For Turtle Bay-watchers, key appointments already made by Secretary-General Ban seem less than inspiring. As the TV infomercial says, but wait, the hard-working South Korean diplomat may yet lead a U.N. revolution.
Mr. Ban plans to reshape the political orientation of the institution by appointing an American — the name I hear is Washington's ambassador to Indonesia, Burton Lynn Pascoe — as his undersecretary-general for political affairs.
He also wants to break in two the burgeoning peacekeeping department: France will continue to head the operational unit, while Japan will lead a brand-new logistical support department.
If successful, these changes may offset some disappointing appointments made so far. On Friday, Mr. Ban named as his deputy a Tanzanian foreign minister, Asha-Rose Migiro, who recently defended Iran's nuclear pursuit and — while the West mulled sanctions against the mullahs — called for better commercial ties between her uranium-mining country and Tehran.
Mr. Ban comes to the job from a different environment than his direct predecessor, Kofi Annan. His native South Korea is faced with a real threat to its life and liberty, and biting the hand of a benefactor and protector there is far less attractive than in the virtual-reality-based Turtle Bay. However, after arriving at the United Nations, Mr. Ban quickly realized that red meat needs to be thrown to those who think wealthy nations — code for America — deserve a thumpin'.
To appease those, Mr. Ban named an Indian, Vijay Nambiar, as chief of staff and then, in a particularly bad choice, a Mexican insider, Alicia Barcena, to head the U.N. management team. Friday's announcement of Ms. Migiro's appointment was greeted with applause by those advocating quotas for women from poorer countries.
According to Iran's news agency, IRNA, Ms. Migiro in October told the Iranian ambassador to Tanzania, Abbas Vaezi, that she "supported Iran's right to access peaceful nuclear energy, … praised the positive trend in political and economic ties with Iran, and called for further bolstering bilateral relations in all fields."
This is hardly conducive to good U.N. relations with Washington. It also seems to contradict Mr. Ban's own view, expressed in a press conference in December, that Iran's Holocaust-denying and threats to destroy Israel are "unacceptable." Political input from America will present a red flag to U.N. traditionalists, but it just might be the cure.
Mr. Pascoe, who is a career State Department diplomat with Asian expertise, may not strike one as a revolutionary, but he once headed a Taiwan-friendly institute. China, a major power, frowns on anyone supporting Taiwan's desire to participate in U.N. activities.
In addition, naming officials from the two largest U.N. donors, America and Japan, to lead departments that shape U.N. world policies presents a major departure from the past. Add to this list two former colonial powers, France and Britain — whose John Holmes last week was named to head high-profile humanitarian coordination efforts — and third-world leaders are bound to get upset.
Incidentally, Mr. Ban would be wise to ask Paris to come up with a better candidate than the current undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations, Jean Marie Guehenno. This week, the new chief quickly got a taste of old Turtle Bay when the Telegraph reported on fresh allegations of sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers. Rewarding Mr. Guehenno, whose term was marked by repeated vows of "no tolerance" to sexual abuse, would send the message that empty promises remain preferable to results on the ground.
Breaking up the peacekeeping department may also prove easier to envision than to achieve. Creating a new undersecretary-general position for the new logistics department could entail a new budget, which has to be cleared by General Assembly financing organs. There, Mr. Ban may confront some countries that oppose his attempt to give wealthy countries, such America and Japan, a larger role in shaping U.N. global politics.
The constant need to appease, on the one hand, a voting majority that wants to weaken the rich, and on the other hand, the top financial powers that sustain the organization is one of the main reasons for Turtle Bay's chronic weakness and its tendency to freeze when confronting evil.
Mr. Ban hopes to demonstrate a break from his predecessor by personal example, but starting his workday at 8 a.m. and announcing that he would publicize his personal finances may not be enough. He also needs to follow with his own political instincts more, and purge old ways of thinking even at the risk of tilting the regional balance.
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