After Annan, what kind of UN leader?
His successor may be selected as early as next month.
UNITED NATIONS, N.Y.
As Kofi Annan prepares to wrap up 10 years at the helm of the United Nations, admirers say the soft-spoken Ghanaian has overseen an expansion of the secretary-general's role into "the world's top diplomat."Skip to next paragraph
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Critics are more apt to point to the deteriorating esteem that much of the world holds for its largest international organization, or to the scandals that have rocked its walls, and conclude that a truer moniker might be "world's worst manager."
Now, as Mr. Annan approaches the end of his second five-year term in December, his accomplishments and shortcomings are defining the search for his successor, who could be selected as early as next month. Does the world need most a globe-trotting arbiter and executive – or someone who will put the house in order?
Two schools of thought have opened up on what the next secretary-general should be, says Edward Luck, a UN expert who teaches at Columbia University in New York: "a spokesman for the world, a kind of secular pope," or "someone who learns the lesson of Kofi's legacy and is careful not to overstretch the bounds of the office – but focuses instead on managing and leading the institution."
While candidates are already campaigning for the post, no consensus has formed around any one of them – in part because UN members, in particular on the powerful Security Council, have different views of what is most needed for the job.
Almost no one challenges the notion that Annan has presided over the UN during a decade of deep global change, or that an institution gathering 192 nations under its umbrella has evolved from the world's biggest convener of conferences to much more of a "doer" organization – managing more peacekeepers than ever, spearheading development efforts, fighting AIDS.
"The UN under Kofi Annan has begun to adapt to a very different world and a very different mission" than that of the world body's first half century, says Lee Feinstein, a UN expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. "It's much less a talk shop, much more a place that does things."
But the UN's reputation is also badly tarnished in the wake of the oil-for-food probe and other scandals. Some critics believe the UN under Annan has aligned itself too closely with American foreign policy, while others, notably among US conservatives, say Annan has presided over the transformation of the UN into a den of inefficiency, corruption, and anti-Western thinking. President Bush recently noted that support for the UN among Americans is at it lowest level ever.
Annan has not shied away from addressing previously "taboo" topics for the secretary-general, such as the promotion of democracy, individual rights versus those of government, the individual's right to protection, inequitable wealth distribution, and genocide, Mr. Feinstein says.
Yet despite that, the UN has suffered from failing to operate effectively or efficiently as it has expanded its workload, he adds. "And part of that is because Kofi Annan has not been an effective and efficient manager," he says.
That view, widely held among Annan admirers and detractors alike, has led many analysts to conclude that what the UN needs most now is not so much the "world's top diplomat" as a manager with a laser focus on internal operations who will make the organization work better.
"Yes, you need the well-respected international figure, but beyond that, what is needed as secretary-general is someone who is tremendously focused on reforming a highly flawed institution," says Nile Gardiner, an expert in international institutions at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
"You need someone who won't just preside over a deep well of corruption but will dig in and do something about it," he adds, "someone who will challenge time-honored practices like hiring and promotion rules that too often yield the lowest common denominator."
Annan did launch a major reform effort in March 2005 that was to be the capstone of his tenure. But to some observers, it was fanciful to think that an ambitious overhaul including broad management reforms, expansion of the Security Council, and the addition of new tasks could be accomplished in the wary and distrustful atmosphere of the post-Iraq-invasion period.
"No one thought it was a propitious moment for such a wide-ranging undertaking," says Professor Luck of Annan's reform agenda. "When oil-for-food hit, he should have pared it down to focus on management," he says, adding, "Kofi is a decent man with many talents, but managing people isn't one of them. He seems to want everyone to like him."