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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 42

A Secular Pope, a Scapegoat or a Secretary-General

Tuesday 9 October 2007, by Manan Dwivedi


“I am the soothsayer, I am the debt collector, I am the father confessor, and I am the cheerleader, the salesman and the promoter, too. There are yet many aspects of my character and my role which I am yet to discover.” These are the apt and illustrative words of the anointed Secretary-General, Kofi Annan,1 of the United Nations Organisation as he delivered his second inaugural speech while initiating discussion at the United Nations General Assembly session in the year 2002. This too happened to be the year when he bequeathed his second-year term for the coveted pedestal of the chief de mission of the “Parliament of the World”. The hallowed portals of the sustainer of international peace and security are traversed by the mighty footsteps of its multi-utility package, epitomised by the seat of our friendly neighbourhood civil servant and advocate, Kofi Annan, our secular Pope from Ghana. In one of his best-loved plays, William Shakespeare poses a question: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” The meaning is clear: a thing is what it is, not what it is called. That might be the intended meaning, but it is far from obvious that this is the case. In the play, the Montagues and the Capulets are deadly enemies.2 It’s clear to the two families, their names are very important. In the case of Taiwan and certainly the wider Chinese commonwealth, names are very important. In Confucian’s teachings, which have formed the moral compass of the Chinese people for thousands of years, the “rectification of names” is considered crucial. The same is the case with the nomenclaturing and multi-role vitality of the sanctimonious seat of the Secretary-General.

Equal parts diplomat, advocate, civil servant and CEO, the Secretary-General is a symbol of the United Nations ideals and a spokesman for the interests of the world’s peoples, in particular the poor and vulnerable among them. As the Secretary-General, and the seventh occupant of the post, Kofi A. Annan of Ghana, took office on Janary 1, 1997. The Charter beautifully and succinctly portrays the Secretary-General as “the Chief Administrative Officer” of the Organisation, who shall act in that capacity and perform “such other functions as are entrusted” to him or her by the Security Council, General Assembly, Economic and Social Council and other United Nations organs.

The “Good Offices” Function of the Secretary-General

ONE of the most vital roles played by the industrious Secretary-General is the use of his “Good Offices”,3 which are conflict resolution manoeuvres undertaken publicly and in private, drawing upon his independence, impartiality and integrity, to prevent international disputes from arising, escalating or spreading. Since becoming the Secretary-General, Annan made use of his good offices in a veritable bedlam of situations, including Cyprus, East Timor, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria and Western Sahara.4 The hallowed institution of “Good Offices” is an entity, which has not been enshrined in the United Nations Charter, the Bible of all human, developmental and environmental rights. Nowhere, does the Charter direct the UN’s pontiff to undertake any personalised confict resolution mechanism and conflict narrowing exercise.

It was the legendary Trygvie Lie, the first ruling pontiff of that opaque and gilded structure, magnum opus in the heart of New York, who took upon himself the unenviable task of developing and building upon the basic substratum of the United Nations Organisation. He initiated the mammoth but path-breaking United Nations observer and peacemaking manoeuvres of the order of the UN Observer Mission in Israel-Palestine and the much-referred-to UNMOGIP, United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan.5

Election Process at the United Nations

ELECTIONS and selections at the United Nations Plaza building in Turtle Bay6 in New York are an interesting and intricately complex process involving the usage of coloured straw polls with the attendant practice of assigning red coloured cards to the permanent members of the Security Council. White coloured cards are assigned to the non-permanent nation-states of the grand power Council of the world. It is the onerous task of the great powers of the Security Council to confabulate and recommend a single name as the official candidate of the United Nations.

The Organisation presiding over an era of structural and substantive reforms identified by a definitive fin de siecle does not adhere to a basic skill set of candidate qualifications for the much-sought-after position of the Secretary-General.7 However, a 1945 report by the United Nations Preparatory Commission set out the following conditionalities that ought to form part and parcel of an ideal Curriculum Vitae of the aspirant. This Prep-Com report was further solidified in a concrete form through a General Assembly Resolution, which was consensually passed in January 1946.

• Administrative and executive qualities to integrate the activity of the whole complex of United Nations organs.

