The difficult road to world leadershipOn January 1, 2007 Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon is set to become the secretary general of the United Nations. He will take over the position from Kofi Annan of Ghana, who will step down at the end of December. Mr. Ban will become the leader of the world’s largest international organization for the next five years. It will make him one of the most recognizable people in the world. His job is to keep the peace among the world’s more than 6.5 billion people and over 260 countries.
Selecting a secretary general
The road to this monumental job begins with voting by the member-states of the UN Security Council which recommends its candidate to the UN General Assembly. The council consists of 15 member-states, including five permanent members (Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States) who have veto power.
In order to be recommended by the council, a successful candidate must have at least nine votes with no opposing vote from any permanent members. Candidates are eliminated by secret ballots among council member-states until only one candidate is left. The general assembly does not vote on this single candidate but gives its approval by applauding, making the previous votes taken by the security council the real election process.
The secretary general’s powers
The secretary general of the UN is the world’s highest-ranking public servant, equal in status to the leader of any nation. The term is for five years and can be renewed. Except for the sixth secretary general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt, who served from January 1992 to December 1996 all other UN secretaries general have been reappointed. Mr. Ban is the eighth person to lead the UN.
According to the UN Charter the secretary general serves as “chief administrative officer” of the organization, commanding 40,000 workers around the world and a budget of about $2.3 billion. The secretary general leads the different agencies under the UN system in carrying out the policies and decisions made by the main arms of the UN: the UN General Assembly, UN Security Council, UN Economic and Social Council, UN Secretariat, International Court of Justice and Trusteeship Council. There are also various programs and funds under the UN such as the World Food Program, the United Nations Development Program and Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund.
When Ban Ki-moon becomes secretary-general he will assume the power to propose issues for debate by the General Assembly or any other body of the UN. This gives him the authority to help determine which issues are seen as important in the world community.
Through special rapporteurs and working groups appointed by the secretary general, the UN monitors compliance with international conventions and standards on different areas of human rights. In 1993 the General Assembly established the post of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, which is the focal point within the UN Secretariat for human rights-related activities.
Global peace and security
The maintenance of world peace and security is the primary goal of the UN and the secretary general’s most important role includes mediating disputes between member states and preventing conflicts that may threaten world peace, making him the world’s top diplomat, an important political function. For such work two secretaries-general have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace: Dag Hammarskjold in 1961 and Kofi Annan, who shared the award with the UN, in 2001.
The secretary general is responsible for bringing before the organization any matter that threatens international peace and security.
The security council authorizes peacekeeping operations to be organized and implemented by the UN itself with troops serving under UN operational command. In other cases, where direct UN involvement is not considered appropriate or feasible, as described on the UN Web site, “the council authorizes regional and other international organizations such as the European Union (EU), the African Union (AU), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) or “coalitions of willing countries” to implement “certain peacekeeping functions.”
The secretary-general dispatches UN peacekeepers to places where armed conflict has ceased or where a peace agreement has been agreed. Peacekeepers under the flag of the United Nations enforce the terms of peace agreements and act as a police force and buffer between combatants in post-conflict areas.
Missions by the peacekeepers include overseeing and monitoring electoral processes while UN agencies and other organizations provide humanitarian support and help in economic and social development. Often referred to as Blue Helmets because of the light-blue helmets they wear on their missions, United Nations peacekeeping forces received the 1988 Nobel Peace Prize.
The creation of the UN
In 1945, representatives of 50 countries met in San Francisco to draw up a United Nations Charter. The Charter was signed on June 26,1945 by the representatives of these countries. Poland, which was not represented at the conference, signed it later and became one of the original 51 member states of the UN. The United Nations officially came into existence in October of that year when the UN Charter was ratified by China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States and a majority of other signatories.
The forerunner of the United Nations was the League of Nations, an organization conceived in similar circumstances during World War I, and established in 1919 under the Treaty of Versailles “to promote international cooperation and to achieve peace and security.”
As of 2006, the United Nations has 192 member-states.
United Nations headquarters
The UN headquarters in New York City is owned by the UN. It is an international territory and no federal, state or local official of the United States, whether administrative, judicial, military or police, may enter the headquarters except with the consent of and under conditions agreed to by the secretary general of the organization. Under an agreement with the host country the UN headquarters may not be used as a refuge for persons who are avoiding arrest under federal, state or local laws of the United States or who are wanted by the U.S. government for extradition to another country. On average 700,000 tourists visit the UN headquarters every year. The UN also has a European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
How the UN is funded
Operations of the UN are financed from assessed and voluntary contributions from its member states. The regular two-year budgets of the UN and its specialized agencies are funded by assessments.
The General Assembly approves the regular budget and determines the assessment for each member. This is broadly based on the relative economic capacity of member countries to make financial contributions, measured by national income statistics. The peacekeeping budget assessments are based on the regular budget rates, but with discounts for poor countries. The five permanent members of the Security Council, who approve all peacekeeping operations, pay extra fees to compensate for those discounts.
As the new secretary general, Ban Ki-moon will oversee the preparation of the UN’s budget. He has vowed to reform the UN into a more efficient organization.
Sources: Britannica, UN web site.
by Brian Lee