Global Policy Forum

UN Chief Tries to Avoid Roadblocks


By Thalif Deen

Inter Press Service
February 5, 2007

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, whose plans to restructure the U.N. Secretariat have hit a political roadblock, assured the 192 member states he is not heading towards a collision course with them.

"Please rest assured that over the past few weeks, I have taken account of your concerns," Ban told a mostly sceptical General Assembly on Monday. Every one of you has the right to be listened to, whatever the size of your country or budget, or whichever hemisphere you call home," he declared at a three-hour, closed-door meeting of delegates. The secretary-general's assurance came amidst reports he was trying to fast-track his restructuring plans by trying to circumvent administrative and financial committees which rigorously scrutinise such proposals before sending them to the General Assembly for final approval.

"Let me assure you, our informal dialogue on this subject to date has only been the first step in the process," he told delegates. He also said he will personally engage in consultations with member states, "and I will ask my senior managers to engage in consultations at expert level with a view to finalising a set of proposals at the earliest possible date."

In formally announcing his proposals, he said he plans to split the existing Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) into two: Department of Field Support and Department of Peace Operations. At the same time, he also plans to change the current status of the Department of Disarmament Affairs (DDA) by replacing it with a new "Office for Disarmament Affairs" to be headed, not by an Under-Secretary-General but either by a High Representative or a Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG).

But there is speculation that the change in status is meant to downgrade DDA. Allaying such fears, Ban said the new office will have "a direct line to me, thus ensuring access and more frequent interaction." Ambassador Munir Akram of Pakistan said he was initially concerned about the proposed downgrading of DDA. But the secretary-general, in fact, was suggesting "strengthening" DDA. "That's all fine," Akram said, "but DDA should not be asked to take on tasks that have not been approved by the U.N.'s legislative bodies"-- particularly country-specific issues. Pakistan, he said, was also opposed to universalisation of certain international treaties.

Ambassador Mehdi Danesh-Yazdi of Iran said he was opposed to the downgrading of DDA and wants to see an independent department headed by an Under-Secretary-General, as it stands now. "Having an SRSG is not the solution-- and not a step in the right direction". He also asked what necessitated the proposed split of the DPKO with two new USGs. "Will it increase efficiency and coherence? With the current SRSGs and two USGs and the deputy secretary-general also involved, "I fear it will be awfully crowded at the top," he declared with a tinge of sarcasm.

Not surprisingly, the strongest support for the secretary-general's proposals came from the United States, whose current administration does not place high priority on disarmament -- either nuclear or non-nuclear. U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff pointed out that the secretary-general, in his capacity as the organisation's chief administrative officer, is accountable to the membership.

"But he needs flexibility and authority to do the job. We will judge him by the results," said Wolff. He also pointed out that putting DDA directly under the secretary-general "sounds like upgrading, not downgrading". Regarding the realignment of the DPKO, he said: "If you ask every one of us, we will have 192 different ideas. We elected you by acclamation. We should therefore leave it to you to restructure DPKO."

But the two most powerful coalitions in the United Nations -- the 130-member Group of 77 and the 117-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) -- have publicly expressed reservations over Ban's restructuring proposals. Speaking on behalf of NAM, Ambassador Ileana Nunez Mordoche of Cuba told delegates Monday it is no secret that NAM gives particular priority to the issue of disarmament, including nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation.

While welcoming the move to bring disarmament directly under the secretary-general, the Cuban envoy said: "We consider it would be extremely important that the DDA remains an independent department, headed by an Under-Secretary-General --" not an "office", as proposed by Ban. "In our opinion, this would contribute to a large extent to the objective stated by the secretary-general of giving new emphasis to the essential functions of this department through a high level commitment and appropriate institutional support."

Meanwhile, the Group of 77 said last week "it does not wish to have public disagreement with the secretary-general." In a letter to members, the G77 said it also "does not support any artificial deadlines" on the proposed restructuring.

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