• Moral authority to model the independent role required by Article 100 of the UN Charter;

• Ability to play a role as a mediator.8

Another General Assembly Resolution Number 51/241 appeared out of the sanctum sanctorum of the United Nations in the momentous year of 1997. In more than one sense it was a watershed as it was herein that a recommendation calling for a definitive role for the President of the General Assembly in the selection procedure of the high priest of world affairs was demanded for the first time.9

The 2006 Secretary General Elections

THE elections of October 2006 formed an interesting stew as they purported to pit an all-array of Asian candidates for the coveted position with the system of geographical rotation coming into play. The Indian candidate, Shashi Tharoor, has had enough of rescuing the troubled people out of Vietnam and has done a lot of public relations work for the United Nations. He is a diplomat and literatteur par excellence who assigns a rather hilarious reason for being elected to the United Nations in a junior capacity much earlier. He commented sarcastically:

The UN mandarins had spent so much money ferrying me in and out of Europe that they considered that a non-selection after so much of expenditure will be tantamount to a loss making decision.

There was a reason for China, Russia, and the US to poll conclusively very soon in the month of October in the year 2006. They were satisfied with the current caché of candidates and believed that their preferred candidate, Ban Ki-Moon, would not receive a “discourage” vote from any permanent member. Ban Ki-Moon eventually, received 14 “encourage” ballots and one “discourage” ballot in the September 14, 2006 polls and had a similarly favourable outcome in the final polling.

Present-day UN Chief de Mission: What does he do Best?

THE UN Security Council Resolution Number 1701 expressed its utmost concern at the escalation of hostilities in Lebanon and Israel since the Hezbollah’s attack on Israel on July 12, 2006. It welcomed the commitment of the Lebanese Government for a United Nations force that is supplanted and enhanced in numbers, mandate and scope of operation. The Lebanese Government had earlier called for an immediate withdrawal of the Israeli forces from southern Lebanon. The last part of the UN Resolution claimed that “it is determined to act for the withdrawal to happen at the earliest”.10 This assertion, with the support of the Secretary-General, set the tone for the future UN operations through the rubric of the Security Council. The UNIFIL-II did arrive, but it did so after an immense amount of mayhem and carnage had occurred in Southern Lebanon. The Secretary-General suggested that the Council should consider an independent assessment mission to assess options for monitoring the Syrian-Lebanese border. He also urged the neighbours, Syria in particular, to do everything they can to help implement Resolution Number 1701.

The new Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, is proving to be a quick learner who undertakes jaunty junkets all across the Middle East so that he is able to convince, coax and cajole the political leaders in the Middle East, specially in Lebanon and in the dreaded Darfur in Africa. Darfur faces an immense humanitarian crisis presently with the rebels failing to adapt to the peace policies of the European donors. The neophyte Vicar commented in a recent May 8, 2007, tete-a-tete with William Kelly, who is a renowned United Press International journalist. He commented:

My top priority is to make swift movement and progress on the Darfur issue. I will soon engage in consultations with the African Union and the Sudanese Government on the proposal of hybrid (AU-UN) operations. That’s a top priority.11

The livid secretary-General went on to relate to the “urgency” in the United Nations to provide more teeth to the UN Security Council Members’ Mission in both Pristina and Belgrade, the two hotbeds of the Kosovo conflict zone. Ban Ki-Moon agreed gleefully to persist with the “traditional rationale” of subsisting with the United States akin to the trend of all Chief de Missions of the benign and efficient United Nations.12

The United States, in its recent spate of diplomacy, is leaving no stone unturned in getting rid of cleavages between Bosnia and Herzegovina to be part of the Euro-Atlantic congregation. Still, as imagined in a United States soap opera, Sesame Street, the male actor, Elmo, is visited by the UN Secretary-General. Elmo is all hospitality. Soon, he shows his true colours as he comments: “Sir, I find you a nice guy but I won’t let you in as you might discover my chemical plant.” The former peace pontiff, Kofi Annan, on May 25, 2006, urged Norway to take the lead in international conflict resolution. Elmo can’t deter a peacenik of his genre. Taking cues from his illustrious predecessor, the South Korean Vicar has warned that global warming and its consequences is a top United Nations priority. Ban-Ki-Moon, on May 25, 2007, indicated to the G-8 nations that the ample scientific evidence procured recently by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was “unequivocal”.

