Why I Should Run the U.N.


The United Nations selects its next secretary general this fall through a series of straw polls. The third of these — the most decisive to date — will be held today. In the vote, the 15 members of the Security Council “encourage,” “discourage” or venture “no opinion” on each of the candidates. To win, a candidate must have at least nine encouraging votes and no discouragement from any of the five permanent members of the Security Council. The winner is then presented to the General Assembly for ratification.

The Op-Ed page asked all seven candidates to respond to two questions. First, we asked them to discuss an avoidable mistake the United Nations had made within the last five years. Second, we asked them what major reform they would undertake as secretary general. Five candidates gave us their answers.

1) Go Global

By Zeid Raad Al-Hussein, Jordan’s ambassador to the United Nations, a former peacekeeper in the Balkans and the first president of the governing body of the International Criminal Court.

THE United Nations faces a daunting range of challenges in the 21st century: promoting development without fostering dependency; combating climate change without reducing growth; defending human rights without insisting on one true path. But in the past five years, a specter has risen, casting a shadow across the world: the specter of extremism, instability and injustice gripping the Middle East.

The United Nations needs new leadership that understands these issues and can address all sides with experience and credibility. The fight against extremism is necessarily one with winners and losers — one where compromise may equal defeat and where genocide, mass murder and terrorism loom. The leadership of the United Nations must take a stand. To me, there is no starker lesson from the United Nations’ failures in Bosnia and Rwanda.

The recent outbreak of war (and fragile peace) in Lebanon, and the conflicts in Africa, have reminded the world of the United Nations’ unique legitimacy in restoring peace and security. Global legitimacy on its own, however, is not enough. The United Nations must also be effective. It should draw on the remarkable success of those societies — not least in Asia — that have seized on the promise of globalization to renew themselves. Like them, the United Nations must have the courage to discard the old and embrace the new in the name of progress.

The struggle against extremism and intolerance requires the efforts of every society, faith and agent of human dignity. The United Nations must recognize this struggle for what it is and be willing to play its vital part. Only if the United Nations has the will to change itself can it change the world.

2) The Darfur Gap

By Jayantha Dhanapala, a senior adviser to the president of Sri Lanka, former ambassador to the United States and former United Nations under secretary general.

THERE are many things the United Nations has done right. But like all institutions, it is fallible. Thus, as invidious as it may seem to single out one mistake, I must say that the violence in Darfur stands as an indictment against the United Nations. For three years, the suffering civilians there received little but hand-wringing, stopgap humanitarian efforts and an African Union peacekeeping force. Finally the Security Council last month voted to expand the United Nations mission in Sudan to include Darfur. That this resolution remains unenforced reflects the collective failure of the United Nations’ membership and its institutions, including the Secretariat.

Darfur exposes the glaring absence of a rapid response mechanism for humanitarian disasters. Politics trumps compassion: the world has to wait for the Security Council to agree to act, for funds to be pledged and collected and troops to be deployed. We need a swiftly deployable humanitarian disaster management team, made up of experts from different disciplines supplied by member states. Members that have advanced satellite reconnaissance technology could provide early warning of disasters, both natural and manmade. And a small, robust force of rapidly deployable troops, with clear rules of engagement approved by the Security Council, would be necessary to protect humanitarian workers from attack or abduction.

After the avoidable tragedies in Rwanda and Srebrenica, the prevention of genocide and ethnic cleansing is central to human security in all its dimensions, and it is crucial to the United Nations’ founding mandate: to eliminate “the scourge of war” and ensure human rights, the rule of law and economic and social advancement.

3) Climate of Distrust

By Ashraf Ghani, the chancellor of Kabul University and former finance minister of Afghanistan.

IN his March report on reform, Secretary General Kofi Annan said that the United Nations “lacks the capacity, controls, flexibility, robustness and indeed transparency to handle multibillion-dollar global operations.” Describing the organizational culture as “damaged,” he acknowledges that a recent audit points “to both mismanagement and possible fraud” in peacekeeping operations. He concludes that reform efforts have addressed the “symptoms and not the causes of our underlying weaknesses.”

These internal problems have undermined the moral authority and effectiveness of the United Nations, which ought to be the trusted global forum for reaching consensus and taking action on vital challenges. This loss is most directly felt in the poorest countries of the world. Yet distrust among member nations has slowed the momentum of reform.

The United Nations should foster global stability by investing in effective states and legitimate institutions. But doing so requires us to renew an organization designed for a different era. Through consultation with member states, I will seek an agreement on the key tasks that the United Nations must perform. I will lead a process of reform that will allow the United Nations to set the gold standard for transparency and accountability, and which will inspire talented women and men from around the world to work at the United Nations. Only by establishing trust in the organization can we make the United Nations the instrument of global choice for addressing the problems of our time.

4) Developing Goals

By Vaira Vike-Freiverga, the president of Latvia.

AS a former refugee, I attach special importance to ensuring peace, security and the protection of the most vulnerable groups. Too often during the past five years, the United Nations has focused on the letter, not the spirit, of its charter when it needed to protect civilians caught in warfare. The international community’s responsibility to protect must not be an empty concept but a genuine obligation, and United Nations peacekeeping mandates must be more robust.

Just as significant, if not more so for the long-term sustainable development of our planet, are the Millennium Development Goals. Progress toward the goals is still unacceptably slow. The statistics on infant mortality and maternal health, among others, remain particularly distressing. Unless we make better progress, the vicious circle of poverty, social strife and military conflict will require us to devote ever more resources to peacekeeping and humanitarian aid. At the same time, we should pursue intercultural and interreligious dialogue in order to find creative new ways to address the growing threats posed by terrorism, intolerance and religious violence.

To achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and to make the United Nations more effective both in its administration and in the field, we need to streamline its management, making it more accountable and transparent. If we eliminate unnecessary duplications, we can better finance our education, social and economic development efforts.

5) Remember Timor

By Shashi Tharoor, The United Nations under secretary general for communications and public information.

REDUCING the United Nations presence in East Timor was a mistake that, given the chance to step back in time, I believe we would not make again. In May 2005, we pulled out the last of the peacekeepers, who had played a prominent role since 1999 in restoring peace to a ravaged land, leaving behind a small group of civilian advisers.

In hindsight, it’s clear that this departure came too soon. Less than a year later, East Timor’s hard-won peace broke down. In June, the country’s first president, Xanana Gusmão, asked the United Nations to send the peacekeepers back, and in August the Security Council complied.

Few would deny that nation-building is a long and arduous task. But just how much international assistance is enough? And how do we keep conflicts from reigniting when peacekeepers leave?

The organizational change I’d emphasize is one that’s just occurring: the establishment of a Peacebuilding Commission, a body charged with managing the transition from keeping a peace to building a stable society. We need to ensure that the commission becomes effective, pulling together Security Council members, troop contributors and development agencies to help bolster the economies and democratic institutions of countries emerging from conflict. To make peace truly sustainable, I would also involve our new Democracy Fund. If the United Nations can act to support democratic forces in post-conflict societies, we will help fulfill the founding ideals of our charter while preventing the horrible waste of lives, effort and money that occurs when peace, once established, proves too fragile to last.