No UN Footprints in Davos-on-Hudson


Those hoping that media-savvy Kofi Annan will help the UN overtake Davos in international clout were disappointed to discover that Davos almost took over the UN.

The first economic forum to take place in New York was just four blocks away, at the Waldorf-Astoria, but the gathering made the UN appear almost irrelevant, earning not a word in the mainstream press until the Secretary General, who was rightly engaged elsewhere, delivered closing remarks. To use a new idiom, there were no footprints from anyone in the world's all-inclusive organization.

None of the senior officials participating bothered to make the short hop to pay the UN a courtesy call. The chief New York Times correspondent, Serge Schmemann, possibly finding little in the building, moved to cover the forum. Only Afghan leader Hamid Karzai made the inevitable call on the Security Council, but with no prominent secretariat official to highlight the truly excellent work of their Afghan colleagues. In return for this effort, Mr. Karzai, who was a special guest of the joint House meeting in Washington, was informed in somewhat pompous terms by Singapore's ambassador that his requests could not be accommodated.

Incidentally, to Mr. Karzai's credit he was the only senior statesman visiting New York at the time who bypassed the Waldorf gathering, going straight to Kabul and leaving his foreign minister to take the front seat. Although all the issues were part of the UN activities and an integral component in the millennium plan-of-action, participants' talk focused on non-UN speakers, giving the perception of irrelevance to the UN. There were, to be sure, some UN officials, but they seemed preoccupied with their titles and the fumbling exchange of business cards in an awkward attempt at "networking" with business sharpshooters who themselves invented the art of the deal.

It was embarrassing to see those who turn a haughty shoulder to their staff suddenly fawn over businessmen half their age, businessmen who would respect them far more if they knew how to present the issues and represent their organization. The final appearance of the Secretary General helped surmount this sense of growing irrelevance. But how long can such characters take refuge under the protective umbrella of Kofi Annan?