Many young MUN hopefuls leave their first conference toying around with the idea of one day working in the real UN, maybe even dreaming to become the future UN Secretary General (UNSG).
The UNSG is, first and foremost, a symbol of the UN’s ideals, a spokesperson for the world’s most vulnerable peoples, and an advocate of peace. As Chief Administrative Officer of the UN, the UNSG is responsible for overseeing the coordination and cooperation of all UN activities and efforts. In short, as the UN puts it, it is an even mix of diplomat, advocate, civil servant, and CEO.
There are 4 UN documents that specify the appointment process of the UNSG, (Chapter XV of the UN Charter, GA/RES/11(1), GA/RES/51/241, GA/RES/60/286) collectively they outline the UNSG’s selection. While the process is daunting on its own, as MUNers we have to wonder if that is all there really is to it. In this blog post, we’ll be looking at what it actually takes to be the next UNSG.
Let’s take a look at the people who made it. There have been 9 UNSGs to date, but they do not adequately reflect the global population; for one they are all men, and second, do not fairly reflect all the UN’s Regional Groups.
Let’s start with gender, the first time a woman was considered for the position was in 2006 –more than 60 years after the UN was established, and in 2016, 2 women were considered. There are a multitude of reasons why few women have been considered for the position, like, their disproportionate access to resources, like education and healthcare, as well as their disproportionate challenges in employment and legislation. To read more about this, check out this UNSDG info page on gender equality.
Moreover, UNSGs for the past 75 years have not adequately represented the global population. The UN Member States are divided into 5 voting groups or blocs; of the 9 UNSGs, 4 of them were nationals of the same voting bloc: Western Europe, a minority by population. To date, there is still one voting bloc that has not yet produced a UNSG –the Eastern European; this discrepancy in representation could in part be attributed to the UNSG selection process itself.
In the past, UNSG selection was held behind closed doors. For a candidate’s nomination to be confirmed, they have to pass a simple majority vote in the UNSC, without veto; to be appointed they have to win a simple majority vote in the UNGA.
The UNSC’s involvement in the nomination confirmation of the UNSG, could be one of the factors that contribute to almost half of the UNSGs being from the Western European bloc, one that could cause the least controversy amongst the P5, which brings up the age-old debate on their controversial veto power, which has, on multiple occasions delayed the UN’s response to dire crises (e.g. the ongoing war in Syria, the Palestinian-Israeli crisis, the war in Yemen, and many more).
UNSG candidates were encouraged to keep a low profile, refrain from releasing any criticisms of the UN, or making any public statements that could be deemed controversial. This changed in 2016, thanks to a civilian-led movement, 1 for 7 Billion, that called for a more transparent selection process – for the first time in history the global public see UNSG candidates debating their positions in the UNGA, and could engage with them through questions on social media, renewing the public’s trust in the UN.
The UN faces many challenges to achieve just representation in leadership positions and has been criticised for lagging behind in upholding its own values. Can the current UNSG make strides in overcoming some of these challenges?
While the process of becoming a UNSG can be intense and grilling, it comes with its fair share of politics, that requires a special kind of character to be able to navigate around. Becoming Secretary General is definitely more than just the necessary qualifications, it is also a true test in displaying good faith, and earning the trust of the international community at large.