THE BLOG
08/31/2016 02:55 pm ET Updated Sep 01, 2017

Want The Best Candidate For The Job Of United Nations Secretary-General? Reform The Security Council

The next Secretary-General will be chosen by the Security Council, not the General Assembly, and it needs to be that way. This is the reality of the many dynamics at play at the United Nations in 2016.

The campaigns promoting transparency and openness in the process to select the ninth Secretary-General of the UN have been warmly welcomed by our organization, the World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA), and many of our nationally-based United Nations Associations (UNAs) around the world. These campaigns can point to a number of successes to bring the Secretary-General selection process into the 21st Century.

The current move towards transparency and accountability is praiseworthy. At the heart of these campaigns exists the desire to take the selection of the next Secretary-General out of the secret chambers of the Security Council, and into the public sphere for all to see.

Yet, as the Security Council engages in rounds of secretive straw-polls to ascertain support for candidates, many fear that the strides in openness will be hijacked. As the process currently stands, one consensus candidate will be identified through the straw-polls and the Security Council will propose this name to the wider General Assembly -- to be affirmed officially in a "vote."

There are some who argue that if at some point the General Assembly is presented with just one candidate to "vote" on, then the campaigns to push a more representative process of decision-making will have fallen short of their stated aim.

In principle, proposing multiple candidates to the General Assembly is a desirable goal. In such a scenario, each Member State in the General Assembly would get a vote, the power would be taken away from the permanent five members, and the one -- whoever the Secretary-General is -- would be voted in by the 193 -- and thus loosely the 7 billion. Unfortunately, right now, this proposition will not work.

Working to ensure transparency and accountability at the UN is one of the strategic priorities of our organization. Just this year WFUNA held the first ever open election debates for candidates competing for non-permanent seats on the Security Council. But it is precisely because of our work in this area, that I believe that a General Assembly vote on two candidates would be inadvisable.

Security Council Election campaigns hold a certain notoriety for extensive lobbying that goes way beyond the standard quid pro quo. During an expected "courtesy" visit from prospective candidates for the Security Council, everything from supporting appointments for senior UN positions, to aid development budgets, can be discussed. If that happens for a two year, non-veto wielding, seat on the Security Council, can you imagine what would happen if this process had to happen for the position of Secretary-General of the United Nations?

Of course, it's safe to say that a fair amount of lobbying with the fifteen Security Council members has already happened. However, if in October or November, two or more candidates suddenly had to start pushing for a vote from each of the 193 Member States of the General Assembly, then we'd be in for a substantial amount of backroom dealing.

Not only would this set-up benefit those candidates that are supported by a humongous financial war-chest, but all sorts of ramifications could be felt for years to come. Assistant Secretary-General - or higher - positions could be auctioned off, various powerful countries could lean on others to vote in-line with their preference, and aid packages, trade agreements, and other very basic international negotiating chips could all be up for grabs.

Nowhere else - whether it be an NGO, a company, an academic institution or a football team - would all stakeholders expect to get to vote for the chief of an institution. In each situation, it is the board of directors or executive committee that casts the vote. At the UN the closest we have to that is the Security Council.

The proposal for two candidates to be put to the General Assembly originates from the fear that through the straw-poll process, the Security Council will struggle to agree on a candidate, resulting in a series of vetoes that thins out the field, leaving an unsuitable or last-minute-entry candidate who cannot live up to the huge task of the job. This is a real risk but advocating for two names to be put forward to the General Assembly is not the antidote. If anything, it could prove to be antithetical to many original campaign aims.

The solution is wider Security Council Reform. And while reform will not happen in time for this year's process, it has to happen for future processes. This would not only improve the overall effectiveness of the United Nations, and by association make the Secretary-General's job easier, but would help to ensure that all future Secretary-Generals are selected by a more representative set of decision-makers. A reformed and more inclusive Security Council, which operates with increased transparency and openness, would theoretically be more responsive to the needs of a greater proportion of the world's population.

If in ten years' time, a Security Council reform process has finally gained the traction that the UN system is so desperately crying out for, many of the issues surrounding the selection of a strong, qualified Secretary-General could be reduced. In such a world, the General Assembly would still have a role in vetting the candidates, building upon the steps made during this process. Civil Society would continue to work to ensure the candidates were capable, open to dialogue, and able to tackle the various questions facing the UN in that day and age. And emerging from the process would be the best candidate capable of leading the UN, regardless of gender, nationality, or their ability to curry favor on behalf of the traditional power-brokers of the international system.

Campaigns to reform the selection process for the Secretary-General have worked to achieve the same goal -- to select the best candidate for the job. Civil Society, the Office of the President of the 70th General Assembly, and many dedicated Member States have done a laudable job to move towards this ideal.

But despite the wealth of progress made in 2016 to open up the Secretary-General selection process to many, the actual decision will be made by the the very few. The real challenge is making sure it doesn't in the future. Security Council reform is how to do it.