The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

17th November 1996



Who is next for the UN seat?

So Bill Clinton has joined the "greats" Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Reagan - who served two terms in the White House in the 20th century. Poor Mr. Richard Nixon had to leave the Oval Office and politics after the Watergate scandal.

But Clinton is different, certainly in the eyes of all other nations. He is the elected leader of an unrivalled superpower. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, there is no challenger except in certain specific spheres, Japan for instance in the field of economics and Russia as a military giant.

Four days after the US election, Mr. Eiseke Sakakibara of the Japanese ministry of finance was reported to have made a casual remark that suggested the 18-month "yen slide" would soon end. The dollar dropped instantly by 1.75 per cent. But currency battles concern only the financial giants, not the vast majority of UN members, now 185.

More important for the newly elected President is the composition of the Congress, not the United Nations. Mike McCurry, the spokesman of the White House, took comfort in the fact that "there is a centre in American politics: it can hold, it can govern". The winner himself addressed the selfsame question and ruled out a confrontation in Congress.

"It is time to put country ahead of party". Was this really a mandate for bipartisanship? Is Mr. Clinton ready to go the extra mile to work with a GOP dominated Congress where his defeated rival was the acknowledged leader? President Clinton believes that "the vital American centre is alive and well". But British correspondent Patti Waldmeir insists that the voting pattern showed a weakened, particularly in the important Senate. Senior lawmakers gave the Upper House "an image of moderation and pragmatism".

What's more, one of the senior Senators who had been committed to such moderation was none other than the Republican leader, the man who was humbled by President Clinton - Senator Bob Dole. He was a "gifted dealmaker". His successor is Mr. Sam Brownwick described as "a veteran of the 1994 Republican revolution".

The change represents a serious shift to the Right. How many American voters backed one party for President and the rival party for Congress? According to Brookings' Institution analyst, Thomas Mann, not more than 13-14% were ticket-splitters, i.e., GOP for President and Democrat for Congress or vice versa. A favourite tactic in such circumstances, not all that rare, is bipartisan appointments to the next Clinton cabinet.

But Lyndon Johnson, a hard-headed realist, saw the situation somewhat differently: "Doesn't matter what kind of majority you come with. You got just one year when they treat you right, and before they start worrying about themselves. The third year you lose votes.... the fourth year's all politics. You can't put anything through when half the Congress is thinking how to beat you. So you got one year. That's why I tried. Well, we gave it a hell of a lick, didn't we?" concluded LBJ, a plain-speaking, honest man fallen among Congressmen and their hard-boiled counselors. Just one year to get things done - the things you promised the voter. That then is the challenge, and, alas, the dreary message.


The US President has been re-elected? What of the UN Secretary General?

For non-Americans whose concern with domestic American politics has deepened after the Soviet implosion and what is often termed a new "unipolar world", the first important lesson on future trends would surely be the election of a Secretary-General.... the re-election of Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali for a second term or the election of another SG.

On Monday informal consultations will be held in the hope of reaching a consensus. This was decided by the 15 members of the Security Council at a private lunch a few days ago. Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali had already announced that he would seek a second term, despite the fact that the US had made it clear that the Clinton administration has other plans.

According to agency despatches, three African members Egypt, Botswana and Guinea-Bissau would nominate the former Egyptian diplomat whose term ends this year. He was the first Arab to hold one of the world's most prestigious (if not so powerful) posts.

The first S-G came from Europe, Trygve Lie from Norway: the second was a Scandinavian too. The first Asian S-G was Burmese - U Thant. Latin America produced Javier Perez de Cuellar, from Peru, and finally, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, now keen on a second term, a challenge that annoyed and soon angered the United States, holder of the new title, the sole superpower. With his comfortable victory on November 5, President Bill Clinton will make sure that the ambitious Egyptian is humbled.

"The democratisation of States is only one part of our goal. The other part is the democratisation of the international system", said Dr. Boutros-Ghali when he addressed the Tokyo Foreign Correspondents Club in late December 1993. "Already", he boasted, "the reform of the organisation, including the decentralisation of decision-making has taken place. The reform needs to be met by reform in the intergovernmental organs of the United Nations.

"In the area of development policy, strengthening the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) will ensure that member states, great and small donors and recipients, are all heard with equal clarity. The donor nations feel that the numerical strength of the recipients often allows the imposition of unrealistic development goals, goals for which resources are lacking.

"Recipient states argue that the voice of the donors is louder in the multilateral financial institutions. This is a dangerous situation. Both donors and recipients have valid arguments. The challenge of reform of the United Nations system is to balance these arguments".

Feminist factor

Yes, Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali's message was clear. The rich, developed countries preach democracy to the poor and the under-developed.-under-developed, it may be said, largely because these countries were colonised, exploited and plundered. But democratic processes and institutions have virtues that recognise the dignity of man, individual and community. The hot-gospellers of liberal democracy (and free market policies) who preach democracy to the poor nations, which means ultimately the will of the majority, should also practise democracy at the United Nations. But in practice, the powerful imposes its collective will on the under-privileged.

To make this exercise easier and more successful, it needs a compliant Secretary-General. It is possible that the US-led bloc, taking advantage of the disorder in Russia, and weak, fragmented NAM, may please the increasingly powerful feminist lobby by fielding a woman as candidate. But the same bloc is also aware that Asia, Japan in particular should not be neglected. So why not an Asian (Japanese) woman as Boutros-Ghali's successor?

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