Disarmament and Nonproliferation Downgrading Disarmament
at the UN
The latest from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, on February 16, 2007, is that he proposes Disarmament Affairs will become an “office” under his direct oversight but still headed by an Under-Secretary-General (USG) and with the same resources and missions. Further, this proposal will go through the General Assembly’s budgetary process for full consideration. The idea seems to be that only the name will change and that Disarmament Affairs will even be upgraded by being more closely associated with the Secretary-General. The below NY Times story notes the point about the head still being a USG but does not highlight that Disarmament Affairs is currently a department and would become an office.
One major concern about this proposal is whether it will undermine Disarmament Affairs in the long run; as we have said in our analyses, there’s much more Disarmament Affairs could do, and expansion would seem more appropriate for a “department.” So we’ll have to consider how to approach this as the General Assembly deals with it.
It seems quite clear that civil society played an important role in reinforcing the Non-Aligned Movement’s objections first to folding Disarmament Affairs into the Department of Political Affairs, and second to making the head of Disarmament Affairs an assistant secretary-general.
U.N. Chief Is Assuaging
Doubts About Leadership
UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 18 — Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, after a rocky first six weeks, appears to have turned a corner in calming widespread doubts about his leadership at the United Nations.
“There is no more rebellion, everybody is happy today, everybody says very nice things,” César Mayoral, Argentina’s ambassador, said Friday evening after a three-hour closed-door meeting that Mr. Ban held with ambassadors from the countries of the 192-member General Assembly.
After a similar meeting two weeks ago, Munir Akram, Pakistan’s ambassador and the leader of a powerful group of 132 developing nations, had accused Mr. Ban of bypassing established procedures and treating ambassadors as if they were members of his staff. “The atmosphere is clearly much better,” Mr. Akram said Friday. “Today he said explicitly he will respect the process.”
At the Feb. 5 meeting, Mr. Ban tried to gain rapid approval of proposals to restructure the United Nations bureaucracy with little of the consultation, review and justification of changes that countries traditionally expect.
That meeting brought mutinous stirrings. Ambassadors emerged charging that Mr. Ban was cloaking his affairs in secrecy and showing little regard for the need to justify his initiatives to them.
Earlier, Mr. Ban was criticized for appointing people to top jobs who had little experience in the areas that they were assigned to supervise, with little evidence that he had screened other, more suitable, candidates.
The effect was to thrust Mr. Ban into the middle of the power contest at the United Nations, with the General Assembly on one side, and the 15-member Security Council and the secretary general’s office on the other. The Assembly, a legislative body where poorer nations often exercise their capacity to stand up to the great powers, is particularly sensitive to feelings of being taken for granted, and that was the feeling that swept the hall two weeks ago.
Commenting on the new mood, Gerhard Pfanzelter, the Austrian ambassador, said, “After the initial criticism, he started intensive consultations, which seems to have led to broad political support from the General Assembly.”
To meet objections, Mr. Ban also modified or provided for additional review of his two major proposals. One is to divide the overburdened peacekeeping department into two departments, one for operations and one for field support, each run by an under secretary general. The other is to restructure the disarmament department to bring it more closely under his office’s control.
In the case of peacekeeping, he furnished details about how a unified chain of command on the ground would be maintained, a principal concern of countries that supply troops for missions. He also agreed to present his proposal to two financial committees and a peacekeeping committee for review before presenting it for General Assembly approval.
The number of peacekeepers has risen to 100,000, the highest in the history of the United Nations, and could increase by more than 30 percent this year. Consequently, Mr. Ban noted, the leadership of the single department now in charge had become “impossibly overstretched.”
On disarmament, Mr. Ban abandoned plans to reduce the rank of the director of the office to assistant secretary general from under secretary general, a distinction that many ambassadors felt would have downgraded the office.
“I have taken account of your concerns and revised my proposals,” he told the ambassadors in opening remarks made available to reporters.
“Let me assure you that in proposing these major changes to our structures for support of peace operations, I do not intend, nor have I ever intended, to bypass the normal processes and procedures of legislative review,” he said.
In their expressions of approval, several ambassadors said Mr. Ban must continue to show a willingness to consult with the member countries and to follow established procedures.
Thomas Mattusek, the German ambassador, said Mr. Ban would have to conduct his office with “more transparency,” and Kenzo Oshima, the Japanese ambassador, noted that while countries were pleased to have a more detailed plan now, “they would have liked to have had these clarifications earlier.”
Juan Antonio Yáñez-Barnuevo, Spain’s ambassador, said, “I think the mood is now toward giving the secretary general the leeway he needs, though many of the more precise technical issues still need to be discussed.”
One of the challenges Mr. Ban faced Friday in this first test of wills with the General Assembly was to appear sufficiently chastened but not to yield to complaints in a way that diminished his own authority, members of his staff said.
“Today was good,” one said, though she made clear that she was not authorized to speak publicly about the secretary general’s strategy. “He responded to their demands, but he did it without appearing to be a slender reed or a pushover.”