Global Policy Forum

Korean Minister Likely Candidate


By Ayca Ariyoruk *

United Nations Association of the USA
October 3, 2006

On October 2, the United Nations Security Council voted 14 to 1 in an unofficial poll in support of South Korea's Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon's bid to replace Kofi Annan. Annan's 10-year term as the UN Secretary-General expires on December 31, 2006. Ban's success is no surprise as he has come out on top in three previous polls. An official vote, which is likely to take place October 10 in the Security Council, will finalize the nomination. The soft-spoken minister, so far, has enough support in the council—nine affirmative votes with no vetoes are required—to stand before the General Assembly, whose 192 members must approve the council's selection.

While the assembly is likely to approve any name the Security Council nominates, council members still need to work to gain support for their choice and engage wider membership at the UN. Ban himself should seek the blessing of the G-77 which represents 132 developing nations—the largest voting bloc in the General Assembly.

According to the UN Charter, the General Assembly appoints the Secretary-General upon the recommendation of the Security Council. A simply majority in the General Assembly of those who are present and voting is sufficient to approve the appointment, unless the General Assembly decides that two-thirds majority is needed. With a single majority, the assembly (present and voting) can prolong the decision and request to call a two-thirds majority voting instead.

Based on an imprecise General Assembly resolution dating back to 1947, the Security Council to date has forwarded only one name before the General Assembly's floor. And to date, the General Assembly has approved all the nominations from the Security Council. Today, however, the United Nations is a significantly different organization.

Having failed to secure representation in the Security Council, emerging powers, who have grown increasingly frustrated over their lack on input in running the world organization, are seeking to increase the power of the General Assembly. In 1997, as part of an overall effort to revitalize in an environment where the Security Council's reach was growing, the General Assembly pledged to make full use of the power enshrined upon them in the Charter on the appointment of the secretary-general.

Earlier this year, in the midst of a heated debate over management reforms at the UN, unsuccessful attempts were made to modify the language of the 1947 resolution to request that the Security Council offer "more than one candidate," thus giving up its significant sway over the most important appointment at the UN. Maged Abdelaziz, Egypt's Ambassador and a hard line advocate for G-77 told the Associated Press that developing nations "feel not being consulted…we are just rubber stamps" to whatever is decided upon in the Security Council. "Even though [there] might be an excellent candidate, [he] might suffer in the struggle between the General Assembly and the Security Council on the issue… He might be voted down." Not all 132 developing nations feel same way and would be willing to risk a division in the organization. The idea also faced fierce criticism from the Security Council, in particular by a non-yielding American Ambassador John Bolton, whose uncompromising policies have provoked the resurrection of a cold war type division between the north and the south.

Yet the Security Council has a strong case to make. First, unlike the previous appointments, the president of the Security Council communicated with the president of the General Assembly keeping him in the loop of the council's next steps. Second, the candidates were officially encouraged to present their qualifications before the regional groups in the General Assembly. Third, although far from perfect, a nomination process has been established reducing the possibility of an unknown candidate emerging at the last minute as a leading contender. Most importantly, the Security Council, which has infamously been divided in the past, exercising several vetoes over the candidates, managed, at an early stage to demonstrate unity behind a single candidate. Annan was only selected two weeks before he took office and was vetoed by France several times.

This is not to suggest that the process this year has improved beyond criticism. True, the candidates ran an open public campaign. Most laid out their vision for the organization, speaking before small and large public gatherings, and granting interviews to civil society groups. In fact, if the General Assembly approves the nomination, Ban Ki-moon will be the first secretary-general in UN history to have run an open campaign and won. Despite the benefits of having a public element to the selection process, such as increased accountability, new problems emerged as the candidates jumped on planes to visit the capitals. Allegations of bribes in the form of foreign aid in exchange of support have surfaced. Candidates from poorer countries lost leverage, as their governments couldn't afford to sustain a high-cost campaign. The rigid nomination process and the practice of the so-called "regional rotation" based on poorly defined regional groups have discriminated against some candidates and significantly reduced the pool of qualified contenders. Politics of power triumphed as the members focused on Asian candidates, ignoring for the second time Eastern Europe's turn. The regional rotation concept shifted the focus away from the qualifications of the candidates to the political suitability of their nationalities. Moreover, the Security Council ran its straw polls in utmost secrecy, refusing to disclose any insight that led to their decision. It is still unknown how and why the Security Council managed to secure an unprecedented wider agreement on one nomination. What criteria have they used? Have they traded any deals?

The process in which the UN chooses its top official is important and should be viewed as part of the larger efforts to reform the UN. It carries significant weight in determining whether the next secretary-general will function effectively. Only a secretary-general that is selected through a fair, open and inclusive process can gain the trust of wider membership in an environment which is poisoned by mistrust and suspicion of alternative motives. Gaining that trust is crucial for the next secretary-general to gather the flexibility and authority he will desperately need to carry the UN through a difficult reform process in the years ahead.

At present, to avoid a probable division in the world organization, the Security Council should not wait for the final vote for the next secretary-general to engage the General Assembly. A communique from the president of the council to that of the assembly can go a long way. Support from the G-77 would also give Ban a stronger and a more legitimate mandate to carry on his duties once he is sworn in as the secretary-general.

About the Author: Ms. Ariyoruk is senior associate of the United Nations Association of the USA's Global Policy Programs.

More Information on UN Reform
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More Information on Security Council Reform: Transparency


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