WARREN HOGE: We’re going to begin here. Good evening. I am Warren Hoge, the United Nations bureau chief of The New York Times.
And on my left is Paul Kennedy, the J. Richardson Dilworth professor of history from Yale University and author of The Parliament of Man, a book about the United Nations, which is one reason we’re here tonight.
Stephen Schlesinger on his left, author of Act of Creation: The Founding of the United Nations.
And at the far end, Jim Traub, contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine and author of The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the U.N. in the Era of American World Power.
Now, I’ve rushed ahead here without telling you a couple of things I was supposed to tell you. One of them is that participants around the nation and the world are participating in this meeting via a live webcast on the council’s website. Also, I have to remind you to turn off all electronic devices—BlackBerries, phones, that sort of thing—and finally to tell you that this meeting is on the record.
Just one additional thing to tell you before we begin—it’s a matter of full disclosure. I have a personal bias towards all three of these speakers. Jim and Steve are personal friends. It’s been decades since I graduated in New Haven, but I still have a built-in indicator in my body that makes me always seek the favor of professors from Yale University. (Laughter.)
PAUL M. KENNEDY: This is not going to get you much more than a B minus. (Laughter.)
HOGE: We’re going to talk here for 20, 30 minutes and then let you all get involved. And the subject is the future of the United Nations, but I wanted to begin with the present for a moment. And I’d first of all wanted to start with a question that everyone is asking me, particularly right now. And that is, what about Kofi Annan? What’s the verdict on his secretary-generalship? What will be the legacy?
And I thought I would start with asking Jim Traub. After all, Kofi Annan’s name is in the title of his book. And Jim, if you would tackle that question and then maybe, Paul Kennedy, if you would pick it up afterwards, and Steve, bring up the rear, and then we’ll go to another question.
JAMES TRAUB: I’d be glad to.
Also, I just want to thank everyone. Given how terrible the weather was, I assumed that the four of us would be talking to each other. So I’m really delighted, and it shows what incredible enthusiasm for the U.N. you must all have.
So this would be my answer, Warren. There probably hasn’t been a secretary-general who has served two terms in which the first term is so immensely successful and highly admired and the second term not. Now that’s, I think, an obvious sort of truism in the case of Kofi Annan, but the interesting thing is that he wasn’t a different person in the second term. He did not run out of political capital or some other kind of miraculous substance in the second term. It is rather that what tends to determine the success or failure of a secretary-general is, to some extent, his own gift, but even more the geopolitical situation that he happens to inherit.
In the first term, he inherited a relatively—a sympathetic one, because the Clinton administration was in office, and they were relatively multilaterally inclined; and, it’s very important to add, he seized that moment in several important ways, I would say: one, by speaking about human rights and humanitarian values in a way that had not been done before, and two, by bringing in the United States, which was still quite leery about the United Nations. And he won the Nobel Peace Prize for good reason in 2001.
The second term has been so painful that it’s extremely hard to remember that he won the Nobel Peace Prize for what he did in the first term. And that’s not because he stopped doing what he had done before. It’s because, in short—Iraq, Iraq, Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. I mean, it’s because of the incredible difficulties posed by the Iraq situation and more broadly by the Bush administration.
So the broad point is that our judgment of his performance reminds us of how constrained that job is and how profoundly dependent it is on the setting created by the major powers of the institution.
HOGE: Paul, could you expand on that?
KENNEDY: Well, I think Brian Urquhart put it best in his piece on the next secretary-general in Foreign Affairs in April, where he says it is the world’s most impossible job description. I tend to agree with that. You can look at the charter, if you want, to see the job description, but it doesn’t give you any sense, other than it is more than being a mere secretary, which is what the secretary to the League of Nations was for Eric Drummond. But it’s less than being a CEO by a long way. It’s somewhere in the middle. And if you get too political and too involved and too ideological, you’re going to get smacked from certain parts of a global spectrum, and if you are too modest and do not speak as a sort of world voice in a way that Hammarskjold thought the secretary-general should, you’re going to get smacked from the other side.
So the secretary-general’s office is akin, in my view, to the Chinese aphorism about man who sit in middle of road get hit by traffic going in both directions. If you lean too much towards the views of American conservatives—and every secretary-general is quickly made aware that you are in the United States, that it was basically an American creation, it continues to be heavily, heavily dominated by the United States, whatever folks in the Michigan Militia think about black helicopters—then you’ll suffer. If you don’t pay attention to what’s happening on Capitol Hill, you will suffer. You will get hit in all directions.
There’s one consolation, which I think historically every secretary-general, on leaving the office, has said something about the utility of being the scapegoat; that is to say, in a bizarre way—which (maybe ?) sounds like a justification for the office at all—in a bizarre way, if we didn’t have the secretary-general to blame or the U.N. to blame, the big powers would be pointing at each other and blaming each other. So you have a function of being the lightning rod in certain ways.
