Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Memo from Norway: The UN Secretary-General is "spineless" and "passive"

There's a big to-do in New York: a memo from the Deputy Permanent Representative of Norway to the UN, meant for consumption by the Ministry in Oslo, has leaked. And to say the least, it casts the UN Secretary-General in an entirely unflattering light. Foreign Policy has the memo posted.

Some highlights:
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's fruitless visit to Burma in the beginning of July is indicative of a Secretary-General and an organization who are struggling to show leadership...In the many political/security-related crises around the world the Secretary-General's leadership and ability to deliver on behalf of the international organization are also found wanting.
Then the good Ambassador goes on to list shortcomings on Burma, Sri Lanka, Congo, disarmament and non-proliferation. But the icing (I did not mean that as the worst pun on the face of the planet) really is here:
What all these examples have in common is that a spineless and charmless Secretary-General, has not compensated this by appointing high profile and visible coworkers.
The FT has this tidbit:
The Norwegian foreign ministry declined to comment on the letter when it first emerged yesterday but quoted Jonas Gahr Stoere, foreign minister, as having described Mr Ban as "hardworking" and "attentive".
Umm--isn't that what people also say about employees they've fired when asked to provide a reference? Anyway, this is bound to start discussion over what makes a good UN Secretary-General. This matters because in places like Congo, Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, Haiti, Timor-Leste and many others, the UN is the go-to please try and fix this problem organization. It has its faults and its challenges but that doesn't mean it shouldn't have good leadership.


  1. Don't forget that the UN has a large role in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Afghanistan the UN representative is suppose to coordinate tens of billions in long term economic development grants; not to mention a large diplomatic role.

    In Iraq the UN is conducting many difficult negotiations regarding Kirkuk and KRG/GoI tension.

  2. Anand, very true. Actually the memo mentions the role of UNAMA's SRSG as productive so the Ambassador is getting some flack for giving her colleague a shout out.

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  4. This is simply reflective of the UN's number one problem: it is not a meritocracy. Up to the highest levels, people are chosen for political reasons and to fill in country and continent quotas. Of course nobody wants the UN to be filled only with a handful of nationalities--that would defeat the objective of representativeness and so on. But choosing a leader on something else than his competence is, it seems to me, a recipe for disaster.
    Also, obviously (and a fault not limited to the UN), part of what motivated Ban's choice to begin with was probably the need to achieve a difficult consensus... This reminds me of the French presidential election in 1920: when the inoffensive (and, as it turned out, slightly mentally challenged) Paul Deschanel won against Clemenceau (who had just won, well, the First World War), Clemenceau sighed: "They chose the dumbest one". Some electoral (or nomination) systems just don't reward bold thinking or strong personalities. The UN seems to have one of them.

  5. Speaking of the UN and its personnel decisions...

  6. I think Secretarys General should only have a name that starts with Boutros Boutros. All others need not apply.

  7. Gulliver, sad but true. Jew hatred might be worst in Pakistan than in Egypt. Many Pakistanis really believe that the Jews did 9/11. Whereas in Egypt much of the anger is against Israel versus Jews in general, in Pakistan it seems.

    Are you familiar with the conspiracy theories that the Jews did the Asian tsunami in 2004? It was apparently an Israeli/Indian/US secret underwater test all orchestrated by the Jews.