Who's Next in 'World's Most Impossible Job'?

Seeking a future United Nations leader

WHO should run the United Nations? Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali is presiding at the UN's 50th anniversary summit this fall. He has not said yet whether he will seek a second term. He will be 74 years old when his current term expires, and the post is all-consuming.

It is time to ask who would be a worthy successor, if Mr. Boutros-Ghali chooses to step down or if the major powers decide to look elsewhere, as they may. The discussion is too important to be kept behind closed doors. African states would like a term for a sub-Saharan leader, but no viable names have been forthcoming.

European members are floating the name of Mary Robinson, the well-liked president of Ireland. Mrs. Robinson has been an eloquent voice in the Irish peace process, a liberal reformer on domestic issues, and active in international human rights.The UN has yet to have a female secretary-general. A lack of broad administrative experience may decrease her chances; the Irish post has political stature, but is largely ceremonial. Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland has more experience running things, if European members should decide to look outside the European Union.

Gareth Evans, Australia's foreign minister, is on the circuit. He wrote a thoughtful book on UN reform, and was a backer of the successful Cambodian peacekeeping operation.The recent tiff with France over nuclear testing, though, will not help him with that veto-wielding permanent member of the UN Security Council. Running for prime minister may be his first priority.

Former President Jimmy Carter is also interested, insiders say. His work in Africa on river blindness and his effective campaign for Central American democracy add luster. But other diplomatic peregrinations, such as his trip to North Korea and his winter-time "cease fire" in Bosnia are less popular. In the past, superpower citizens were ruled out for the post, since mediation between the superpowers was part of the portfolio.

A candidate from Japan?...

So much for the names currently bobbing in the water. The more interesting question concerns meritorious dark horses. Who should be drafted? Sadako Ogata, Japan's bright gift to the United Nations, is a natural consensus candidate. Mrs. Ogata was appointed High Commissioner for Refugees under Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, and has performed brilliantly in jump-starting missions to handle refugee crises. The headline events of Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, and Somalia have featured her work. She is especially admired for taking charge of internally displaced persons - technically not "refugees" because they haven't crossed a border. Ogata took this on at a time when the formally charged agency, the UN Development Program, was showing no signs of action.

Japan is the second-largest financial donor to the UN, after the United States, and has never had a secretary-general. Ogata's banker husband recently co-chaired a major study with Paul Volcker on how to put UN finances right. Ogata has indicated to friends that she is tired from her ceaseless work, and Japan may not wish to be on the spot financially. But her merits as a candidate are plain.

...Or Sweden, or South Africa?

A second extraordinary figure is Rolf Ekeus, a Swedish diplomat who has masterfully run the Special Commission on Iraq, forcing Saddam Hussein to fork over the secrets of Iraq's nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs.

Mr. Ekeus is a rock-solid figure, trusted by hard-headed leaders who usually spurn the UN as a leaky ship. His weapons commission received willing cooperation from Western governments, including sensitive intelligence sources on Iraqi machinations.

He has been a hands-on administrator, showing great personal courage in his wide-ranging inspections into the Iraqi countryside. These have brought him toe-to-toe with Saddam, and each time, Ekeus has unearthed new data on the Baathist leader's aggressive plans.

Ekeus is also well known for his multilateral diplomacy in the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, where he drafted the 1990 Paris Charter on democracy and minority rights.

A third attractive possibility is Justice Richard Goldstone, the prosecutor of the UN War Crimes Tribunal and a member of South Africa's new constitutional court. Mr. Goldstone won extraordinary kudos in South Africa, helping to hold the country together during the transition to democracy through his investigative commission on public violence and intimidation. Goldstone could serve out Africa's second term - Boutros-Ghali was the first African to serve, and most secretaries-general have served two terms. He could also begin to cure the alienation from the UN felt by the Jewish community.

The 50th anniversary has been a difficult year. Doubtful performances in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Somalia overshadow the historic transitions to democracy in Cambodia, Mozambique, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, as well as the UN's work in child health, development, and human rights. It's up to the next secretary-general to right the ship, run it efficiently, and woo a broader public.

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