Vol. 5 Num 736 Fri. June 23, 2006  

Why lag behind the race for the next UNSG?

The UN has an informal agreed regional rotation system which dictates that this is Asia's 'turn' to have a UN secretary general. The American UN ambassador John Bolton, however, insists on having a UNSG from East Europe which has remained unrepresented during the last 60 years of UN. The first UN secretary general, Trygve Lie of Norway, Dag Hammerskjoeld of Sweden and Kurt Waldheim of Austria were all from Europe. While Butros Butros Ghali of Egypt and Kofi Annan of Ghana were from Africa, Xavier Perez De Cuellar of Peru was the lone representative from Latin America. U Thant of Burma (Myanmar) has been the only UN secretary general from Asia. By convention, the big five permanent members of the Security Council and the Oceania, Australia and New Zealand have stayed away from the race for the post of secretary general. Kofi Anan is the solitary exception who has been appointed UNSG from the ranks of international civil servants in the UN secretariat. Traditionally, high profile candidates have been rejected in favour of middle powers. For instance Dwight Eisenhower Anthony Eden and Charles de Gaulle were considered for the post of first secretary general but rejected in favour of Trygve Lie.

The race for the post of next UN secretary general from Asia received fresh momentum last week when India announced the name of Shashi Tharoor, UN under secretary general for communication and public information to succeed Kofi Annan whose two terms expire at the end of the year. The announcement has thrown a spanner on long shot hopes of Thai deputy prime minister Sura Kirat Sathi Rathai, South Korean foreign minister Banki Moon and Sri Lanka's Jayantha Dharmapala advisor to the president, who are already in the run for the top UN job. Bright, articulate and a writer in his own right, Shashi Tharoor is fifty and if elected, he will be the youngest ever UN secretary general. Speculation is also rife that Pakistan will soon join the fray and the names of prime minister Shawkat Aziz and UN ambassador Munir Akram are in circulation. The name of Nafis Sadiq former UNFPA under secretary general and now special envoy of UNSG for AIDS/HIV in Asia and Pacific is also being mentioned. If elected, she will be the first female UNSG.

According to the UN charter, UNSG is the chief administrator of the UN secretariat and its various agencies and is appointed by UN General Assembly on the recommendation of Security Council on a 5-year term usually extended for another term. However, the roll of UNSG has assumed increasing importance with the passage of time as a high profile diplomat to face up to the diverse challenges of global agenda of international peace and security, prevention of armed conflict, resolution of civil strife, fostering economic development, enhancing social equality and promoting international law. The UNSG has also to address the issues of UN reform, promotion of democracy and human rights and the sovereignty of the individual, protection of environment and empowerment of women and grapple with the problems of global poverty and lack of health, sanitation and water facility. The qualification needed for the job is political vision, personal charm and charisma and persuasive power, managerial skill and above all high diplomatic acumen to steer clear of rivalries of international politics and harmonise balance, compromise and loyalty to conflicting interest of 191 members of General Assembly and five permanent members of Security Council.

Winning support of major powers, particularly USA, Russia and China is central to the success of the job of the UNSG. It is well know how Butros Butros Ghali became a casualty in failing to secure a second term of his office because he alienated the (support of) USA. It is a tall order and must be remembered before nominating some one for the post to avoid embarrassment.

Bangladesh deeply committed to the principle and purposes of the UN has never taken a back seat at the UN but has remained actively involved and engaged in deliberations and negotiations on every issue debated and discussed in the UN and the roll call of its achievement is impressive and acknowledged by the international community. Bangladesh has been twice elected member of the Security Council and has the distinct honour of being elected the president of UN General Assembly and heading the UN 5th Committee (administrative and budgetary), Committee on Programme and Coordination (CPC), UNICIEF Executive Board, UN Population Award Committee and the Group of 77. Bangladesh has also held the position of rotating presidency of the Security Council, coordinator of least developed countries. Above all, Bangladesh has earned international acclaim as the top troops contributing country in the UN peace keeping operation in various strife-torn trouble spots in the world. In the background of such impressive performance internationally it is only appropriate and legitimate for Bangladesh to have aspiration for the post of UNSG which potentially is within our reach. What is needed is to grasp the opportunity by making an intelligent decision in the selection of the right candidate soon. Time is running out. The election will take place in late September/early October.

It is not understood why the foreign office has not taken any initiative on the matter. We talk of building our image abroad. To serve our national interest by promoting the cause of our international prestige and honour it is time to rise above petty jealousy and narrow partisan consideration. The names of three of our outstanding diplomats come to the fore. One is Reaz Rahman, adviser to the prime minister on foreign affairs who has previous background of UN experience as Bangladesh Ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations, the second is Dr. Ifthekhar Ahmed Choudhury, presently our ambassador to the UN. The other is Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, currently UN under secretary general for the least developed countries and High Representative for land-locked developing countries and small island developing states. After late SAMS Kibria, the former finance minister, he is the senior most UN official from Bangladesh.

Anwarul Karim Chowdhury has the advantage of becoming a long timer in UN system which he knows inside out and is a well-known face in the podium, committees and corridors of power in the UN. He would be a formidable candidate with impeccable credentials for the job and stands out in the crowd of nominated candidates in view of rare privilege of his continuous 25 years UN work experience in one capacity or another and distinguished record of solid accomplishments. It is expected he will find acceptance by the broadest membership of the UN. He was Ambassador and permanent representative to the UN. and represented Bangladesh in 14 UN general assembly sessions. He held the rotating presidency of the Security Council and was elected chairman of the UN 5th committee, chairman of UNICEF Executive Board, chairman of the UN Population Award Committee and vice chairman of ECOSOC. He was also the UNICEF Director for Japan, Australia and New Zealand. He is the recipient of U Thant Award and UNESCO gold medal for culture and peace.

If nominated, it seems Bangladesh has a fair chance of winning the race. In the complex dynamics of power play in international politics within the headquarters of global diplomacy on the East River in Manhattan surprises are a daily happening. It is worthwhile to try. Let not our posterity blame us for a missed opportunity to feel proud.

Abdul Hannan is a former press counselor of Bangladesh UN Mission in New York.