Millenium Meeting or Annan's Re-Election Platform?

08/22/2000
Diplomats who believe the Secretary General Kofi Annan is aiming for a second term think he may be tempted to pursue his quest at the forthcoming millennium summit. With so many heads of state and government available, "a word from above" could eventually become a binding instruction for working permanent representatives. Also, a generally favorable atmosphere - in media coverage of the event, special tributes which will have to be paid to the Secretary General with the opening of every statement at the Assembly and the absence of a vocal trend to the contrary, the host will be in the prominent position to graciously go along while ambitious allies finesse the target. A special issue by the influential Financial Times timed for the occasion will plod those weary of an early decision.

Initially, the year 2000 was pronounced "a calendar event, not a UN event". Even when the millennium was rehabilitated, mainly to provide an assignment for someone who was turned down from another, a set of appropriate meetings were explored. Suddenly, after reconsideration late last year it was discovered that the millennium actually starts in 2001 and there was still time to have a valuable historical summit of heads of state. The calendar gave way to the agenda. Hurriedly, the lights went on, literally by illuminating the front of the building with the letters 2000.

Thereafter, no expense was spared in preparation, travel and other requirements while still claiming shortage of funds and the need to cut down staff. The perception that the summit may be used for other than its declared purposes was additionally formed because: A) There seems to be no serious focus on specific objectives other than "feel good" platitudes, while openly dismissing proposals by delegates invited to attend preparatory meetings; B) Feedback from embassies of countries visited this year by the Security General; and C) Moves aiming "to clear the deck, use the teflon and bring in the spinners", as one ambassador put it promising to elaborate in due course, but generally referring to the peacekeeping area. All that talk may sound premature. The Secretary General's term expires end of next year, 2001. The campaign would begin next January, not this September. In fact, the U.S. elections in November will place the next Administration in a position to cast a crucial vote in the Security Council on the fall of next year. By then candidates would crop up , mainly from Asia, in the same manner that others usually did, often at the last minute. As the American and Chinese positions will be most crucial, it is generally assumed that Mr. Annan may stand a chance with an Administration of Democrats, but almost none with Republicans. And China, the biggest country in Asia, and its symbol among permanent members of the Security Council can not but support an Asian candidate- unless the advantage to its national interest is overwhelming, which is unlikely in the case of Mr. Annan.

With so many uncontrolled variables, the impression is that Mr. Annan's team would wish to establish some basics, shaping the trend now before other trends are shaped. That could be done discreetly, in the course of normal exchange of views. Diplomats point out that since January of this year, the Secretary General spent more time traveling than at headquarters. A one month trip to Asia in February (with a few days stop in East Timor) visits to Moscow, London, Paris and Beijing and attendance of African meetings were perceived as exploratory. The appointment of another French Diplomat to succeed Bernard Miyet as Under-Secretary General for Peacemaking may have been the price Mr. Annan has once again had to pay to ensure French support, which has added value as France chairs the European Union until December 2000. Now, while Kofi Annan is spending the summer holiday in his home country, it may occur to President Rawlings that his greatest international achievement during the millennium gathering in New York would be to flag his compatriot's initiatives at the UN which only require more time to accomplish.

A bandwagon effect- maybe orchestrated, helped by genuine affection for the accommodating and charming Annan. Even if no immediate decisions were taken, a positive outcome would be achieved. International high level acclaim would not certainly hurt his prospects for a renewed term. At least, it may advance his recurrent bid for the illusive Nobel Prize for Peace, which will it attained bulldoze any potential obstacle. "Sweet dreams are made of these" as the Eurythmics' song goes. Clearly, no action could be taken without the U.S. and China. And it is very unlikely for the current American administration - assuming it supports a renewal versus an Asian- to force the hand of the next one which will at any rate have the authority to review matters by January.

Hence Plan B sounded carefully by one of the team members. If matters are not proceeding well, "Reform" would be invoked. Then, the "quiet revolution" would entail a "bold" proposal to limit the Secretary General's tenure to one term only, but extend it to seven rather than five years-effective immediately, of course. The obstacle there is in the charter, which will have to be amended. That may require more time than even a full Secretary General's term. Ask Japan, which has been working in vain on the Charter's secretary council membership for the last twenty years. Or, better, don't ask Japan. It may surprise you in 2001. Wait and see.