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Briefing Report: Secretary General Informal Dialogues

NOTE: This post was written by Elaina Estrin, a former School of Diplomacy’s UN Youth Representative. Elaina is a student majoring in Diplomacy and International Relations and Modern Languages. Elaina’s focus is on international organizations and post-conflict state building. She is fluent in English and Russian and she spent the past summer continuing her Arabic Language studies in in Muscat, Oman. Elaina has interned with the office of Senator Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) and taught English in Petrozavodsk, Russia. She has also worked closely with a DC based consulting firm called Field Strategies. Currently she is the head of Public Relations of SHU’s Slavic Club and Vice President for SHU’s International Law Society. Elaina was a blogger for the 2015 Social Good Summit.


The US presidential elections have been all over the headlines lately, but another important election cycle has also begun, the election of a new Secretary General to the United Nations. Ban Ki-Moon, the current Secretary General, finishes his term on December 31st of this year. With pressure from member states and the media, there have been attempts to make the selection process more transparent and equal. The Secretary General is appointed by the General Assembly with a recommendation from the Security Council, who has the power to veto any appointees made by the General Assembly. In the past, the Security Council’s recommended candidate has always been appointed, but there are hopes that with increased transparency and public pressure the Secretary General will be picked not solely by the Security Council’s recommendation.

There are currently 9 candidates and more candidates can still announce their entry to the race. 6 out of the 9 are from Eastern Europe, this is because there has been a historical rotation of regions, but there is nothing formally written expressing that the new Secretary General must be from Eastern Europe. There are also more female candidates than ever before. A resolution adopted last September urged “gender and geographical balance while meeting the highest possible requirements“. Also for the first time ever, the candidates presented themselves to the member state, the media, and even civil society had a chance to ask the candidates questions. All of this was live streamed for anyone with internet to view. They discussed how they see the UN evolving and why they are qualified to lead on some of the most complicated challenges in the world. Transparency is definitely increasing, before these informal dialogues the decision of the next Secretary General just appeared after the Security Council’s closed door meetings. Last week, the candidates released their vision statements and held informal dialogues with the General Assembly.

On day one of the informal dialogues, Igor Luksic (39, former prime minister of Montenegro and is now its foreign minister), Irina Bokova (63, from Bulgaria and is the first female director-general of UNESCO), and Antonio Guterres (66, from Portugal and was U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees from 2005- 2015) got to speak. Mr. Luksic was first to walk the plank. He emphasized that the Deputy Secretary General should have a bigger role and that if he were elected the Deputy Secretary General would be a woman. He also proposed a cluster like system to approach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) where each goal is assigned to a UN agency to avoid duplication and give each goal a leading agency to function through without giving exclusive ownership to any agency. Next up was Irina Bokova who is seen as a favorite by many, but she is also surrounded by controversy from fear that she may be too easy on Moscow. The representative from Ukraine explicitly asked if she would commit herself to the full implementation of the resolution on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, which includes Crimea. She gave a very political response saying that she commits to work very hard with member states. The last person to speak on day one was Antonio Guterres. He managed to address each question by speaking very quickly and still invoked his extensive experience. He emphasized the SDGs and the benefits of migrants on host countries.

On day two we heard from Danilo Turk (64, former president of Slovenia from 2007- 2012), Vesna Pusic (63, Former Croatian foreign minister from 2011- 2015), and Natalia Gherman (47, foreign minister of Moldova). Mr. Turk spoke of his experience on the Security Council, the importance of mobilizing the youth, and the Secretary General’s role to assure the High Level Political Forum (mechanism for reviewing countries progress on implementation of the SDGs) has a dominant role in policy and outside expert opinions. Up next was Vesna Pusic, who discussed the flaws of the UN and how her experiences will allow her to address these flaws. She openly discussed LGBT rights and protecting a person’s personal identity. Mrs. Pusic said that no culture is set in stone and that international norms can bring certain inequalities to the forefront. She gave the example of the women’s rights movement that was completely outside the domain of traditional cultures, but now these cultures have adapted. Lastly, Mrs. Gherman took the stand discussing how the UN can communicate better to give global citizens a sense of ownership that allows new ideas to be brought to the table. When she was asked about the SDGs, Mrs. Gherman said that Goal 16 (peace justice and strong institutions) is the most difficult because it is so multifaceted, requires building resilient institutions, and cultural change. She then added that we should not pick and choose goals, but instead implement the 2030 agenda as a whole.

The last day of informal dialogues was concluded by speaking with Vuk Jeremic (40, former foreign minister of Serbia, former president of the U.N. General Assembly), Helen Clark (66, former prime minister of New Zealand) and Srgjan Kerim (67, former foreign minister of Macedonia). Vuk Jeremic, who only entered the race on Tuesday, was first to go. He committed to creating a handful of new high level positions in peacekeeping, public-private partnerships, philanthropic outreach and even a genocide task force, which he would chair if he was nominated. Jeremic also singled out small island developing states as those most in need of action in regards to sustainable development, which may create a negative response from other states in need. Next up was Helen Clark, who is well known within the UN and spoke about preventing money being wasted on duplication. She talked about the importance of national plans to avoid duplication and investing in least developed countries that may be stable, but not sustainable. She also spoke out in favor of the contested Security Council reform saying that multilateral institutions need to review their governance to remain relevant, credible, and legitimate. Srgjan Kerim was last to speak, saying that the UN is not an abstract painting, but our mirror. He said the UN can only be reformed to the extent that member states want to do it and made an important point about where UN funding comes from.

The President of the General Assembly, Mogens Lykketoft, concluded the informal dialogues saying that although the legitimacy of these dialogues has been questioned, the General Assembly’s seriousness has made these dialogues an essential part of the selection process. Lykketoft has been spearheading some of the changes. He believes that if countries come out in support for a specific candidate, it would be very difficult, and probably not possible, for the Security Council to come up with quite a different candidate, however if support is split between a number of candidates it will be easier for the security council’s recommendation to have more weight. He closed with a smile saying, “For the most difficult job in the world, I think we now have the most difficult job interview in the world.”

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