Coming Soon… A Secretary-General Near You

Check out The List this week–it’s FP’s guide to who might be the next United Nations Secretary-General. Kofi Annan steps down at the end of the year, but the UN will decide on a successor well before then.  The selection of the chief is usually only slightly more transparent than the selection of a new pope (no ...

606963_Annan2.jpg
606963_Annan2.jpg

Check out The List this week--it's FP's guide to who might be the next United Nations Secretary-General. Kofi Annan steps down at the end of the year, but the UN will decide on a successor well before then. 

The selection of the chief is usually only slightly more transparent than the selection of a new pope (no puffs of smoke, for instance). There are very few written rules (read this for a more detailed explanation), but traditionally, the Security Council P5 unanimously decide on a candidate and present him (there have only been men so far) to the rest of the Security Council, which then nominates him and passes it on to the full General Assembly for a vote. 

Conventional wisdom holds that the post rotates by region, so it's Asia's turn. China has all but officially declared that it will only support an Asian candidate. But the U.S. has expressed little enthusiasm for any of the current three Asian names on everyone's list, suggesting it might be time to designate Eastern Europe as a region. And Russia has pretty much said it doesn't want anyone from a country that used to fall under its sphere of influence. With all three countries wielding veto power, the process could end up at loggerheads. Some NGOs are calling for the selection system to be reformed to reflect a more democratic process. So are some nations. Canada wants Q&A sessions with prospective candidates, and India has suggested that the Security Council send three names, instead of only one, to the General Assembly.

Check out The List this week–it’s FP’s guide to who might be the next United Nations Secretary-General. Kofi Annan steps down at the end of the year, but the UN will decide on a successor well before then. 

The selection of the chief is usually only slightly more transparent than the selection of a new pope (no puffs of smoke, for instance). There are very few written rules (read this for a more detailed explanation), but traditionally, the Security Council P5 unanimously decide on a candidate and present him (there have only been men so far) to the rest of the Security Council, which then nominates him and passes it on to the full General Assembly for a vote. 

Conventional wisdom holds that the post rotates by region, so it’s Asia’s turn. China has all but officially declared that it will only support an Asian candidate. But the U.S. has expressed little enthusiasm for any of the current three Asian names on everyone’s list, suggesting it might be time to designate Eastern Europe as a region. And Russia has pretty much said it doesn’t want anyone from a country that used to fall under its sphere of influence. With all three countries wielding veto power, the process could end up at loggerheads. Some NGOs are calling for the selection system to be reformed to reflect a more democratic process. So are some nations. Canada wants Q&A sessions with prospective candidates, and India has suggested that the Security Council send three names, instead of only one, to the General Assembly.

Ten years ago, Kofi’s name didn’t surface until late in the game, and he wasn’t well-known. So keep in mind that the next SG might be someone you’ve never heard of before. All the more reason to check out The List.

The people on our list are seven of the most likely current candidates, but many other names have been mentioned too: East Timor’s Jose Ramos-Horta (not likely, since the peace that the Nobel prizewinner so carefully constructed is falling to pieces), India’s Shashi Tharoor (too much of a UN insider, and untested as an administrator), and Sweden’s Jan Eliasson (the General Assembly prez is considered too independent and headstrong). The women’s rights group Equality Now is saying that it’s high time that the world’s largest international institution put someone of the female persuasion up top. In addition to Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, former UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata from Japan and former World Health Organization director-general Gro Harlem Brundtland from Norway are the most internationally known. But at almost 80 years old, Ogata is too old, and  the UN isn’t likely to pick another Nordic chief since two of the previous eight secretaries-general were Scandinavian.  

For continual updated gossip on who might be the next secretary general, check out “Who Will be the Next UN Secretary General?”, an outstanding, comprehensive blog by University of Maryland grad student Tony Fleming. Chapter15 keeps track of mentions in the Asian press. And, of course, FP will keep you abreast of any major developments.

Christine Y. Chen is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.

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