Struggle For The Next UN General Secretary Gets Feverish
Last week the UN conducted a straw poll to determine the candidates to be the next UN General Secretary. When the member states, after much lobbying and jockeying, arrive at settled choices the Security Council then picks a winner. As I’ve written in the past on this topic, there seems to be a preference for a woman and an Eastern European.
The US back the former idea, Moscow the latter. After four straw polls at the UN Security Council over many months, four candidates are leading the race: Antonio Guterres of Portugal, Slovakian Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák, Serbia’s Vuk Jeremić and Irina Bokova from Bulgaria.
Antonio Guterres has come up repeatedly as the number one candidate. He enjoys very wide support within the Security Council. Alas, the two biggest players do not like him. The Russians will most probably veto him because they want an East European as part of the rotational principle and they feel some affinity for the region. So, no to Gutierrez from that side. He also happens to be male. So, no to him also from the Western pro-female crowd.
Let me first remind the reader of this column’s consistent criticism of the Russians. I carry no water for Putin. I may be one of his earliest still living critics, with emphasis on still living, dating back to a time even before the 2008 invasion of Georgia which I covered for the WSJ. I have co-written a book ostracizing him and the Chinese for strategic malfeasance. (“Return To Winter: Russia, China and the New Cold War”) But the real world dictates certain givens: the UN functions a certain way structurally and the Russians have a veto. They will use it against Guterres. You and I may not like it but fantasizing won’t help. If I know this and you know it, surely the grand political plenipotentiaries pushing pointless candidates to the fore know it also. So why do it? Why even bother?
Miroslav Lajčák and Vuk Jeremić face the same problem in reverse: the West will certainly veto them. They have been heavily championed by Russia. No way will Washington will agree to elect Moscow’s puppets. Take the Slovak candidate. After his (Slovakia’s) Prime Minister met with Putin and called for lifting EU sanctions against Moscow, Lajčák rose from 10th to 2nd in UN Security straw polls. Jeremić is playing in the same category: he is fiercely anti-NATO, anti-Kosovo’s independence and a Serbian ultranationalist. So forget about these two, the free world will never support them.
The most probable compromise candidate between the US and Russia appears to be the current head of Unesco, Irina B0kova. As it happens, Bokova is the official candidate of Bulgaria. Keep that in mind as you read on. In past columns I have argued for B0kova as the best option, founded as much on her own plusses as on the minuses of her rivals – which latter are byzantine and plentiful. Which is what makes this topic so enjoyable to peruse: the sheer fallibility and folly of political vanities. The UN is heading for another straw poll at the end of this month so it behooves us to clear the morass anew.
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About Bokova on the plus side: she fits the desiderata (woman and East European), she is and was a practicing diplomat as former foreign minister of Bulgaria. She has run Unesco this many years with notable devotion. She it was that launched the prosecution of the Islamist villain who destroyed Timbuktu’s historic shrines. That trial is now actually happening at the Hague as I wrote in the Wall Street Journal, a remarkable success for its unprecedented plea of guilty by a repentant jihadi leader.
An equally compelling narrative though is the comedy of errors being played out by Bokova’s rival for the Gen Sec position: the shadow bystander, yet another female Bulgarian, Kristalina Georgieva. Alas, she is manifestly, utterly unelectable. Sysiphean, to re-use a term I’ve used about Georgieva before. She is not actually a diplomat, never has been. But she won’t get elected chiefly because of her top EU posts which link her to EU sanctions against Russia. Russia will veto her; this weekend they reiterated that they refuse to consider her candidacy. And, in fact, she’s not even an official candidate! Not yet. But shadowy forces keep pushing her to the fore toward a nomination. And pressure is building on her own country Bulgaria to switch its vote to her. Therein lies another tale of political folly.
Here we enter the murky inertial forces of EU power politics. Gutteres belongs to the Party of European Socialists (PES). His nomination by Portugal boosts the leverage of the entire party in Europe. Their region-wide rivals, the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), led by Angela Merkel, don’t like it. So, all of a sudden, there’s a move by the EPP and the distinctly more right-wing leader of Hungary, Viktor Orban, to oppose Gutteres. To do so, they are considering nominating Kristalina Georgieva, one of their own EU functionaries. Officially, it would be Hungary, Croatia and Latvia nominating a Bulgarian to run against a Bulgarian (Bokova) already nominated by Bulgaria. Follow me? If not, don’t blame me. That’s how it is in Europe. Now do you see why the EU can scarcely stand up to Putin or prevent Brexit or… well, you get the point.
So the game hangs in the balance as the insular internecine power struggles within Europe pirhouette about. If Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Borissov gives in to Orban and the EPP, switches Bulgaria’s nomination from Bokova to Georgieva, he will lose his country’s one shot at leading the world. He will thereby wreck his own career. Because, as certain as day follows night, Georgieva will be vetoed by the Russians. As both the former Polish President Kwasniewski and the former US Ambassador the UN Bill Richardson stated this week-end, Bokova is the only chance for Bulgaria and Eastern Europe to get a UN Secretary General. There’s nothing that Berlin or Budapest can do about it because they have no seat in the UN Security Council and no leverage over it. On the other hand, if Borissov resists his fellow European conservative politicians, one can only imagine the personal political cost for him. Still, it’s his one chance to write his name in history as a Bulgarian patriot, and not to be humiliated by a last minute swap of candidate which would fail dramatically. We will soon see which actuating force will prevail over Europe’s and indeed the world’s affairs.