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The search for a successor
to Kofi Annan



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991
Comments to

February 27, 2006

LONDON - As UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan nears the end of his controversial term the names being banded around to succeed him seem more attuned to satisfying particular regional constituencies than looking for the best person around.

A Jacques Delors or Mikhail Gorbachev or Sam Nunn could never have become secretary-general. At the time their names were talked about it had to be an African candidate, and although Annan has some sterling achievements under his belt he has never quite had the freedom to be his own man. He has had to live under the dark cloud of being the person in charge of the UN's peacekeeping department in 1994 and who failed to see what was going on in Rwanda when genocide was unleashed and the world turned away. He has certainly known that Washington would shamelessly use that against him if he tried to take the bit between his teeth, as his ousted predecessor Boutros Boutros-Ghali did.

Today, insiders at the UN say it is Asia's turn, or perhaps Scandinavia's which still lives in the glow of Dag Hammarskjöld, the only secretary-general who had the strength of personality to stand up to both the Cold War superpowers. He created the concept of UN peacekeeping and died in a plane crash in 1961 while mediating the Congo crisis.

A State Department memo written in 1945 put it this way: "He should be 44 to 55, fluent in both French and English…It was generally agreed it would be undesirable if the candidate should come from the U.S.S.R or France."

One could well surmise that a memo being written in the State Department today would say much the same, merely adding the possibility of a "she" and substituting Russia for the Soviet Union.

But it was these criteria that led to the appointment of the shallow, vain and unimaginative Norwegian, Trygve Lie, to become the UN's first secretary-general exactly 60 years ago. He turned into a stooge, accepting Senator Joseph McCarthy's purge of many of the UN's best American officials, an act of vandalism the organization has never really recovered from.

Today in the age of a sole superpower we need a candidate who can stand up to it. Washington, since the Clinton era, has become increasingly hostile to the UN. The Clinton administration became adept at fobbing off difficult decisions on the UN then used it as a public scapegoat when things went wrong.

In Somalia it was not, as the White House appeared to suggest, UN forces that attacked the Somali warlord, Mohammed Farrah Aidid, provoking the killing of 18 American soldiers. It was the U.S. Quick Reaction Force, acting independently from the local UN command and operating under orders from Special Operations Command in Florida. It is fair to say that the UN has never since recovered the esteem in American public opinion that it held before that Clinton sleight of hand.

Can one imagine either a Republican or Democratic president today echoing the words of Ronald Reagan? In 1998, as the Cold War drew to a close, he told the UN General Assembly, "A change that is cause for shaking the head in wonder is upon us….the prospect of a new age of world peace. The UN has an opportunity to live and breathe and work as never before."

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The old UN-baiter was prepared to admit that he could hardly believe what he saw happening, as the Soviet Union sought to do what the West had asked it for 40 years, to make the UN the repository of all international disputes, where they could be solved by collective will. The way the big powers had worked closely together to broker a peaceful resolution to the Iran-Iraq war and the Cambodian civil war had deeply impressed Reagan.

George Bush Sr built on this goodwill and was able through the UN to build an international coalition to face down Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. If Clinton had possessed a similar vision he could have made the UN work in the same positive way. But Somalia broke the UN's spirit and reputation and was compounded by Clinton's decision to break a solemn promise made by the U.S. to President Mikhail Gorbachev not to extend NATO eastward. This alienated or marginalized the pro-Americans in Moscow.

So who can resuscitate the UN, bring Reagan's spirit back to life in Washington, and make the big powers work together again? There is perhaps one only person - the soon to be ex-prime minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair. Fervently pro UN and pro U.S. he is the only one on the horizon who has the stature, the entreé and the skills to make the UN at last live out its true potential.


 Copyright © 2006 By JONATHAN POWER


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