Monday, January 09, 2017
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 2017, pp. 32-33
CRYSTAL BALLS DO NOT work well in the United Nations at the best of times. If you want a recipe for chaotic outcomes, then take 193 direct players, 5 of whom have an ace up their sleeve in the form of a veto, dictating to an organization with dozens of relatively autonomous agencies whose heads often apportion their allegiances to the nations who proposed them and those who finance them. And into this, Donald Trump has thrown the Tea Party-backed governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, born Sikh, converted to Methodism, one of whose few foreign policy stands mandates state opposition to BDS efforts.
On the bright side, the new U.N. representative did have the courage to oppose Trump earlier, and to oppose deportation of Muslims, and we can assume that her subcontinental origins will to some extent inoculate her against xenophobia, and perhaps even American exceptionalism. However, quite how this works for future American foreign policy in general, let alone toward the United Nations, is even more of a mystery than before.
The previous pattern was that Democratic presidents included the U.N. ambassador in their cabinet, while Republicans do not. But Donald Trump has promoted Haley to the cabinet. Was this because he was not aware of previous practice, or because he wanted a minority woman in his cabinet? Or was it a bribe to get her to give up her independent position in South Carolina?
Previous U.N. ambassadors have always had to cope with the ghost of Andrew Young, the U.N. envoy fired for meeting informally with the Palestinian representative at the U.N., so even those who privately disagreed with the Lobby’s manipulation of U.S. Middle East policy have gone along with the flow and dutifully—and shamefully—leveled the veto on the mildest criticism of Israel.
It would be difficult to piece together a coherent foreign policy from Trump’s erratic statements on the campaign trail and afterward. From one point of view, his phone conversation with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen was a welcome sign of refusal to be bullied by Beijing—but if it was not part of a considered policy, it was an indication that we have a president-elect who could puckishly start World War III with an ill-considered gesture. And to add to the confusion, it is not clear against whom he would start it!
So, on the one hand, he opined that the Israelis should pay for their U.S. weapons supplies—but on the other, he made the standard pledge of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. But had anyone explained the intricacies of international law to him? Or, since almost every other candidate made the same pledge, did he, too, have his fingers crossed behind his back when he said it?
Trump’s nominee as defense secretary, Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis, has wisely suggested that Israeli policies in the occupied territories are a clear and present danger to U.S. forces in the region—but then wants to step up pressure on Iran, just as Netanyahu and the Lobby ordered.
We are not even sure what Trump’s views on the United Nations are. From some quarters, hostility to the organization is engendered by the member states’ insistence that Israel does not have an automatic pass for breaches of U.N. decisions. Certainly the Democratic Party has been torn for years between supporting the great creation of Roosevelt and Truman and deploring its support for Palestinian rights. Since the Republican/Likud Axis has become so prominent, the GOP has merged its pro-Israel stance with its nativist dislike of foreigners—a blend manifest in Rudy Giuliani, the curmudgeonly ex-mayor of New York who in 1995 ordered PLO leader Yasser Arafat out of a U.N. anniversary banquet.
To some extent Trump has prejudices rather than policies—but he is enough of a businessman to realize that it is often profitable to overlook reflexive aversions. Trump the realtor obviously appreciates the U.N.’s effect on property values in New York City, building one of his most outstandingly tasteless edifices just across the road from U.N. headquarters. Whatever prejudices he and his father had against African-American tenants is clearly not carried over to the many African and Arab diplomats who rent and buy his properties.
So will the policy be neglect, or will he see what other administrations, not least Bill Clinton’s, have: that the U.N. saves a lot of effort compared with being the world’s self-appointed cop? It is really difficult to say, but then that is true of previous regimes. Clinton posed as a liberal internationalist and then issued his Policy Directive 25 that vetoed any expenditure on peacekeeping that did not directly serve self-defined U.S. interests. The victims of Rwanda and Srebrenica were not, we discovered, essential U.S. interests.
