Event Summary: ‘United Nations Secretary-General Selection: The Role of the Secretary-General in Russia vs the West’


by Ruta Valaityte

On the 24th of May by the kind invitation of Lord Hanney the Henry Jackson Society hosted an event dedicated to the topic of the upcoming United Nations Secretary-General elections. The guests had a chance to listen to a discussion by David Clark – chairman of the Russia Foundation and a Senior Research Fellow at the Federal trust, Steven Erlanger – London Bureau Chief of The New York Times and Natalie Samarasinghe – Executive Director of the United Nations Association.

As initially set out by Lord Hanney the event addressed the new changes to the selection process of the Secretary-General and potential role of Russia in the selection process as well as the key future tasks for the new Secretary-General in mediating the current ‘mild cold war situation’, to use Lord Hanney’s words.

The new changes to the selection process were a key issue discussed in the event. Natalie Samarasinghe as one of the initiators of the change provided first-hand knowledge. The new selection process is much more transparent with a set of candidates known in advance and public hustings and discussions taking place. This allows to better assess the agenda and quality of the selected candidates.

Steven Erlanger pointed out that the UN currently faces a set of challenges including the migration crisis, Zika virus, cut of funding to the UNHCR, as well as the increased pressure to organise effective peace-keeping missions. If the current tension between Russia and the West is added, the new Secretary-General should have a stronger public presence to improve the image of the UN. In addition, the ability to work effectively behind the scenes and mediate potential future conflicts within the Security Council is of key importance. While it is unlikely that the selected candidate will be both a strong leader and a mediator.

Another issue on the agenda was the principle of regional pre-emption, according to which, following the African Kofi Annan and Asian Ban Ki-moon, the new Secretary-General should come from Eastern Europe. While Lord Hanney referred to Eastern Europe as a fictional regional that resulted from the Cold War trauma. David Clark pointed out that a suitable and qualified candidate from Eastern Europe would allow smoother functioning of the UN, as he or she would understand Russian issues and interests better and could play a better mediating role in the Security Council.

David Clark, as an expert of Russia, said that the UN Security Council is one of the key pillars on which Russia’s status as a world power holds. It is often perceived that Russia is obstructing the work of Security Council through the exertion of veto, nevertheless the UN could not function without Russian support. The panel agreed that whether from Eastern Europe or not the new UN Secretary-General should play an active role in de-escalating current tensions in Ukraine, Syria, South China Sea and other hotspots of the world.

For a transcript of this event click here
For a pdf with the key points and a transcript of the event click here


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