The Guest Column

28th July 1996

Selecting a new UN Secretary-General

By Dr. Stanley Kalpage

The UN Security Council will be in the public spotlight in the coming months as the process for the appointment of a new Secretary-General gets underway. The recommendation of the Security Council for the appointment of a Secretary-General will have to be approved by the General Assembly at its 51st Session commencing next September. Article 97 of the UN Charter UN states: "The Secretary-General shall be appointed by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council".

The present composition of the Security Council is: China, France, Great Britain, Russia, USA, - permanent members - and Germany, Italy (from Western Europe), Chile, Honduras (from Latin America and the Caribbean), Poland (from Eastern Europe), Botswana, Guinea-Bissau, Egypt (from Africa), Indonesia, and the Republic of Korea (From Asia) - non-permanent members.

It will be recalled that Sri Lanka missed its opportunity to be elected to the Security Council, after announcing and maintaining her candidature for many months, presumably because of a preference for the mere promise of 20,000 unskilled jobs in exchange for her withdrawal from the contest. Other reasons given at that time were that a small country like Sri Lanka need not aspire to a Security Council seat for the sake of prestige and that it would be difficult to canvas votes against an economically powerful opponent.

It would be noted that, of the present ten non-permanent members, four (Chile, Honduras, Botswana and Guinea-Bissau) have smaller populations than Sri Lanka. A Security Council seat carries with it not only prestige but also considerable benefits - more so in the crucial election of a Secretary General. That is why many are knocking at the door and the queue of those from the Asian and other groups vying for membership extends into the next century.

Procedure in the Security Council

The appointment of a Secretary-General is not a mere procedural matter for which an affirmative vote of nine members will be sufficient, the affirmative vote of nine members must necessarily include the concurring votes of the five permanent members. Normally, the voting does not take place at a single meeting. The Security Council is usually seized with the matter some months ahead of the actual decision.

Names are brought to the attention of the Council by members and 'straw ballots' are conducted to determine the extent of support that each candidate attracts. Those who fare badly in these 'straw ballots' withdraw from the contest. If a poll reveals a minimum of nine votes, including the concurring votes of the five permanent members for a particular candidate, a formal vote is taken to confirm the decision.

Boutros-Ghali's first election

In 1991, some of the early casualties of the 'straw ballots' were Brian Mulrooney of Canada, who was favoured by President Bush and Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom. This was no reflection on the suitability of these eminent persons for the job but the Security Council was at that time looking for a person from Africa; the African Group in the United Nations had expressed their strong desire for the appointment of a Secretary-General from Africa. They argued that the previous six Secretaries-General had been chosen from the other continents for appointment to this prestigious and challenging post. It was Africa's turn in 1991.

Of the African candidates considered on that occasion, two had strong support: Bernard Chidzhero of Tanzania and Boutros-Ghali of Egypt. They were battling it out neck and neck in the 'straw ballots' until November 21 1991 when, unexpectedly, at a meeting presided over by the President of the Council for that month, Ambassador Chinmaya Garekhan of India, Boutros-Ghali obtained the nine votes necessary including the concurring votes of the five permanent members.

None were more surprised at the decision that some of the black African members of the UN who had backed Chidzhero. Ambassador Pickering of the United States, leaving the Security Council Chamber and calling the State Department on his cellular phone, also seemed to be surprised by the result. The Americans, who had begun a lackadaisical search for another suitable candidate, and wary of offending Egypt, voted perfunctorily for Boutros-Ghali in a succession of 'straw ballots' certain that he would never get the nine votes to win.

This proved a miscalculation. Boutros-Ghali's recommendation was unanimously approved by the General Assembly. Boutros-Ghali soon appointed Chinmaya Garekhan to a senior position in the Secretariat and Garekahn continues to hold a post of undersecretary-general in the Ghali administration.

When announcing his candidature in 1991, Boutros-Ghali assured his sponsors that, as he was nearly 70 years old, he would not seek a second term which had been invariably given to his predecessors. But as he settled in the job - its responsibilities, prestige and privilege - he seemed to change his mind. At mid-term in May 1994, when asked why he had changed his mind, Boutros-Ghali replied, "I believe that only stupid people don't change their minds".

Some weeks ago, Boutros-Ghali announced his candidature for a second term and seemed taken aback when the United States quickly countered that they would prefer another candidate. They would, if necessary, veto the candidature of Boutros-Ghali. "Every one of my predecessors has been given another term," complained the Secretary-General, "am I being refused one because I am an African?" The United States responded that, they would not mind another African being selected if it was necessary to give Africa an opportunity to complete a second term.

Other prominent contenders

Among the Africans being mentioned for the position is Kofi Annan, a senior Ghanaian diplomat, presently in overall administrative charge of peace-keeping operations. He would probably not have any difficulty getting an affirmative vote from the United States. There is, however, a growing opinion in UN circles that the organization should not stick to tradition but should select the best available person for this crucial job, at a decisive moment in the life of the world organisation.

The UN is beset with funding and management problems as it embarks on the second fifty years of its existence. Maurice Strong, the Canadian who directed the Earth Summit on the Environment in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, is also being mentioned as a possible candidate.

Moreover, there is the widespread perception that, after fifty years, it was time for a gender change and that the next Secretary-General should be a distinguished woman. Three names are being mentioned: Gro Harlem Brundtland, prime minister of Norway, Mary Joan Robinson, president of Ireland and Sadako Ogata, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The view is being expressed that the UN needs as its chief executive a person with experience as head of state/government.

The advantages of a Security Council seat

Since the recommendation of the Security Council is the crucial and decisive stage in the appointment process, it is an obvious advantage to be on the Security Council at this time. In fact, the more far-seeing member States of the UN make it a point to be on the Council in an election year. Membership would make it possible for a name to be proposed without difficulty and, in the voting, useful trade-offs would bring incalculable benefits.

In 1971, when Ambassador Shirley Amerasinghe was a candidate he probably had a proposer but found it difficult to arrange for a seconder in the Security Council. Shirley was held in high esteem but was extremely pro-Arab in his rhetoric and the positions he adopted. This made him unacceptable to powerful Jewish opinion in the international arena.

Boutros-Ghali may yet spring a surprise

Boutros-Ghali seems confident of the support of the permanent members of the Security Council other than the United States. In the event that the US uses its veto and the Security Council is deadlocked in not being able to decide on a recommendation, as required in the Charter, the matter may be referred to the General Assembly where the veto does not operate.

This happened in 1950 when the Soviet Union, displeased with the stand taken by the Secretary-General in the Korean war, voted against the extension of Trygvie Lie's term of office. The issue was turned over to the General Assembly despite a warning from Ambassador Malik of the USSR that "if the appointment of Mr. Lie is imposed, the USSR will not take Mr. Lie into account and will not consider him as Secretary-General of the United Nations".

The General Assembly, by a vote of 46 to five, with eight abstentions, extended Lie's term for three more years. Under the Charter, the Security Council must recommend a candidate for the Assembly's approval. The Soviet veto had prevented such a recommendation for a new term.

But the Americans and other sponsors of the resolution in the General Assembly took the position that the extension satisfied the legal requirements because the Assembly was not voting for a new term of office but simply adding to the original term that was recommended by the Security Council in 1945. Will the same technique be adopted again?

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