In contrast, President Barack Obama amended that directive last year, in a reasoned assessment that asserted, “Multilateral peace operations, particularly United Nations (U.N.) peace operations, will, therefore, continue to be among the primary international tools that we use to address conflict-related crises.”
The crucial question is whether a Trump administration will have anything like a coherent foreign policy—and to what extent it sees the United Nations as helping in fulfilling that.
Using the old Confucian cliché of crisis as opportunity, new U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has a better chance of independence than most—even if the major powers will nominate most of his senior officials. As previously noted (see Nov./Dec. 2016 Washington Report, p. 30), elected unanimously as a former prime minister of an important, if small, power; as head of one of the U.N.’s most called-upon agencies; and even as former president of the Socialist International, he has far more experience and better international connections than Trump—or any of his cabinet members.
Interestingly, Guterres had the support of China for his candidacy, and China has upped its dues payments, so that it is now the next biggest financier, after the U.S., for U.N. operations—and provides more peacekeepers than any other great power. The U.S. might still be the “indispensable power” Madeleine Albright claimed it to be, but it has never been more dispensable than now, as its primacy is increasingly challenged.
Meanwhile, back at the U.N., Israel’s Ambassador Danny Danon has shown his heritage in the settlement movement since he became chairman of the U.N. General Assembly’s Sixth Committee, which deals with legal affairs. He is clearly enjoying himself and has expanded the toehold to annex more and more organizational territory. His latest escapade was to convene a meeting of self-appointed legal experts that included Alan Dershowitz and Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America to consider legal action against advocates of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. It appears to be a tendentious extension of the claimed privileges of the chair, but has no legal effect.
However, politically, it surely is time for the Palestinian Mission to convene a U.N. conference on how to give international legal effect to the decisions of the International Criminal Court on the applicability of the Geneva Conventions on Occupied Territories to the Israeli-occupied territories.
On Nov. 29 the U.N. commemorated its Annual Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Ban Ki-moon has been an articulate defender of international legality, not to mention humanitarian solidarity, in the region, but his statements have rarely been reported, not even in indignation by pro-Israeli press—almost as if they realized that condemning such a mild-mannered and manifestly principled person would only validate his statements. So it is only fitting that as he leaves office we reproduce his remarks:
“Recent years have witnessed two unsuccessful attempts at negotiating a peaceful settlement, three armed conflicts, thousands of dead—the vast majority of them Palestinian civilians—rampant incitement, terror attacks, thousands of rockets and bombs fired at Israel from Gaza, and an expanding, illegal Israeli settlement enterprise that risks undermining Israel’s democratic values and the character of its society. This year, the number of demolitions of Palestinian houses and other structures by Israeli forces has doubled, compared to 2015. Gaza remains a humanitarian emergency, with two million Palestinians struggling with crumbling infrastructure and a paralyzed economy, and tens of thousands still displaced, awaiting reconstruction of homes destroyed by conflict.”
While it contains the obligatory “balance” so often demanded by U.S. and Israeli representatives, the inescapable truth of who is most to blame emerges clearly from its enumeration of the details. In the General Assembly debate on the resolutions, U.S. representative Richard Erdman came out with the usual worries about “the disproportionate number of one-sided resolutions that had been designed to condemn Israel.” Interestingly, he added, “While the United States consistently opposed every effort to delegitimize Israel at the United Nations, his delegation would also continue to view Israeli settlement activity as illegitimate, corrosive and a threat to a two-state solution.”
Erdman failed, however, to identify how much of Israel Palestine occupied and how many settlements it had built there. Nor did he identify what steps Washington had taken to persuade Israel to give up its corrosive ways, short of stuffing its arsenal with offensive weapons and its treasury with cash.
In fact, he missed a golden opportunity to suggest ways to take the wind out of the sails of the international BDS movement. If the U.S. and U.N. took the action they had against South Africa, then consumers’ boycotting bath salts from the occupied Dead Sea would be totally unnecessary. ◙
U.N. correspondent Ian Williams’ book UNtold: the Real Story of the United Nations will be published by Just World Books in Spring 2017.
