On Choosing the Next Secretary-General

IF UN members want the best available person as secretary-general next year, they need to conduct a more thorough search and establish specific criteria for the job. "The selection process is a haphazard, parochial, political kind of lottery," says Sir Brian Urquhart, a Ford Foundation scholar. "No company or government would ever dream of electing its principal leader this way."

Sir Brian, who worked for all five secretaries-general during a long UN career, says there is often no check of a candidate's record. The selection of Kurt Waldheim, later accused of complicity in war crimes as a German Army officer, was a case in point: "Nobody looked under 'W' in the war-crimes index."

The consensus at the UN is that the next secretary-general should be African. Sir Brian agrees that each continent should have a turn, but says the focus should be on the best possible candidate worldwide.

Governments need to be clearer on the kind of person they want: "They want a sort of willing functionary who's not going to rock the boat, but then in a crisis, a lot of members want some ball of fire. You can't have it both ways."

Sir Brian says that UN Secretary-General Javier P 142>rez de Cu 142>llar, who finishes his second five-year term at the end of this year, has done a fine job under difficult circumstances.

Sir Brian argues the post should involve a nonrenewable seven-year term: "It's an incredibly punishing job physically, psychologically, and mentally. It's 365 days a year - you never get away from it because of the time difference - and I don't think anybody, however young and vigorous, can do that for 10 years."

Part of the problem, he says, is that there is little executive backup support: More than two dozen department heads report directly to the UN's top official. Sir Brian recommends a restructuring to allow for three deputies, each responsible for a number of divisions.

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