| FIVE YEARS AGO "SECURITY" WAS A SECTION. NOW IT IS A FULL-BLOWN
DEPARTMENT. ANY DIFFERENCE?
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
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.