Friday, December 23, 2016
Saturday, November 26, 2016
Sunday, November 20, 2016
Investor Relations magazine, Fall 2016
August 29, 2016 | By Ian Williams
Ian Williams ponders the best way to hire a figurehead
There has been a recent spate of complaints that boards and CEOs are not planning for CEO succession. Why is anyone surprised? Imperial CEOs assume the company will go to Hell in a handbasket as soon as they leave, and if CEOs need their maws stuffed with gold just to deliver good results, why would they care what happens once they have landed with their golden parachute?
Just how essential are a CEO’s talents for a corporation? Like the divine right of kings, the indispensability of the CEO seems deeply rooted – but rarely investigated – in IR lore. CEOs are surrounded with awe and pomp while in office but, with a few rare exceptions, in reality they are ephemeral shooting stars who are almost instantly forgotten when they go. Carly Fiorina’s inglorious executive career, for example, had been buried in the public subconscious until she chose to resurrect herself as a US presidential candidate, only to see her reputation reburied even more deeply.
By contrast, we are likely to remember the Fords and the Bacardis and members of the House of Windsor: these bosses’ names evoke historically successful businesses. Dynastic succession does not always work, however. Many years ago I interviewed the bright and optimistic IRO of Seagram – just before perky young heir Edgar Bronfman, Jr took over and destroyed the company. Normally, family members care enough about their operation to keep upstarts on a rein, but young Bronfman was unconstrained. A good CEO might not make much difference to the upside, but a bad one can signpost the road to Hell.
In fact, one reason for lack of succession planning might be that CEOs are taking the Ottoman approach. The first thing a new Sultan would do is murder all the siblings who might threaten his position, and one cannot help but wonder whether CEOs paranoid enough to need golden parachutes and other protective paraphernalia to guarantee safe succession really want to identify potential rivals – other than to exclude them from the equation.
A CEO is indeed a figurehead for a company: the first person investors see. But if we examine the metaphor, the figurehead only appears to be leading the ship. In reality the engine room is below decks, while the vessel is actually steered from much farther back. But figureheads were often decked with gold, so there is indeed a resemblance to the modern CEO.
How necessary is all that gold, though? Ostentatious emoluments – the corporate jets, the golden parachutes, and the rest – are there like Queen Elizabeth II’s privy purse, crown and state coach: so the incumbent can live up to the expectations that employees and shareholders hold of the company.
The purpose of pretending to try outside recruitment is to boost the myth that there is a market for CEOs, so that the compensation committee the CEO appoints will be trapped in the whirring treadmill, always paying more than the average, and the few who are appointed from outside contribute admirably to the expanding universe of executive pay by doubling their remuneration.
Above all, however, it is clear that a CEO’s main tasks are to perform for the shareholders and public, and to boost morale in the company. It is not that high pay is necessary to incentivize these executives, for surely they would give their all for the company anyway, out of loyalty? No.
Preferably, then, the CEO succession should be from within the company so the candidates know its idiosyncrasies. For the pool of CEO candidates, therefore, the line of succession should clearly come from the IR department. IR people need some coaching in the simulation of leadership – acting, voice coaching, deportment and similar skills – but no one can match their knowledge of corporate workings. At last, a figurehead that thinks!
Then again, CEOs should epitomize, not exclude themselves from efficient market theory, which suggests that CEO contracts, like all others should go to the best qualified – and lowest – bidder, which in turn reinforces using the IR department as the recruitment pool – because everyone knows that IROs come cheaper than all others.
