15 MARCH 2008

First, let us welcome the newly-composed International Panel on Safety and Security of U.N. Personnel and Premises (IPSSUNPP -- for short!). Its Chairman Lakhdar Brahimi is a distinguished diplomat of integrity and accomplishment. The fact that we have not heard of the other members like Mr. Gupta of India, Pamir of Turkey, Elsayed Elsayed of Egypt, and Boy of South Africa reflects not on their professional competence but on our admitted ignorance in matters of Security. The last (by alphabetical order) but not least of its members, the ever recurring Margarathe Walhstrom of Sweden we already know in a previous incarnation. Some Swedes have the habit of never going away from U.N. Headquarters; they never would give a chance to their other compatriots who may, perhaps, do better.

The new "body," as it was described, "will take a critical look at the existing situation to determine how the U.N. and its member states can bolster the safety and security for the Organization's people and premises." That's a mouthful, considering the spoon-feeding.

Although the Panel was formed in light of what happened in Algiers, with 17 U.N. staffers dead, it is also expected "to take a wider view of the implications of these new problems that are facing the Organization in terms of threats and challenges." As Mr. Brahimi pointed out, a lot of people are -- some rightly, some not rightly -- angry with the U.N.

As to Algeria, there should be no problem. Everyone was on the same side of the table. Although appropriate and politically correct, lessons would be drawn from that "savage loss" -- as described by the Secretary General at the time, it will be interesting to find out the wider recommendations for both Headquarters and the field.

We had thought, again mainly out of ignorance in Security affairs, that all what was needed to be done had been done after the criminal attack on U.N. Baghdad headquarters. Following at least two reports -- drafted by the same UNHCR person but presented by two different chairmen -- measures were touted as the ultimate answer to saving future generations from the scourge of terrorism. It included the erection -- excuse the word -- of a soft "Annan Wall" along First Avenue, the stationing of formidable machines at varied entrances requiring a respectful head-lowering approach, and the introduction of puzzled sniffing dogs during cafeteria peak hours. If these tough measures do not stop prospective plotters in their tracks, we don't know what else would!

First and foremost, there was a new $90 million Department for Security headed by an Under-Secretary General, a very experienced Scotland Yard chief, Sir David Vaness, whose subsequent visits around the world clearly widened his insight into the workings of the Organization at various corners of potential trouble. His regular visits to Lebanon in particular have been welcome by staff eager to find out -- in due course, of course -- how to operate effectively from their visibly targeted building in central Beirut. His Deputy Diana Russler knows the system like the back of her hand. Dedicated, efficient and widely respected, Ms. Russler is a formidable defender of international civil service. She does not shy away from presenting her views clearly, whether right or wrong, and carries approved policy. One could not hope for a better guardian.

The problem, however, may be in the oversized over-layered structure. Again, we do not presume expertise in Security, but -- as our distinguished Secretary General repeatedly says -- we care for RESULTS. For years since the inception of the U.N., Security was part of Administration and Management. Initially, Security officers were not even armed. The number of staff was not yet as large and "guards" knew most of their colleagues and accredited correspondents by name. With increasing attendance and growing operations, Security became a Section, headed for the first time in 1990 by a D-1 level Chief. Michael McCann, of New York Police experience, became a silent yet visible presence in diplomatic and public events. He and his team were noted for their subtle professional approach, and individual care, discreetly interfering when necessary. His counterpart in Geneva took care of the European operation and the one in Vienna did the same until he had a fallout with the Director there (that's another story).

After the Baghdad bombing, our U.N. 9/11, a whole review of Security was at least politically required. Lower officials were scapegoated while senior ones who had reviewed the situation daily in an Iraq Crisis Group got a pathetically drafted letter for their confidential files.

Clearly, with a new Department, more new layers were added while old ones continued under different names to perform the same functions. Instead of one D-1 Chief, there are a number of D-2 and other senior officials with impressive functions to perform. Do they perform them effectively? Isn't there a specific difference between Security at Headquarters and other functions at Headquarters? Isn't it more efficient to run field operations more from the field than through push buttons from Headquarters? Aren't there too many bureaucratic layers adding to the confusion? Was the $90 million answer disproportionate or irrelevant to the security questions raised? Was it worth it? Should more money be thrown at it? Shouldn't certain accountable people be held accountable?

Security has become a priority issue everywhere. Most agree that part of the problem is political. Ambassador Brahimi has clearly pointed that out. But there is also the professional dimension where solid good management and some common sense are needed. Where are we? Any real difference between the Section and the Department?

Don't count on Ms. Wahlstrom for an answer, let alone a solution. But perhaps the experienced Ambassador Brahimi could provide some clues. Let's wish him best of luck.