The workstation of this over burdened and under-funded international entrepreneur of peace is riddled with a Greek “Scylla” and “Charybdis” contradiction. Peace and security, human rights and development. Elections come and go but the international significance of the Secretary-General’s role remains intact, alive and kicking. He is the Flash Gordon of “USS United Nations” all set to sail for the upkeep and maintenance of the world polity.


1. Global Policy Forum. (2007), Former Secretary General: Kofi Anan (Online:Web), accessed on May 26, 2007, URL: <> . An excerpt from his initiatives: “Social progress is a necessary component of development. healthy and educated individuals are far more able to contribute to the well-being and advancement of their societies. The Millennium Development Goals adopted by world leaders two years ago establish clear targets for a range of urgent imperatives, such as achieving universal primary education and promoting gender equality.”

2. The excerpt is taken from the play, Romeo and Juliet, where the playwright wittingly refers to an incident in the sense of a dual meaning interpretation of an incident. Thus, when the Republic of China (Taiwan) launched its fourteenth bid for entry to the United Nations, it was notable that at the first mention, the island’s status was as the Republic of China, but after that, the island was referred to as Taiwan.

3. Frank, Thomas M. (2003), The Secretary General’s Role in Conflict Resolution: Past, Present and Pure Conjecture (October 14, 2003) (Online: Web), accessed on May 26, 2007, URL: . The term “Good offices” has at its roots the 1899 and 1970 Hague Conventions, Articles 2 and 3 of both instruments stipulate that ‘before an appeal to arms’ states shall ‘have recourse, as far as circumstances allow, to the good offices or mediation of one or more friendly powers’.

4. Jensen, Erik (2004), Western Sahara: Anatomy of a Stalemate: Boulder: Colorado, Lynne Reinner Publishers, 2004, pp. 50-100. The long-running conflict over the sovereignty of Western Sahara has involved all the states of northwest Africa and many beyond since Spain ceded the territory to Morocco and Mauritania in 1976. Erik Jensen traces the evolution of the conflict—from its colonial roots to its present manifestation as a political stalemate.

5. UN Security Council Resolution 91, the UNMOGIP: following the termination of the UNCIP, this resolution established the United Nations Military Observer Group of India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP). The UNMOGIP’s mandate was to investigate and report happenings and ceasefire violations, providing each country and the Secretary-General with the findings. Also, these details are linked to the UN mission in the subcontinent. In January 1948, the Security Council adopted Resolution 39 (1948) establishing the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) to investigate and mediate the dispute.

6. Turtle Bay (2007), The History of Turtle Bay: Once a Farm With a Bay (Online: Web), accessed on May 26, 2007, URL: <> . The History of Turtle Bay dates back to 1639 when the Dutch Governor gave two Englishmen a land grant of forty acres, crossed by a creek that emptied into a bay of the East River.

7. The term fin de siecle refers to the rather tumultuous tenure of Pierre De Cuellar, who was the United Nations Secretary-General in the eighties and presided over the successful resolution of the Iran-Iraq war through his “Good Offices Mission” and sending of his Special Representative.

8. General Assembly Resolution Number 11, passed in the portals of General Assembly in the year 1949, which includes an enunciation of the general qualifications of a candidate for the top position in United Nations.

9. General Assembly Resolution Number 51/241, which was passed in the portals of the General Assembly and which provided suggestions on the part of Third World and other nations to rectify the selection procedure of the top slot of the United Nations. The Resolution was passed in 1997 and it clamoured for a greater role of the General Assembly in the selection procedure of the Secretary-General.

10. United Nations Security Council. (SC Resolution,/ 1701) 2006. Adopted by the Security Council at its 5511th meeting, on August 11, 2006.

11. Kelly, William M. (2007), “Interview: UN Chief on His Diplomacy” (United Press International News, Analysis, Insight, May 8, 2007) (Online: Web), accessed on May 26, 2006. URL: http/

12. Ibid.

The author is a Lecturer, Gandhinagar National Law University, Gujarat.

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