|WHY DO THOSE ENVOYS EMBARRASS THE SECRETARY GENERAL?
15 MAY 2008
The latest case was that of the Special Envoy for Western Sahara. Dutch diplomat Peter Van Walsum, "Personal Envoy
of the Secretary General," attempted to force his views on members of the Security Council before his official boss,
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon agreed and authorized the final draft. He made his own views available to the media
without the courtesy of waiting for the Secretary General to make his presentation. A general interpretation was that
Walsum had the support of at least two powerful permanent members of the Security Council. A press statement by
U.S. Ambassador Khalilzad underlined that impression. Be that as it may, the question relates more to the credibility
of the most senior official entrusted -- and duly elected by the whole membership -- to run the Secretariat work of
Peter Van Walsum behaved more like a shameless self-promoter than an international diplomat. He arrogantly
behaved as if he was irreproachable and unaccountable just because he had backing from powerful members. Compare
that with the position of the Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs, a U.S. citizen, who unfailingly displays
consistent respect and conformity with the Secretary General.
Clearly, this is not the first time a Special or Personal Envoy behaves as if he owned the issue. It just so
happens that another Dutch diplomat, Jan Pronck, who was assigned to Darfur produced his own personal website and
eventually -- after embarrassing himself more than the U.N. -- had to leave. His successor, Jan Eliasson, seems to
behave like a super envoy, cornering the Secretary General and the U.N. into a more complicated situation; but at
least he keeps a generally proper attitude. Another "envoy," Terje Roed Larsen, barely hides his free hand (also
supported by two powerful permanent members). The latest case related to an idea of an international conference on
Lebanon he reportedly floated while the Secretary General's spokesman's office was vehemently denying it.
To be fair, that "personalized ownership" started under Mr. Ban's predecessor, Kofi Annan, who hardly bothered
to confront any strongly-backed envoy unless his own concerns were directly at stake. But that trend, if allowed to
continue, will further erode the stature of the Organization, and the standing of its Secretary General. A more
serious long-lasting concern is that such attitude makes a mockery of the principle of International Civil Service.
Why do some envoys venture to embarrass Ban Ki-moon, as they did Kofi Annan? The simple clear answer is: because
they are allowed to do so -- because they feel they can get away with it!
Again, Mr. Ban is earnestly trying his best. But his immediate staff, starting with his Chef de Cabinet, should
be able to put some order in that embarrassing diplomatic traffic. Only the Secretary General represents the
Secretariat. He is the Chief Administrative Officer. He was elected for that purpose -- entrusted with the task. For
the duration of a specified term, Ban Ki-moon is the elected designated leader. While all member states naturally
pursue their national interest, he is entrusted with evolving an international consensus. If he is too polite or
reticent to discipline renegade envoys, someone in his office should.