the secretary-general's post.
Both common sense and principle require that a competent Asian diplomat be elected to the UN top post. This accords with the rule that the post be held by people from different regions in rotation, as well as tallying with the common ground shared by many UN members.
China and Russia, two of the five Security Council permanent members, have made their stance clear an Asian be chosen for the job.
The US argument that "diplomatic competence" comes first and foremost merely veils the true intention of Washington and its allies their desire to handpick the next UN chief.
True, the UN's top position should be occupied by a diplomat of seniority and competence. But how should this "competence" be defined? In the view of this author, Bolton's definition of "competence" simply means whoever would be prepared to dance to Washington's tune. Otherwise, he or she would be simply written off as a "mediocrity."
For instance, Tanzanian diplomat Salim Ahmed Salim, who was recommended by the Organization of African Unity for the post of UN secretary-general, was repeatedly blocked by the United States in 1981.
Former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, when seeking his second term in the mid-1990s, had to quit the race because Washington showed him the red card.
Both Salim and Boutros-Ghali were gifted diplomats. However, their political values did not tally with the US worldview. So they were out.
There are now five possible candidates from Asia Thai Deputy-Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, Sri Lankan presidential adviser Jayantha Dhanapala, Kemal Dervis, a Turk who is currently holding the portfolio of UN Development Programme and Shashi Tharoor, an Indian who is the UN deputy secretary-general overseeing media affairs.
Two Europeans are also in the race Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Latvia's president, and Alexander Kwasniewski, former Polish president.
Behind the five Asian aspirants are Asia's huge population and its massive economic clout.
Patient discussions and negotiations are required to eventually choose the best candidate. At this very stage, it is too early to predict who will be the next secretary-general.
The contest to succeed Annan greatly concerns developing nations because the person at the UN helm is expected to play a vitally important part in charting the future course of the United Nations. The developing nations also hope that the new secretary-general will help uphold the UN Charter's basic principles and that he or she would fairly and properly handle a host of problems involving racial conflicts, communal strife, religious disputes and territorial clashes.
They also expect that the United Nations to take substantial and effective measures to address the problem of the North-South polarization and expect the reform of the United Nations to be promoted in a steady and reasonable way. The new secretary-general will play a major role in both tasks.
The United States has its own calculations. In general, it hopes that the new secretary-general's political values, policy orientations and way of working will be to Washington's taste. It also hopes that the new secretary-general will back Washington's foreign policy on important security issues and that the United Nations, therefore, will roughly remain in the fold.
With regard to upholding the principles of the United Nations Charter, the United States wants to replace the quintessence and conventions of the UN Charter with "human rights coming before sovereignty," "humanitarian interference" and "pre-emption." It follows, therefore, that the desired new secretary-general will assist Washington in this regard.
On the issue of development, the United States and others provide developing countries with aid and reduce their debts conditionally, using "human rights," "democracy" and "good governance" as leverage. But they stay free from the commitments required by the United Nations Millennium Summit's goals. The desired new secretary-general should, therefore, not pressurize Washington on these matters.
In terms of UN reform, the US administration is reluctant to see these reforms started, including expanding the size of the Security Council. So the best secretary-general should also be lukewarm about the reforms.
Under such circumstances, it will be impossible to finally decide on a new UN secretary-general, one that is to the liking of all interested parties.
The situation, therefore, requires both sides to compromise to a certain extent. It is quite possible that a new UN secretary-general can be found who takes care of the interests of the developing world as well as those of the big powers.
It is advisable that a leading diplomat from a small or medium-sized country should be the next UN secretary-general, as experience over the last six decades shows.
This is because, to begin with, the new secretary-general would be universally representative, taking into consideration that the vast majority of UN members are small- and medium-sized countries.
Second, a secretary-general from a small- or medium-sized country would help bring UN members closer together and, in turn, promote UN unity. Third, a UN secretary-general from a small- or medium-sized country would be more capable of facilitating exchanges between these nations as well as winning backing from big countries.
The author is a researcher with the China Institute of International Studies.
(China Daily June 29, 2006)