Saturday, October 29, 2016
United Nations Report
The Other 2016 Election: for Next U.N. Secretary-General
By Ian Williams
EVEN WITH ALL the media attention swallowed by the Trump/Clinton battle, there is amazingly little attention given to the selection of a new secretary-general to replace the retiring Ban Ki-moon. Making it even more remarkable is that, albeit by the opaque standards of previous elections, this is the most transparent in the 70-year history of the U.N., where the selection of the world’s “secular pope” has traditionally been carried out in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms.
It is perhaps a blessing that both Trump and Clinton are too preoccupied to pay much attention to the secretary-generalship issue, as their influence on that election is unlikely to be constructive. It was, after all, Clinton’s close comrade-in-arms Madeleine Albright who used American veto power to ensure that Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the only Arab ever to hold the position, was not allowed a second term, and whose imperious attitude to the organization led to perennial tensions with even close U.S. allies.
Surprisingly, Trump has been too busy with populist xenophobia about Mexicans to bother about the U.N. It has not been one of his targets so far. It would seem that his supporters were a natural constituency for those who used to believe that UNESCO World Heritage sites in the U.S. were a U.N. land grab and potential bases for black helicopters to take over the country. Maybe looking for Mexicans and Muslims under the bed has diverted their attention—but, in any case, Trump’s nose for business would remind him that much of his shaky real estate empire in Manhattan would be adversely affected if the United Nations and its high rent diplomats were to quit. He built the ugly Trump Tower directly opposite the U.N. to cater to them, after all—and even offered his services as developer to Kofi Annan to refurbish the old U.N. HQ.
In any case, another president has intervened in a significant way. Danish Social Democrat leader Mogens Lykketoft was elected last year as president of the General Assembly, and as a few of his predecessors occasionally did, he decided to make his mark since his term coincided with the selection of the secretary-general. Although in practice it is overlooked, under strict diplomatic protocol the U.N. president counts as a head of state, with 21-gun salutes and all that, while the secretary-general officially is merely ranked as the equivalent of a foreign minister!
The actual power to nominate is still firmly in the hands of the Security Council.
In the real world, however, the secretary-general is there for at least one, and—except in the case of Boutros-Ghali—for two terms, while the presidency rotates annually. Lykketoft has made his mark on posterity by getting the Security Council to agree to a more transparent secretary-general selection process. With most of the membership backing him, he secured the Security Council’s agreement to make public the names and qualifications of the candidates and to present them to the whole membership of the United Nations.
That work was backed up by the various foundations and NGOs around the U.N., and meetings were held in New York and around the world for candidates to strut their stuff in front of diplomats, academics and human rights supporters, while governments and PR firms touted their candidacies.
Transparency has its limits, however. The actual power to nominate is still firmly in the hands of the Security Council, and thus subject to the veto power of any or all of the five permanent members. There have been three straw polls, with the last taking place at the end of the August, in which the Council’s 15 members record whether they would “encourage,” “discourage” or have no opinion about the various candidates. Under the official procedure, the president of the Security Council merely informs the General Assembly president that the poll has taken place—without sharing the results. Absurdly, most or all of the Council members immediately rush and tell the press what the voting results are. It is a secret ballot, leaving participants in the dark about whether the “discourage” votes imply a veto coming down the line.
Complicating the already arcane process are underlying presumptions, none of which are actual rules. Firstly, the East European group has never had a secretary-general and claims it is their turn. Against that is the reality that the group is a Cold War hangover, most of whose members have either joined or applied to join the European Union. However, Moscow, not traditionally favorable to the rotation principle—or indeed to the often anti-Russian governments of its former clients—has become more sympathetic to the idea, not least since several of the candidates were brought up and groomed in the Communist era and tend to pay attention to what Vladimir Putin would tell them. These are, of course, unlikely to attract enthusiastic support from the Western veto holders.
The second principle being invoked is that it is long overdue for a woman to take the position—which is, in abstract, entirely true. However, observation of the records of Margaret Thatcher, Albright, Golda Meir or Indira Gandhi in high office leads to questions about whether it follows that having a woman in office is good for women in general or the world—which leads to the final, and often overlooked, principle of the candidates’ competence and integrity.
