Wednesday, January 03, 2007

American for Peacekeeping? -- And Which American would that be?

Blair Cronyism derailing UN Reform

Here we, three days into the New Year, and it is already apparent that when the Permanent Five members talk about UN reform they are only kidding. The first major appointment of the New Year is in fact a Major appointment, albeit out of Blair.

When I heard that John Holmes was going to take over from Jan Egeland as USG for humanitarian affairs, my first confused thought was "The porn star with a ten-incher? But he's dead!"

Alas, no one so colourful. Rather Sir John Holmes is a protégé of Tony Blair and sometime host of the Prime Minister on his frequent freebie holiday junkets around the world. Before he was Personal Private Secretary to Conservative Prime Minister John Major, but his career survived that of possibly the least memorable and colourless premier in British history. The British wanted him for Political Affairs or Peacekeeping, and instead of putting forward several candidates, at Blair's instructions lobbied heavily for him alone when Ban visited London last year.

At least it was not the former BeeGee who was Blair's most recent host.

Ban Ki-Moon is of course under pressure to appoint staff from the P5, and it is even possible that in the best mandarin way Holmes could turn up trumps in the job, despite his complete inexperience in the field of humanitarian relief. However, the appointment sends a signal: that reform is what the West expects the Third World to do, not what the major powers do.

It reflects more discredit on the West than on Ban. Such outstanding ostensible cronyism, in the wake of the appointment of a former Washington Times editor and Bush protégé, is hardly likely to convince the majority of the UN members of the bona fides of the would-be reformers.

While few could take exception with the meritocratic but geographically balanced appointments of Indian Vijay Nambiar as Chef de Cabinet, or Haitian (and Francophone!) Michelle Montas as spokesperson, Ban's team is so far remarkably water-tight as far as leaks go and so at this early stage, reading the runes is made all the more difficult because there are so few runes to read, and each could be read in an opposite way.

The appointment of Alicia Bárcena of Mexico as USG for management could be taken as a double blessing. A non-American heading the department is a welcome break with tradition, and a discrete finger to those not unadjacent to John Bolton who demanded a complete break with the Annan team, not to mention her being Third World, women and all the other beancounting pluses.

On the other hand, it lets the Americans off my personal hook – for decades they have railed against UN management while all that time the person responsible has been an American Presidential appointee. More worrying is the implication that an American will get one of the really important posts: peacekeeping or political affairs. Quite apart from the nightmare scenario of John Bolton rising like Rasputin from the dead and being appointed to one of those positions, it is difficult to conceive of a Bush nominee in either position who would not confirm the growing suspicions of the rest of the world that the UN is there to further narrow American interests.

It would put every blue-helmet and UN staffer under increased risk – not to mention the political damage to the organization. If anyone knows how to slip a memo in Korean under the SG's door on the 38th floor, now would be a good time to do it.

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