FP: The U.N. secretary-general is the world’s chief diplomat, but most of the world doesn’t get much say in who gets the nod. In the end, it’s the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent veto-wielding powers (the P5) — Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States — that decide.
With elections still nearly a year and a half off, eager hopefuls have begun positioning themselves to succeed Ban Ki-moon as the U.N.’s secretary-general, a job high on prestige but low on real power. At this stage there is no clear front-runner. But diplomats say the candidates include a Lithuanian president, a pair of former prime ministers from Australia and New Zealand, and presidents and foreign ministers from several Latin American countries. They are facing mounting calls from a coalition of governments and advocacy groups to make their case to the wider world through public debates and addresses to the U.N. General Assembly in addition to their back-channel talks with the United States and other major powers.
“The secretary-general is not only the secretary-general of the P5 or of the Security Council — it’s the secretary-general of all of us,” Switzerland’s ambassador to the United Nations, Paul Seger, said in an interview. The rest of the U.N. membership, he said, should “at least have a viewpoint, or give an indication, or even make recommendations to the Security Council about who could be a good candidate.”
For now, at least, the race for the premier diplomatic job is playing out discreetly in midtown Manhattan coffee bars, diplomatic missions, and foreign-policy conference halls. Only a handful of the candidates’ governments have publicly announced their candidates’ plans to campaign. Those who let on publicly that they are pursuing the job run the risk of exposing themselves to an early elimination. “None of us would be prepared to say publicly, ‘Yes, we’re running,’ because there is a risk that if you get exposed too early, everybody will shoot at you,” said one well-known candidate — who spoke on condition of anonymity. “But we have been running into each other at airports and speaking at the same conferences.”