New York. On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly and the preparations for the 70th anniversary of the venerable institution, I encounter three people, all with the stature to succeed Ban Ki-moon in 2017.
Jean-Marie Guéhenno was a classmate of mine at Lycée Louis-le-Grand and the Ecole Normale Supérieure. From 2000 to 2008, he was the UN's deputy secretary-general for peacekeeping operations. But, by virtue of the (unwritten?) rule barring a citizen of a permanent member of the Security Council from leading the institution, Guéhenno unfortunately is not in the race.
Vuk Jeremic is a 40-year-old Serb, a militant democrat who opposed Milosevic from the outset and, at a very young age, served as his country's foreign minister at the time of Kosovo's independence. As president of the UN General Assembly in 2012, he was known for his sense of fair play. This likeable, energetic man, who runs one of the world's best geopolitical think tanks, is, unlike my former classmate, a candidate, and his chances appear increasingly good given the expectation (another unwritten rule) that the next secretary-general should come from his part of Europe.
And then there is Kristalina Georgieva, a Bulgarian a few years Jeremic's senior, formerly with the World Bank and now Europe's commissioner for budget and human resources. Was she among those present in March 1990 at the writers' center in Sofia, to which I had been invited by several members of the dissident party that was then emerging from their hiding places and assuming power? Perhaps. In New York, we talk about the great Zhelyu Zhelev, who became the first president of the new Bulgaria and who died this past January, and about poetess Blaga Dimitrova, founder and soul of the Club for Democracy that welcomed me in 1990 and whom I remember fondly. The woman whom the world's leaders are already calling simply "Kristalina" is also a candidate, one whose chances would be even greater if she did not have to face another Bulgarian, Irina Bokova, current director of UNESCO, a post for which Claude Lanzmann, Elie Wiesel, and I had supported her in 2009 when it became necessary to block the election of the Egyptian candidate, Farouk Hosny, who had declared that he was prepared to burn with his own hands any "Jewish books" that might still be found in the library at Alexandria.
The stakes now may be even more important than they were then.
And, because the United Nations is the keystone of a collective security system that is straining to rise to the new challenges that confront the planet, the choice of the individual who will lead it is absolutely critical.
Who will have the courage to reform the institution?
Who will have the boldness and the imagination needed to bring it up to speed with a world that is no longer that of 1945, the Cold War, or even post-9/11?
Which of the declared candidates, and the others who surely will surface, will find a way to involve the new powers--the economic powerhouses that are Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan--more fully in the UN apparatus?
And then there is the matter of the veto.
Is it right that a single power--Russia--should be able for five years running to use and abuse its veto power to renew Bashar al-Assad's license to kill, which, to date, has claimed 250,000 deaths, created millions of refugees, and been a boon to the Islamic State?
What is the current status and what will be the future of the power to intervene that in UN parlance is known as the "responsibility to protect," a principle that is one of the few achievements of international law over the past decades, one that certain powers, and not the least among them, seem to want to quietly quash?
And peacekeeping forces? Will we continue the current practice of voluntary contributions, which has the effect of imposing on the poorest members a sort of blood tax that is neither fair nor likely to yield fully effective units of Blue Helmets? Why not revive an old French proposal dating from the early days of the League of Nations whereby the international body would have its own permanent military force, one worthy of the name?
I am exploring with one of my interlocutors my old idea of dealing with the most egregious states, that is, genocidal states, the way the democracies deal with hardened criminals--by depriving them of some of their civil rights. Why not strip such states of their right to vote until the regime changes? Is it right, to cite only past examples already judged by history, that a Rwanda, a Sierra Leone engaged in the most vicious of wars against civilians, an Afghanistan under the Taliban, a Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge should be allowed until the bitter end (and, in the case of Cambodia, even after) to go on saying what the law is, to go on interpreting justice, from the stage of the world's most prestigious tribunal?
Purely for the record will I mention another scandal about which I have written many times before, the scandal of admitting gangster states to the UN Human Rights Council and even, now, to the Council's panel, to which Saudi Arabia was named in June. Making a Saudi official responsible for recruiting experts to monitor the observance of human rights around the world? While a 21-year-old dissident, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, sits in Riyadh awaiting decapitation followed by crucifixion of his body?
There are more questions. Many more. On the responses to which hang the chances of the world rising to the challenges of state bankruptcy, of the growing power of a radical Islamic state, or of the unfettered will to power of a new czar. To be continued.
Translated by Steven B. Kennedy