Note: This post was written by Hugh Dugan. Hugh Dugan is a Visiting Scholar at Seton Hall University’s School of Diplomacy and was a US diplomat and senior diplomatic adviser to eleven ambassadors to the United Nations from 1989 to 2015.
On the death of the United Nations Organization’s seventh Secretary-General Kofi Annan, I was contacted by the media to offer some quick insights for inclusion in obituary press pieces. Having served at the United Nations as a US Delegate throughout his ten-year time in office, I came to know him professionally and followed his actions and impacts closely. Here are the first thoughts that came to mind upon the sad news.
(Incidentally, he would remind that his name rhymed with “cannon”, however not a visual one would associate with a man of his deliberative demeanor.)
Kofi Annan was the first UN Secretary-General to have completed a full career coming up through the UN Organization’s bureaucracy, and therefore his appointment was very well-received by a Secretariat staff that had been battered by his predecessor Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s fabled autocratic management style and Boutros-Ghali’s ignominious departure. Regarded as the United States’ choice, Annan nonetheless found favor with all member states as a skilled and humane interlocutor among them and manager of a uniquely challenging enterprise, the many-tentacled UN Organization.
Annan was as much an intellectual as a time-tested technocrat who had the reputation for loyalty sideways as well us upward and downward. He was able to fashion predecessors’ conceptual offerings into practice through the bureaucracy and reach of the UN Organization, most notably developing the doctrine of “responsibility to protect” into a household phrase globally. Taking direction from a Security Council that continued to probe the UN’s potential in the aftermath of the Soviet-US superpower stalemate, he was as aggressive on improving the protection of individuals against violations by states as was the Security Council on ensuring the security of states.
Annan stepped outside the bounds in publicly and repeatedly excoriating the United States for its policies in the Iraqi theatre, straying too far in the direction of “general” away from his responsibility as “secretary”, or chief administrative officer, which was the role’s principle function.
He showed personal courage in venturing to Iraq during the height of Saddam’s aggressions, a choice he freely undertook, sharing with his confidants that he was not certain of returning. May we return frequently to Kofi Annan’s example of personability in building upon his legacy for a better and more peaceful world.