Imperative that next Secretary-General reforms UN

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Ban Ki-moon will soon wave goodbye to the UN. His successor will have a lot of work to do. [Shutterstock]

As the UN’s selection process continues, for the first time with added transparency, Najiba Mustafayeva writes that the eventual nominee must reform the 71-year-old organisation to better reflect the realities of the modern world.

Najiba Mustafayeva is an expert at the Centre for Strategic Studies (SAM) in Azerbaijan. She specialises in international law, human rights and conflict resolution.

The United Nations General Assembly last week opened its 71st session, with an emphasis on ensuring that “implementation of the new global development goals is well underway”. This session also took place against the backdrop of the organisation’s search for its new leader, which is already approaching its final accords.

In the 71 years since the United Nations was formed, eight individuals have served as UN Secretary-General.

For the first time in its history, candidates have been making “campaign-style pitches to the General Assembly, which can be seen as an attempt to democratise the secretive nomination process” controlled by the Security Council’s five permanent members: the US, Russia, the UK, China and France.

Outgoing Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft, from Denmark, said he was proud that “the UN broke new ground with unique transparency in the selection process and hoped it would help identify the eventual nominee”.

He also appealed to the Security Council “to make the remaining process open and engaging to preserve the legitimacy of their recommendation as it feeds into the Assembly’s final decision”.

But some sceptics think that nothing has actually changed.  “There is no commitment for the Security Council to pay any attention to what the General Assembly says. The next Secretary-General will still be selected by the back-room Council deal” that has been commonplace over the previous seven decades.

The UN’s power to authorise military force or use sanction mechanism lies with the Security Council. In order to ensure prompt and effective action by the UN, its member states, in accordance with article 24 of the UN Charter, confer on the Security Council “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security”.

As arguably the most important international institution of all, the UN Security Council remains the symbol of global governance and the only judge for defining what amounts to a threat to international peace. The competing aims of its 15 members (including five “veto powers” states) make the selection process of a Secretary-General “highly contested and complex”.

Regarding the qualities which are looked for in the new Secretary-General, the General Assembly and Security Council invite applications from candidates “with proven leadership and managerial abilities, extensive experience in international relations, and strong diplomatic, communication and multilingual skills”.

“Convinced of the need to guarantee equal opportunities for women and men in gaining access to senior decision-making positions, member states are encouraged to consider nominating women, as well as men, as candidates for the position”.

Current Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon thinks that it is “high time” for a woman to hold the position and has said that “after seven decades and eight male leaders, the time is right for a woman in the top job”. He did not single out the particular candidate, but he said that there were “many distinguished, motivated women leaders who can really change this world, who can actively engage with the other leaders of the world”. Of the 11 candidates in the election to take up this top position, five are women.

The next UN Secretary-General should strive to find new methods to resolve international conflicts, “diminish the atrocities of global terrorism, better manage migrant and refugee flows, and end the many humanitarian crises”. Finally, the new boss of the UN needs to recognise that the world has changed and that the UN needs to change in accordance with new realities.

The UN still plays a crucial role in the contemporary international development and its Charter is a kind of universally accepted code of conduct of states and their relationships. There is no alternative to the UN in the 21st century, where the world meets new challenges and threats to international peace and security.

Yes, “the UN has produced major successes over its 70 years – and major failures”. One of the main reasons for the lack of effectiveness of the organisation, particularly the Security Council, lies in its inability and unwillingness in some cases to ensure the implementation of its resolutions.

While the Security Council is endowed with sufficient powers necessary for the proper execution of its resolutions, unfortunately sometimes its resolutions are not implemented or properly followed.

Experts often use the word “relic” with regards to the UN, laying in the use of this term two main ideas: the first implies the absence of activity, the second – “worship”, despite the fact that the organisation is more like a relic of the past.

The adaptation of the UN to a dramatic shift in the international political landscape has become a demand of the time. It urgently needs to be reformed, and the next Secretary-General should make this issue a priority in their future activities.

But the possibility of a reform depends much more on the policies of the great powers that have sufficient economic and military resources and the leverages of political control at the global level that are necessary for the effectiveness of the relevant reform in the UN system.

The success in this regard can be achieved only in case of renunciation of the policy of double standards in the activities of UN bodies and the demonstration of the political will of great powers based on a solid foundation of international law which can be a guarantor of sustainable international development in the 21st century.

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