15 June 2006

A careful man crafted a careful speach which he made to a carefully selected group. Media reports indicate that he made the point with the unwitting help of one of his targets.

It will be difficult to brand Mark Malloch Brown as anti-American. The U.N.Deputy Secretary General was addressing an audience of distinguished American opinion shapers with a proven record of public sevice,having himself worked for years at the American capital.Personally,professionally,intellectually he has unquestinably positive links to the United States.One of his trademark quotes is:If you look at the past 60 years of the U.N., things rarely go well when there are strains in the relationship with the U.S.We must learn to trust the US without being seen as a poodle of America".In his most curent speech,he invoked the best joint interest of the UN and the US through advocating an effective leadership role by the host country."As the world's challenges are growing,the UN's ability to respond is being weakened without US leadership",he stressed.The seemingly offending part was about "the prevailing practice of seeking to use the UN almost by stealth"as a diplomatic tool while failing to stand up for it against domestic critics.Cautioning against an approach of" take it or leave it,red-line demandsthrown in without debate" was interpretted as implicit criticism of US Ambassador John Bolton,particularly when it was noted that in the eyes of the world the US commitment to the UN "tends to ebb more than it flows".

Any observer at UN Headquarters will tell you that the Deputy Secretary General has stated publicly what most diplomats,including the US closest allies, mumble under their breath .The most senior American under the US 41st President George H Bush,UNDP Administrator James Gustave Speth,now a Harvard Dean, wrote to the New York Times saying that Mr.Malloch Brown"spoke for most members of the United Nations" and that Ambassador Bolton's"bluster and bullying have carried things to a new and embarassing extreme"

Actually,Ambassador Bolton has made a career out of his blunt attitude.He doesn't do carrots and coisiders the UN "a target -rich environment".His once famous suggestions about doing away with ten floors of the Secretariat is a rallying cry for both his detractors as well as his admirers.That option,by the way,was breifly tested last year when electricity was cut off the top ten floors during the opening days of the General Assembly session.A lunch by the Secretary General for the Foreign Ministers of the Permenant Five had to be hurriedly shuffled to the fourth floor as the very dignified lady and gentlemen had to plod their weary way through 34 floors of backstairs.Despite her exceptional physical shape,Dr.Rice would rather excercise on her own treadmill.

Anyway,the Ambassador does not seem to be desperately seeking to win the hearts and minds of counterparts in New York.He knows where his constituency is.So does Mr.Mulloch Brown,who not only displayed the courage of his conviction but reflected an astute sense of timing.

It maybe that the Deputy Secretary General will be leaving by the end of the year,as he repeatedly claims despite some sceptics whispering to the contrary.But,then,Ambassador Bolton's term is up for review before then. He had been designated without congressional consent,which he will need soon if he is to resume his functions. There are those who beleive that such a public argument-which Ambassador Bolton readily picked up- with a very senior UN official well known to many in WashingtonD.C.will greatly diminish that prospect.

Another dimension relates to preparing ground for reform proposals.The Deputy Secretary General has just proven that he could "tell it like it is" to the most prominent delegate of the most powerful member state. Now he can turn to developping countries,or any opposing group prodding them" to do the right thing".

Plus,a review of candidates for succeeding the current Secretary General will start in earnest soon.While definitely not running,the stature of of Mr,Mulloch Brown and the Secretary General who supported "his thrust" have risen enough for delegates to consider them as a factor in the selection process or at least not to rush to a swift selection.At least,no more lame ducks by July as originally proposed by Ambassador Bolton.