Editor's Note: This article was originally published on 5 October. With Angela Merkel being named Time magazine's Person of the Year for 2015, it's prudent to re-look at her suitability for the role of UN Secretary-General
The final lap of Ban-Ki-Moon’s second term as Secretary-General of the United Nations is underway, and he is not believed to be seeking an unprecedented third term (Although the UN Charter does not explicitly forbid a third term, this has never happened before). An election is to be held next year in order to identify the successor to Ban, who is set to retire on 31 December, 2016.
In the 70 years of the United Nations’ existence, there has neither been a secretary-general (S-G) from Eastern Europe nor one who was a woman. There have been three from Western Europe, two from Africa, two from Asia, and one from the region classified as Latin America and the Caribbean. Speculation has been rife that the new S-G will likely be an ‘Eastern European woman’.
The new S-G should certainly be a European woman, but from Western Europe, specifically German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
It was reported in the past that Merkel, who is on a three-day-visit to India, has hinted at not seeing out her term — that ends in 2017 — as chancellor. However, she need not curtail her term too drastically since the post of UN S-G becomes available in 2017. But why her?
Over the course of her 10-year chancellery, she has guided her country through the 2007-2008 global financial crisis (that experts feared would drive Germany into recession) and been at the forefront of efforts to negotiate the Eurozone crisis since 2009 (including her efforts to keep the European Union together).
Amidst all this, the standoff between Russia and the West — initially over Crimea, but now over almost everything else — has arguably been kept under a semblance of control thanks to Merkel’s brand of diplomacy. Chiding Nato and Russia almost in equal measure somewhat like a headmistress, she has sought a compromise to the crisis rather than seek punitive responses that would ultimately further escalate tensions, and could even turn this new Cold War into something worse.
On the growing presence and audacity of the Islamic State in Syria, and with Russia and the West at loggerheads about how to deal with the crisis, Merkel called for a compromise, indicating that ‘there can only be a solution (to the Syrian war) with Russian and not without Russia’. Amid Washington calling for President Bashar Al-Assad to stand down, and Russian airstrikes reportedly killing US-backed Syrian rebels, the last thing the region, or indeed the world, needs is for US-Russia hostilities to be played out in West Asia.
When it came to the millions of refugees displaced by the crisis, Merkel exhorted EU countries to bring down the walls of Fortress Europe, and led by example. Her refugee policy earned praise from the US and Israel, but on the continent, opinion was sharply divided — with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, among those in opposition, who criticised Germany’s ‘moral imperialism’.
Nevertheless, Merkel refused to back down in the face of critics in Europe, and at home.
“If we now have to start apologising for showing a friendly face in response to emergency situations, then that's not my country,” she said.
In fact, the chancellor’s spokesperson Steffen Seibert went a step further and said, “Germany is a compassionate country and will not allow refugees to be met here by hateful slogans or alcohol-fuelled loudmouths”.
The UN Secretary-General is appointed by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the UN Security Council. As a result, the selection can be vetoed by any of the five permanent members of the UNSC. Merkel is likely to pass this test with the US, UK, France and Russia with ease — having demonstrated her prowess as a mediator, therefore her acceptability for the role of the world’s top mediator. However, China will be a little more difficult to convince. Nevertheless, a veto does not appear to be on the cards.
This brings us to the popular argument that walking away from a job that has allowed Merkel to make policy and take decisions, to one that is largely ceremonial and bereft of any real powers. Indeed according to Chapter XV of the UN Charter, the S-G is the chief administrative officer of the UN (Article 97) and is empowered to ‘bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which… may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security’ (Article 99).
The role of the S-G aside, the UN in general has been struggling for relevance. With a near-permanently deadlocked Security Council, reduced effectiveness — evident in countries acting unilaterally; and an overall lack of credibility — seen most recently in the organisation’s lackadaisical response to humanitarian crises including the Syrian refugee crisis, the UN is in serious need of reform. According to some observers, the 193-nation-strong UN is little more than an expensive and bloated debating society.
Reform must start at the very top of any organisation, and the UN is no exception. There is therefore a need to jettison the practice of appointing a non-controversial leader from a harmless country as S-G, and opt for someone with a proven track record, leadership skills and ability to mediate effectively, like Bundeskanzlerin Merkel.
Additionally, 70 years since the end of the Second World War, it would be a sign of the modern global order to have a German as S-G. Also, to have a woman S-G, considering the otherwise idealistic and lofty UN charter still refers to the S-G as ‘he’.