Who is in charge at the United Nations Organization?
As of yesterday June 1st, it is someone new.
No, not a new secretary-general. The incumbent is still the biggest carp in the fishbowl.
No, not China — yet. But be sure that it is suborning UN entities into uploading authoritarian software into the UN’s mainframe.
And no, not another Ted Turner philanthro-maniac subletting the UN agenda for a few billion dollars.
The new sheriff in town is the next president of the United Nations General Assembly elected yesterday for one year starting September.
Yes, this was a trick question. Indeed, the secretary-general has grabbed the limelight over time. But, yes, the answer is the president of the General Assembly.
By design, the president of the General Assembly occupies the moral high ground for all civilization by presiding over an agenda promoting best practices for peace, development, and human rights everywhere.
Furthermore, the presidency ranks highest in protocol at the UN after heads of state. This is due to its election by the UN’s 193 member states voting on behalf of “We the Peoples” — the entire population of the world.
One country, one vote, one undisputed outcome. Nothing in the world is as diverse, equitable, or inclusive than this — to borrow current guideposts.
This election process has worked smoothly for 78 years, through wars hot and cold. And each time it is delicious to witness tyrants and despots — exempt from the nuisance of elections back home v prostrating themselves publicly to the democratic process.
So, if for no other purpose, the United Nations is worth its salt for displaying turn-taking and mutual respect among sovereign equals, several of whom otherwise would never walk the talk.
Yes, the pre-eminent UN official (at least on paper) is elected democratically. Notably, the more familiar secretary-general is not elected — but rather “selected” by the member states as their key employee: a secretary-general for commanding the secretary-troops.
So why does secretary-general shine as the face of the Organization instead of the president?
Among the manifold decisions taken by the General Assembly many were written “sufficiently ambiguous” to give all ambassadors a “win” to spin back to their capitals. This leaves the decisions’ annoying, messy details to a scape-goat, (ahem), I mean a secretary-general, to interpret or paper over. This has given rise over time to secretariat horse-whispering to ambassadors in ways that do not constrain secretariat managers and minions.
To be fair, there is more of a backstory to this yin and yang. In the 1960s the General Assembly membership was swelled by former colonies and other new states, shrinking the Western-based grip over the Assembly as its minority.
So, those states opted to empower and “own” the secretary-general as a countervailing force to execute their needs and wants. For example, Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim was made useful for and by key players who in exchange obscured his secret Nazi past from public view.
The net effect abetted the steady siphoning of influence from the Assembly to its administrators.
So, lamentably there has normalized on the scene a secretary-turned-figurehead with an embedded, elitist managerial cadre expanding their prerogatives against those of their master member states and peoples. Assuredly, the secretary-general’s five-year license dependably survives any demand from a one-year presidency.
In short, this Henry VIII bureaucracy sizes up each president as if it were the next wife and clucks “Don’t worry, I shan’t be keeping you long.”
The knock-on effect has been the sidelining of the elected president and in turn “We the Peoples.” A globalized managerial elite “knowing better” the people’s wants and needs is driven less by, of, and for the people, and more OVER them. Why? Admittedly the people — obviously — have not kept better the keys to their own house.
This is the UN’s version of “deep state.”
But the Organization’s name remains the United Nations — not the United Secretariat.
Enter the President-Elect of the General Assembly, His Excellency Dennis Francis, currently Trinidad and Tobago’s Ambassador to the United Nations. He and incumbent President Csaba Kőrösi (previously Foreign Minister of Hungary) are planning a leadership transition to September for strengthening the presidency and the peoples’ voice vis-à-vis managerial overreach.
Citing a Security Council unable to right the wrongs in Ukraine among other things, Kőrösi has been impressively restoring the General Assembly’s pulse as the original “go to” forum for persistent and urgent matters. This mirrors NATO’s recent dusting-off as a useful platform for coordinated action (on Ukraine).
Kőrösi and Francis have recruited the support and wisdom of the Council of (former) Presidents of the General Assembly which was recently revived, as well, to favorable effect.
So, our congratulations and best wishes to the past, current and next presidents of the General Assembly. May they succeed in elevating the voice of the people over the din of the international machinery meant to serve rather than script them.
Hugh Dugan served as Acting Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs and Senior Director for International Organization Affairs in the National Security Council after having advised 11 U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations since 1989. Read Hugh Dugan's Reports — More Here.
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