Women candidates to the post of UN Secretary-General are being encouraged more than ever before
Recent trends in appointments to top posts of the world have been encouraging for women. In 2014, Michaëlle Jean became the first woman Secretary-General of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie. This year, a woman became Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, and another the Secretary-General of FIFA. Hillary Clinton could be the first woman President of the U.S., and five women are vying to occupy the Secretary-General’s position in the United Nations.
In December last year, the President of the UN General Assembly and the President of the UN Security Council wrote in a letter
calling for nominations: “Convinced of the need to guarantee equal opportunities for women and men in gaining access to senior decision-making positions, Member States are encouraged to consider presenting women, as well as men, as candidates for the position of Secretary-General.” The candidates, the letter says, must have “proven leadership and managerial abilities, extensive experience in international relations, and strong diplomatic, communication and multilingual skills.”
Stronghold of the Big Five
The search for the successor to Ban Ki-moon, who steps down as UN Secretary-General at the end of this year, is in full swing, and comes with warnings that the “important and invaluable institution” needs “urgent reform”. The Secretary-General has always been elected in a secretive process orchestrated by the five permanent members of the Security Council — the U.K., the U.S., Russia, China, and France. In a survey, a majority of those who work in the UN or closely with it urged the Big Five to encourage women candidates, and allow an open race and a greater degree of public scrutiny than before.
The UN has 193 member states, more than 30 affiliated organisations, and a 40,000-strong staff. In the past 70 years, there have been eight UN Secretaries-General. The UN General Assembly, where all countries are represented, has invariably ratified a sole candidate who has has never been a Muslim, a Hindu, or a woman. A pressure group called Future United Nations Development System, mainly financed by the Nordic countries, is pressing the Security Council to send more than one candidate, and to include a woman (only if she is the best possible candidate), for approval to the General Assembly. ‘The Elders’, a group of international statesmen formed by Nelson Mandela, and including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, South African archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu, and former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, have proposed that three names be submitted instead of one, and that future Secretaries-General serve a seven-year term instead of being eligible for re-election after their first five-year term. However, such proposals will not go down well with the Big Five, who have veto power over the candidates and the biggest stakes in the process of selection.
Opposition to any basic change in the process is expected from Russia, which resents the domination of the U.S. over the Security Council since the end of the Cold War, and, in keeping with the tradition of rotating the Secretary-General’s appointment between regions, will expect the next candidate to be from Eastern Europe. Rotation is, of course, a principle to be ignored if it suits the purposes of the Permanent Five, and it is already being hinted by the Western camp that the world in which the rotation principle was introduced has completely changed. So the successful candidate will be the result of backstairs bargaining between the U.S. and Russia, and the new Secretary-General may well be a result of compromise — one who is not well known outside diplomatic circles, and who has not alienated any of the big powers with his or her past actions. For the same reason, the Permanent Five will not favour any person who has a high-profile or a forceful personality.
The candidates so far include five women: Irina Bokova, the Bulgarian Director-General of UNESCO; Helen Clark, New Zealand’s former Prime Minister and Administrator of the UNDP; Natalia Gherman, former Deputy Prime Minister of Moldova; Susana Malcorra, Foreign Minister of Argentina; and Vesna Pusic, a former Croatian Foreign Minister. The male candidates are Antonio Guterres, former Portugese Prime Minister and the 10th UN High Commissioner for Refugees; Srgjan Kerim, Foreign Minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; Miroslav Lajèák, Slovak Foreign Minister; Igor Lukšiæ, former Prime Minister of Montenegro; and Danilo Türk, former President of Slovenia.
The field is likely to grow: other female names being mentioned are Michelle Bachelet, president of Chile; Kristalina Georgieva, Bulgarian vice-president of the European Commission; and Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany. Among men, Kevin Rudd, the former Prime Minister of Australia, is clearly interested.
Should the rotation principle be observed, the highest-placed Eastern European nominee is Ms. Bokova, who is considered the most favoured by Moscow. This would explain why a damaging British report was recently circulated about her alleged poor management of the UNESCO, which is consistent with the current unremitting Western propaganda against Russia.
In the 1950s, Dag Hammarskjöld of Sweden redefined the role of the Secretary-General as an activist for peace. Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt tried to refashion the role of the UN in the post-Cold War era, and fell foul of the Americans, though many of his ideas in his ‘Agenda for Peace’ and ‘Agenda for Development’ reports were not greatly to the liking of New Delhi either. Kofi Annan of Ghana rose to the job from being a UN bureaucrat in charge of peace-keeping operations, but his views on ‘humanitarian interventions’ played into the hands of Western unilateralists and alarmed the Third World. Ban Ki-moon, citizen of the U.S.’s ally South Korea, is bland, which suits the permanent members of the Security Council.
Where India fits in
India’s stakes in the Secretary-General’s election are significant because it would not want a person who is inimical to its interests, in this role. Its proposals for reform in the UN revolve largely around the expansion of the permanent membership of the Security Council to include itself, which is a matter in which the incoming Secretary-General would have only a peripheral say. Its difficulties with the U.S.-dominated post-Cold War agenda are largely over, and it is highly unlikely that humanitarian interventions like those in Kosovo, Iraq or Libya would enjoy any international support in the foreseeable future.
However, India would prefer the Secretary-General — who is considered to be the world’s top diplomat functioning from the 38th floor of the UN Secretariat building — to be someone whom it can work with closely, and who will discreetly help its aspirations to become central in relevance to the future of the world.
Krishnan Srinivasan is a former Foreign Secretary.