Wednesday, February 14, 2007

No fun Being Right.

Well just because we said Ban was going to appoint an American does not make us feel much better when he does. Vindication may be fine for a writer's ego, but my ego does fine anyway - and the appointment is bad for the UN and the world.

Honey Moon Ending for Ban?

Forty days into his tenure, Ban Ki-Moon's future policies are as enigmatic as ever – and it seems that they are enigmatic in Korean. The Ban team have not been successful – in fact they have not really tried – to explain what it is they are doing and why. In the absence of information the effect is like the Rorschach inkblot test used by psychologists so that those who stare at it can conjure up their worst nightmares.

Things did not become much clearer with the appointments that Ban made last Friday. They generally had hints of pay-off. As predicted he appointed B Lynn Pascoe, currently the US Ambassador to Indonesia, and a career diplomat, to be head of the Department of Political Affairs. He was probably the least worst American to put in the position, but having any American in that position is not clever either for the UN, or the US.

Essentially it gives the UN the appearance of being a open tool of US diplomacy, when its main usefulness for Washington is the global legitimacy that a seemingly independent UN can give to policies.

In fact, apart from his passport and his consequent difficulties in advancing UN positions that often run counter to what Washington had him pushing as a US Ambassador, Pascoe actually looks better qualified than many of Ban's appointments, whose resumes seem to have been fluffed up somewhat. Gender and geographical distribution seem to have weighed more than actual achievement and experience in many of the appointments.

Of course, it is possible that Mr Ban has seen deep and undiscovered qualities in his appointees that will now flower in office. But until they do, some of them will be seen as pay-offs, and also an attempt to buy non-aligned silence about Pascoe's appointment and unpopular moves like downgrading the department for disarmament affairs.

One generally welcomed decision was Ban's reappointment of Jean-Marie GuĂ©henno as head of peacekeeping. As well as being an Annan appointee, he was very highly regarded throughout the system – but more importantly, he is French. Ban, even if he has not quite fulfilled his promise to become fluently francophone was obviously paying off a debt.

On the payoff front for influential support, Ban has also rewarded Japan with the appointment of Kiyotaka Akasaka as Under Secretary General in the
Department of Public Information, supplanting Indian Shashi Tharoor, who had the temerity to run second in the race for Secretary General.

Those who remember previous Japanese incumbencies in this post are hoping that this one will be different – but fail to see how a former Japanese civil servant is going to do much for the UN's image outside Tokyo – and most crucially in the US. Even though his bio somewhat oddly states that he "has nurtured sufficient experience in handling communications and public relations issues," it will be interesting to see how he copes with the ferocity of the next "scandal" that the US media will surely cook up the very first time the UN next says no – to an attack on Iran for example.

However, while Japan has been rewarded with DPI, many UN staff were profoundly distressed with the public abuse by Ban's Korean aides of Nobuaki Tanaka, Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs for apparently taking initiatives without instructions. Whether it was a Korean thing about Japan, distaste for the actual disarmament position, which Ban is downgrading, or a very rigidly doctrinaire line with subordinates, it left UN staff very unhappy with the direction that Ban's team seems to be taking.

They are concerned that he has brought in a team of loyal South Korean advisers, who are actually making the decisions, regardless of the official position-holders. In fact, the indiscipline in the Secretariat has been legendary, and having an A-team of ones own nationals may in the end be a better way to run the organization than Boutros Ghali's "stealth and sudden violence" approach. And I would rather have a policy contrived in Seoul than one from Washington.

The real question is, which way will they steer the organization? Korean and American policy concur, for example, in favouring Israel more than the run of nation states, although South Korea has never joined the lonely band of coral atolls that are the only voting support that Israel and the US can muster. Can Ban and Pascoe resist attempts to get UN support for bombing Teheran?

The Secretary General is the servant of the member states and so has to implement the policies that they decide. But any good civil servant can be economical with the enthusiasm needed to implement mandates that he is unhappy with.

Once again, it is difficult to see which direction he is taking. Like Kofi Annan, he is deliberately courting opinion makers in the US. But does he appreciate the dangers of seeming to follow a path suggested by John Bolton when the Democrats now control congress? Does he appreciate the opportunities offered by the Congress that is reacting to the willful anti-multilateralism of the administration and the previous incumbents. Can he balance the superpower demands with the policies agreed by the rest of the world?

The answers are wrapped up in the Hermit Kingdom that has taken control of the 38th floor eyrie of the United Nations building. And the self confessed "slippery eel" is even harder to pin down.

No comments: