15 DECEMBER 2011


It officially started on the first day of December. As Deputy Spokesman Eduardo de Buey was about to begin his Noon briefing, he was suddenly told that the Chef de Cabinet was coming over to make a statement. Vijay Nambiar told correspondents what he had been told to say. Preparing for a new term, he announced: "The Secretary General's intention is to build a new team that is strong on substance and diverse in composition, complementing one another and working as a team. In this process, Mr. Ban will focus on those senior officials who already have five years of service, as well as try to balance the need for fresh perspectives with the need for maintaining continuity of purpose."

In a politically correct explanation, Nambiar added that Mr. Ban will continue to focus on empowering line departments as well as on leveraging organizational synergy by streamlining work process and minimizing institutional duplication. He is keen to ensure the right mix of change and continuity in the senior leadership team. In announcing these changes in advance, the Secretary General wanted to have ample time for us to seek nominations, "and to ensure a smooth transition."

When asked by his obviously curious audience, he responded, honestly and correctly, that he was told not to answer questions, even about his own status. As the Secretary General was away attending Bonn conference on Afghanistan -- and the rest in New York were clueless -- speculation was very limited. Only upon Mr. Ban's return to Headquarters did the guessing game gradually escalate, not only by reading tea leaves in the downsized "Viennese Cafe" after the loss of the legendary Delegates Lounge, but by closely watching the daily schedule of the boss and the company he keeps these days.

As we repeat what we mentioned in the last issue that nobody knows what is in store as Mr. Ban plays very close to his chest and the views of key member states -- and aspiring retiring diplomats -- will have an impact.

However, we know who is leaving. By mid-2012, at least eight Under-Secretaries General will be replaced. They are Shaaban Muhammad, Under-Secretary General for General Assembly Affairs and Conference Management; Kiyotaka Akasaka, Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information; B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs; and Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs; Sergio Duarte, High Representative for Disarmament; Cheick Sidi Diarra, Special Adviser for Africa; Abdoulie Janneh, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA); and Jan Kubis, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE). Additional announcements are expected as we approach the year's end. There are obvious questions about the Chef de Cabinet himself and the ineffective Deputy Secretary General who is lobbying very hard among the African group to keep her job. Our latest information from African circles is that she is on her way out.

We also know that one of the names announced is merely changing posts. Jan Kubis will move from Geneva to Afghanistan as Special Representative. How effective he will be there -- an Eastern European apparatchik in Rudyard Kipling never never land -- remains to be seen. Meanwhile, a replacement at the U.N. European Commission is likely very soon. The Germans, who had pressed unsuccessfully for the post of Director-General of the U.N. European office are most likely keen on getting a consolation prize at the Commission. With the presence of the Secretary General in Bonn at the time of the announcement and as Germany is a key member of the Security Council and a backbone of the European financial/economic setup, the appointment of a German is a likely bet. It may also explain dispatching Kubis to Kabul.

What we could also speculate with some certainty is that some of those leaving will be replaced by their own nationals, though not necessarily in the same position. Another Chinese, Japanese and American would reflect their new governmental politics. It would not be surprising if Yukio Takasu, one of the most successful diplomats at the Security Council who knows the U.N. very well is brought back -- that would be a valuable asset to the U.N. and Japan. China has a very delicate relationship with Mr. Ban, who has tried very hard to maintain good relations, despite a famous outburst by Under-Secretary She Zukang; everyone's face would now be saved with a new start. As the U.S. may wish to replace Mr. Pascoe with a nominee by the Obama Administration, Ambassador Rice will have to deal with an army of aspiring New York Democrats more determined than Al-Shabat of Mogadishu. It may be that a new American would await the November national elections -- unless Mr. Ban decides to choose a U.S. citizen from within, in a different post. Egypt would seek to replace Shaaban, perhaps with the current Permanent Representative Maged Abdelaziz, whom some describe inaccurately as a Mubarak appointee, although he is a professional diplomat. Mr. Ban may seek the advice of outgoing Arab League Secretary General and candidate for Egypt's Presidency, Amre Moussa, with whom he has bonded over the last few years. However, it may be the turn for an Arab from another nationality. For example, Gulf countries were never given any senior U.N. post although now they have the biggest financial liquidity to which key powers aspire.

Two posts for French and Russian representation have already been assigned, in Peacekeeping and Vienna respectively, in what some would describe as an advance payment. The only Security Council member in question is that of Valerie Amos, who was appointed about a year ago when the very competent John Holmes decided to leave. Ms. Amos was closer to Tony Blair than the current Prime Minister David Cameron, who most likely would have his own candidate, particularly if the post entailed closer work with the Secretary General, like Chef de Cabinet, a post once very ably handled by Lord Mark Malloch-Brown. The Japanese may go for Humanitarian Affairs, which they had occupied twice, particularly since they contribute substantively to its budget; but then they had similarly opted for the Department of Public Information despite disappointing results; they once had to withdraw their own appointee after an anti-Japanese flap!

Let's take a breathing space and wait for some promised announcement during this month.

Meanwhile, we wish Secretary General Ban Ki-moon a restful holiday, which may be unlikely as he will have to deal with a contingent of aspiring former, retiring and active diplomats furtively seeking an international post. To be candid, one repeated question is about the prospects of his Deputy Chef de Cabinet. Will Mr. Kim continue to play a pivotal role in the new Administration, or will Ban Ki-moon, whose heart is in the right place, take full charge?