The new secretary-general will have to be an extraordinary person, adept at being all things to all men to bring us out of the present, rather sad state that James has just described.
HOGE: By the way, you, the historian, you can correct me, but I believe the phrase “this is the most impossible job in the world” was uttered by Trygve Lie as he gave the job to the second secretary-general, Dag Hammarskjold.
MR. : This is true.
MR. : But I—on Kofi Annan, I think he probably is the finest secretary-general we’ve had since Dag Hammarskjold. It is true that his time in office has been, particularly in his second term, disrupted by the oil-for-food scandal and other malfunctions at the organizational level. But remember Dag Hammarskjold himself had fights with the Soviets and had problems—even though he is now remembered as this great moral figure—with other countries when he presided over the organization, but people remember him today as a highly intelligent, moral, sensitive and supple leader who brought the U.N. to the highest level it had ever achieved.
I feel the same way about Kofi Annan. I think that he, if anything, has exemplified the most important virtue of the organization of the United Nations, which is to be a kind of moral body, a moral expression of the best in humankind. And he articulated it in his commitment to defeating poverty through the Millennium Development Goals. He was willing to fight vested interests on the issue of humanitarian intervention, which obviously many of the small countries opposed. And actually in the charter itself there’s a provision which does not allow the U.N. to meddle in the domestic affairs of a sovereign country. He was willing to bring in the business community, which was something that had been very absent in a glaring way from the U.N. for the first four or five decades.
He was a man who again and again talked about human rights in a way that probably in some ways, particularly in the American government, was seen as a kind of weakness because he seemed so preoccupied by it. And he took on the Bush administration, which obviously diminished him as the way—as far as the American media dealt with him, but nonetheless gave him a certain authority with the rest of the world as somebody who was not going to be pushed around and did represent the highest ideals of the U.N.
So given his track record, I think he’s going to be remembered, irregardless of the scars and nicks that he accumulated in 10 years, as one of the greatest secretary-generals, along with Dag Hammarskjold.
MR. Traub: Could I just offer a footnote to that, because it’s striking that when we talk about the accomplishments—Kofi Annan’s accomplishments, we don’t say he brought peace between this one and that one, we don’t say he did this, he did that; we talk about the words he spoke and the ideas he stood for. It’s very easy to ridicule the notion that these words matter, because after all, he speaks about humanitarian intervention; the U.N. passes something which says we are all in favor of humanitarian intervention; and then Darfur continues as it is. So why shouldn’t we view this all as hot air and hypocrisy?
But the fact is that ideas, norms, matter and they only advance when, in part, people in this kind of position see those ideas in the world and then things happen to them that you can’t control. But the role of the secretary-general in advancing norms and seeding ideas like that, for all that it’s evanescent, it arguably is the most important thing, I think, as Steve was saying, the most important thing that he does.
HOGE: Paul would like to—
KENNEDY: I’m putting a footnote on a footnote, which is, of course, what professors are paid to do.
I couldn’t agree more. And I would suggest that the single most significant utterance and idea which Kofi developed was that—which he borrowed from the Canadians, admittedly, but it’s called the responsibility to protect. And that is to say that both the nation-state members of the United Nations, but also the world organization itself has a moral duty grounded in the preamble to the charter as well as the universal declaration to protect. Now we’ve seen so many transgressions about responsibility to protect, we might think that it is indeed hot air. But it is in fact a deliberate challenge by the secretary-general and his speechwriters to Chapter II, Article 7—nothing in this charter shall be deemed to involve the internal affairs of a member state. Because the responsibility to protect speech and the idea which keeps bubbling up and will not ever go away again is one which says what happens inside your country is of concern to the world organization.
MR. : And of course, that beautiful phrase became a contentious one at the United Nations because the developing world saw it as justification for humanitarian intervention.
MR. Kennedy : Exactly.
MR. : Suspicious of it. (Inaudible)—
MR. Kennedy: Let me just make one last point—
MR. Hoge: Which has a footnote and a footnote and a footnote.
MR. Kennedy:—(laughs)—right—which is that—in fact, James is the one who introduced me to this phrase—to be a successful secretary-general you have to be what James has phrased a kind of secular pope. You have to be the embodiment of all the great, wonderful dreams of human kind, and that to me is a testament, because, after all, we know that the secretary-general has no military troops, he has no financial resources, he has no, you know, state that he can apply to for help. He has only the ideas and his moral vision that kind of galvanize the community. And to the extent that Mr. Ban can fulfill that role, which Kofi did so brilliantly, of being the secular pope, I think he will—it will certainly accelerate his possibilities of being a success in the job.
