Multinational jobs, national ambitions?

I spoke recently with a World Bank official who raised an interesting point: the current heads of both the Bank and the IMF may have their eyes on high national office in the future. In most cases, the top jobs at the Bank and the Fund have been capstone positions for officials wrapping up their ...

By , a professor at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies.

I spoke recently with a World Bank official who raised an interesting point: the current heads of both the Bank and the IMF may have their eyes on high national office in the future. In most cases, the top jobs at the Bank and the Fund have been capstone positions for officials wrapping up their careers. Robert McNamara retired from the Bank to write, lecture and advocate for nuclear disarmament. Recent Bank president James Wolfensohn dabbled in Middle East mediating before turning to his memoirs. Most former UN secretaries-general have become eminent retired persons or found posh sinecures.

I spoke recently with a World Bank official who raised an interesting point: the current heads of both the Bank and the IMF may have their eyes on high national office in the future. In most cases, the top jobs at the Bank and the Fund have been capstone positions for officials wrapping up their careers. Robert McNamara retired from the Bank to write, lecture and advocate for nuclear disarmament. Recent Bank president James Wolfensohn dabbled in Middle East mediating before turning to his memoirs. Most former UN secretaries-general have become eminent retired persons or found posh sinecures.

Those former international organization heads who have returned to national politics have often taken up symbolic posts.  Former IMF chief Horst Köhler, for example, became Germany’s largely ceremonial president in 2004.

The current heads of the Bretton Woods institutions look less likely to slide into distinguished dotage. IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is a top contender for the powerful French presidency. And Bank president Robert Zoellick could well covet a position as Secretary of State or Treasury in any future Republican administration. How much this affects their performance and priorities on the multinational stage is not clear. But effectively administering international institutions with multiple masters is complex in the best of times. Doing so with one eye on how decisions affect future national prospects may be that much more complicated.

 

David Bosco is a professor at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies. He is the author of The Poseidon Project: The Struggle to Govern the World’s Oceans. Twitter: @multilateralist

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