Theoretically, the various hustings have allowed the candidates to demonstrate this to a watching world. The earnest assumption is that the Security Council members will have to take this into account when they make their final choice. But they have their ready-made excuses. A consistently clear front runner was the Portuguese former head of the U.N. refugee program, António Guterres, who has now managed to accrete several “discourages”—and one can be sure that the excuse is that Portugal is on the wrong end of Europe, and that he is male. On the other hand, one of the stars of the hustings was Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica, a star of the Climate Change program, whom the audience clearly rated highly. But she has amassed a surprising number of “discourage” votes—the real reason being that she seems principled and outspoken, not least on issues like Climate Change, on which many member states are still shuffling their feet. And, of course, the excuse will be that while she is a woman, she is not Eastern European.
Other candidates have been amassing more and more negatives, and the field seems very volatile. If the Russians nixed Guterres, currently in second place is Slovakian diplomat Miroslav Lajčák, who has just surged from 10th place, implying some lobbying behind the scenes. A former communist party member now with EU credentials, he might bridge the gap. The runners up are Irina Bokova, the Bulgarian head of UNESCO, who seems to have Moscow’s tacit support based on close connections, and Vuk Jeremic of Serbia, whose vociferous opposition to Kosovar independence makes him unlikely to get Western support.
Bokova is close to the Russians, by family and upbringing, and has devoted her time at UNESCO to canvassing for the job, but the British and others are very suspicious of her sharp elbows and feel that her ambition led her to neglect her actual duties at UNESCO. But she is a woman, and she is Eastern European, so the question is how disgruntled they will be about her. She is certainly adroit, getting credit from the Non-Aligned Movement for allowing Palestinian membership in UNESCO on the agenda, while reassuring the Israelis (and their friends) that it had nothing to do with her!
As the process moves on, the polls will reveal whether the opposition to the various candidates goes as far as actual vetoes. Perhaps it is a blessing that so far the election is below the horizon for the various lobbies in Washington, since there are too many factors already complicating this process.
MOROCCO’S LAME DUCK
In the meantime, Ban Ki-moon is clearly in lame duck mode as far as the Moroccans are concerned. The Moroccans ritually abuse him in every speech, which is one thing. But the French and other Security Council members let them get away with it. Many of the MINURSO staff in Western Sahara have still not been allowed back into the country. The Moroccans and their French allies, with U.S. complicity, continue to fight off any attempts to include a human rights monitoring component in the mission, making it unique among U.N. missions.
As we go to press, there are signs that Morocco, emboldened by Franco-American acquiescence, is encroaching beyond the cease-fire line in the south, risking provocation with both Polisario and Mauritania. In an oblique way it shows the potential power of a secretary-general—if he (or she) is backed by significant powers. As Boutros-Ghali, exasperated with U.S.-backed mandates from the Security Council unaccompanied by any resources, complained, “I can do nothing. I have no army. I have no money. I have no experts. I am borrowing everything. If the member states don’t want it, what can I do?”
In his day, the only power in a position to provide support was the U.S., which would lead to palpitations in any secretary-general, whether it were Trump or Clinton in Washington. But the world has changed. Europe, even in its current disheveled state, China, even Russia, might be in a position to back an enterprising incumbent. Certainly Washington’s (and Congress’ and the Lobby’s) effective financial veto is not what it was.
But the new secretary-general will immediately cope with the impasse in Syria, where all the talk of a Brave New World of responsibilities to protect, collective concern for humanitarian law, and international action are going up in a firestorm stirred by cynical bystanders who are managing to give Levantine politics a bad time. Everyone’s enemy is someone’s friend, but the U.N. is supposed to be the enemy of inhumanity. And humanity has few friends in this fight. ◙
U.N. correspondent Ian Williams’ book Untold: the Real Story of the United Nations will be published by Just World Books in Spring 2017.