15 APRIL 2011


In an unprecedented move of cultural diversity and more senior level of designation, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan as the new Director General at the United Nations European office in Geneva.

The post is especially sought not only because of the tranquil and orderly atmosphere in the Swiss international city, nor the special accommodation that comes with it, but also because of the potential additional roles, particularly in arranging official and off-the-record gatherings and working with an extraordinary number of civic society groups, NGO's and active internationalists.

In earlier days, Italian diplomat Pier Pasquale Spinelli, who superbly headed it, carried several other tasks including one in Geneva, another between Jordan and Israel, and a third in Somalia. Additionally, discreet as ever, he was the solid enlightened advisor for two Secretaries General, Hammarskj÷ld and U Thant. He was followed by another Italian who tried hard and -- after a French interruption -- another Italian who was more of a network operator than an office manager. Secretary General Dr. Boutros-Ghali, who needed a more experienced political figure, appointed Vladimir Petrovsky, a former Russian Deputy Foreign Minister who made a remarkable impact, playing a pivitol role in disarmament negotiations and other delicate issues. Keeping it with Russia, Kofi Annan appointed in 2002 Sergei Ordzhonikidzein, a former Deputy Permanent Representative in New York under Sergei Lavrov, currently Russia's Minister of Foreign Affairs and one of the most experienced diplomats in U.N. affairs.

When Ban Ki-moon took over in 2007, he maintained the incumbent, a citizen of a Permanent Member of the Security Council, for four more years -- making a total of nine.

The first indication of possible change was nine months ago (July 2010) with the appointment of another Russian diplomat Yuri Fedotov as Director General of the other European office in Vienna.

The announcement on 11 March of Mr. Tokayev's appointment was a first by the Secretary General -- to designate a Eurasian for that key post, someone from outside the European Club or G-8 yet with proven experience and qualifications to match any candidate from these countries. Besides, Kazakhstan has its own unique international role, whether in its relations with Permanent Council members Russia, China and the U.S., or with Europe and the rest of the world. Indeed, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev personally played a pivotal role in cementing these relations as Minister of Foreign Affairs (1994-1999) or Prime Minister from 1999 to 2002 or the Chairman of the current Parliament. As a prominent expert in international affairs and an intellectual and author of several books, he will bring to his new assignment a down-to-earth approach, together with that special Kazakhstan Eurasian flair. His senior level will allow him more leeway in handling politically urgent issues.

In making a welcome precedent, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon selected a candidate who would justify it.

Photo Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas