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How the U.S. Manipulates Key U.N. Appointments

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 19 2012 (IPS) - When Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announces his new team of senior officials shortly, his appointments will be based not only on merit but also on demands made by the five big powers – the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia – as well as key donors who sustain U.N. agencies through voluntary contributions.

Former secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali has accused the U.S. of wielding a very heavy hand in internal U.N. affairs. Credit: UN Photo/Milton Grant

Former secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali has accused the U.S. of wielding a very heavy hand in internal U.N. affairs. Credit: UN Photo/Milton Grant

The World Food Programme (WFP), one of the world’s largest humanitarian agencies, will have a new head, come April, according to one of the first appointments announced early this week.

Ertharin Cousin, a U.S. national, will be the new executive director in an organisation which in recent years has been dominated by the United States, the last two heads being Catherine Bertini and Josette Sheeran.

According to one political source, the administration of President Barack Obama insisted that Sheeran be succeeded by Cousin, currently the U.S. representative to both WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), both based in Rome.

As a result, both Ban and FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva had little or no choice in the appointment, jointly announced in Rome and New York.

Judging by past history, successive secretaries-general have come under heavy political or donor pressure for high-level appointments in the U.N. system.

Although there has been an unwritten rule that no senior level positions should be the monopoly of any single country in an institution which believes in merit and geographical rotation, Arpad Bogsch, a U.S. national of Hungarian origin, held the post of director general of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) in Geneva for an all-time record: 24 years (1973-1997).

As a search team has begun vetting applications for senior level positions for the next five years, Ban told IPS, “I have already asked member states to submit names for jobs which will fall vacant. We are in the process of receiving some names.”

“Basically, I have already asked my senior staff, who are completing five-year terms to find other positions or leave the organisation,” he added.

Asked if, as rumoured, there will be exceptions to the five-rule, he said: “The five-year rule is my own initiative, my own guidance.”

In applying the five-year rule, there may be some exceptions. “You cannot lay down a strict five-year rule,” Ban added.

And it is not desirable, he said, “to change the number one and the number two positions at the same time to ensure the continuity of the leadership”.

The heaviest pressure on any secretary-general is the appointment of key positions of under-secretary-general (USG) at the Secretariat, including heads of political affairs, peacekeeping operations and management and human resources.

Traditionally, these posts have been the preserve of the five permanent (P-5) members of the Security Council, namely the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia.

The pressure for senior appointments – both in the ranks of USGs and assistant secretaries-general (ASG) – has also come from key financial donors to U.N. agencies, including countries such as Japan, Germany, Canada, the Netherlands, Italy and the Scandinavian countries, which have proved to be demanding.

Still, the United States, the largest single donor, continues to unreservedly hold the unique monopoly of nominating its own national as the head of the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, since its inception in 1947.

The U.S. nationals who have uninterruptedly headed that agency include Maurice Pate, Henry Labouisse, James Grant, Carol Bellamy, Ann Veneman and currently Anthony Lake.

No other agency at the United Nations has had a stranglehold on such a senior position in the history of the organisation.

In his 1991 book on the United Nations, former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt provided an insider’s view of how the world body was being manipulated by a single member nation: the United States.

Although the diplomatic clout exercised by the United States is public knowledge, Boutros-Ghali goes into great lengths to prove how the United States also set the U.N. agenda both politically and administratively.

The 345-page book titled “Unvanquished: A US-UN Saga” (Random House), provides a blow-by-blow account of how the United States carried out a well-orchestrated campaign to deprive Boutros-Ghali of a second five- year term in office when his first ended in December 1996.

Boutros-Ghali points out that although he was accused by Washington of being “too independent” of the United States, he did virtually everything in his power to please the then U.S. administration.

One of his “heated disputes” with U.S. Ambassador Madeleine Albright (later U.S. secretary of state) was over the appointment of a new executive director for UNICEF back in 1995. It was a dispute “that seemed to irritate Albright more than any previous issue between us”.

President Bill Clinton wanted William Foege, a former head of the U.S. Centres for Disease Control, to be appointed UNICEF chief to succeed James Grant.

“I recalled,” says Boutros-Ghali, “that President Clinton had pressed me to appoint him (Foege) when we had met in the Oval Office in May 1994.”

“I replied to her (Albright) as I had then to President Clinton: that while Dr. Foege was without doubt a distinguished person, unfortunately, I could not comply,” writes Boutros-Ghali.

He also told Clinton that he was personally and publicly committed to increasing the number of women in the top ranks of the United Nations, and UNICEF would particularly benefit from a woman’s leadership.

Since Belgium and Finland had already put forward “outstanding” women candidates – and since the United States had refused to pay its U.N. dues and was also making “disparaging” remarks about the world body – “there was no longer automatic acceptance by other nations that the director of UNICEF must inevitably be an American man or woman.”

“The U.S. should select a woman candidate,” he told Albright, “and then I will see what I can do,” since the appointment involved consultation with the 36-member UNICEF Executive Board.

“Albright rolled her eyes and made a face, repeating what had become her standard expression of frustration with me,” he wrote.

When the Clinton administration kept pressing Foege’s candidature, Boutros-Ghali says that “many countries on the UNICEF Board were angry and (told) me to tell the United States to go to hell.”

The U.S. administration eventually submitted an alternate woman candidate: Carol Bellamy, a former director of the Peace Corps.

Although Elizabeth Rehn of Finland received 15 votes to Bellamy’s 12 in a straw poll, Boutros-Ghali said he asked the Board president to convince the members to achieve consensus on Bellamy so that the United States could continue a monopoly it held since UNICEF was created in 1947.

When he took office in January 1992, Boutros-Ghali noted that 50 percent of the staff assigned to the U.N.’s administration and management were U.S. nationals, although Washington paid only 25 percent of the U.N.’s regular budget.

When the Clinton administration took office in Washington in January 1993, Boutros-Ghali was signalled that two of the highest ranking U.N. staffers appointed on the recommendation of the outgoing President George H. W. Bush administration – Under-Secretary-General Richard Thornburgh and Under-Secretary-General Joseph Verner Reed – were to be dismissed despite the fact that they were theoretically “international civil servants” answerable only to the world body.

They were both replaced by two other U.S. nationals who had the blessings of the Clinton administration.

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