HOGE: All three of these books point out the extraordinary American origins of the United Nations—Steve’s book—and I’m going to ask him to answer the question first. I remember it’s a list, it’s a pantheon of basically all the great sort of partician leaders of America who devoted themselves to foreign affairs like Nelson Rockefeller and Averell Harriman.
That said, why then has the relationship between the United States and the United Nations been so fraught? I mean, it’s particularly fraught right now, but this is not the first time. What’s going on there?
STEPHEN C. SCHLESINGER: Well, you have to remember, before the U.S. joined the U.N., it basically had never joined an international organization of this sort in its entire history. We had been an isolationist country for many years. We’d also been a unilateralist country for also many years. And we didn’t like the idea of being in a sense pinned down by global rules. So in joining the U.N., it was a break with historic tradition, and it took a certain amount of wrenching of the American psyche to be willing to conform to kind of global regiment that was put together not just by the U.S. alone, but by other countries together.
Harry Truman, when he gave his final speech to the San (Francisco ?) Conference at the very last day, brought up the point and warning his own country people that we were going to have to learn not to always get our own way. And that has been a hard lesson for us to have learned, and certainly in the ensuing 61 years there have been times when we have adhered to it, and other times when we’ve basically dissed it. Most American presidents have come in with a certain ambivalence towards the United Nations. On the one hand they see it in kind of the realpolitik, that it can advance the national goals of our own security demands. On the other hand, they don’t want to be sort of prevented from acting, particularly in a unilateral way, by an organization that is going to get in the way. And so that ambivalence means that there’s always been a certain amount of reserve that presidents have had. I will say with the exception—the last president I can think of who really embraced the United Nations was President Kennedy. But since then, there have been a certain amount of toing and froing about what the U.N. is all about. And of course, even under President Clinton there’s been ambivalence, and he was, after all, a Democratic president who believed in multilateralism. But he ended up blaming the U.N. for what happened in Somalia, and he prevented the U.S. from going into Rwanda—prevented the U.N. from going to Rwanda in 1994 because he didn’t want to have U.S. troops committed to an expedition that he felt might be equally disastrous as Somalia.
The point being that in our most—the current administration, of course, has been even more herky-jerky about its relationship with the U.N. On the one hand, when it first came in, it pulled away from a lot of global treaties and regarded the U.N. as sort of a beleaguered League of Nations. Then when 9/11 happened, it suddenly turned around and embraced the U.N. But then, shortly after that, the U.S. invaded Iraq and circumvented the U.N. Security Council, once again, in a sense, dissing the organization. And then, finally, came back again to get the U.N.’s endorsement of its occupation of Iraq. Thinking at that point—my own view—was maybe the U.S. had grown up and was going to endorse the U.N., it then appointed John Bolton as ambassador to the organization, a man who has expressed open contempt for it. But once again it’s now again using the U.N. to get Syrian troops out of Lebanon, to bring—to provide a cease-fire between Lebanon and Israel.
So I think that kind of ambivalence has pretty much been the tone of American presidents and suggests the psychological difficulty that Americans have had joining an international organization, and it goes back for 200 years.
HOGE: Any footnotes?
MR. Traub: Yeah. I mean, I think it would be probably better for the world if, let’s say, Denmark were the global hegemon, not the United States. On the other hand, I think most states, if they happen to find themselves in the role of a global hegemon, would probably be about as unilateralist at the United States is.
So some part of this—I mean, I think as Steve said, there was a historically profoundly ambivalent relationship between the institution and the United States, in part because of the sense of American exceptionalism, and so on. But the French have a very exceptionalist sense themselves in a way. So it has something to do with that, but a lot to do with the fact that nations that do not need to be constrained take a lot of persuading to constrain themselves. And I suspect that in the coming years, the United States will be a better citizen of the U.N. than it has been in the past years, in part because it has now been forced to recognize the limits of its power to act autonomously. And so there’s nothing like a good solid two-by-four across the face to make you realize that you were making a mistake.
So what we’ll never know, in a way, is how much of this current situation was the maybe aberrational, hyper-unilateralist, deeply hostile Bush administration ideology; and how much of it was in the nature of the position of the United States and the consequences of 9/11. But it will be interesting to see if there is a kind of baseline to which the U.S. returns post-2008.
KENNEDY: Well, here’s the big problem: it’s been there since ‘43, ‘44, when British and American diplomats were drafting early parts of the charter. What do you do when you have a power which is so great, so powerful that it has voluntarily to agree to restrain itself, because it cannot be restrained unless there’s a third world war, another big war. And we’re not talking here just about the United States, though it may be on our mind. It was true of the Soviet Union, and it’s true of the People’s Republic of China, and I imagine it could be increasingly true of India in the decades to come.
Well, if you’re so big that you could, if you want, just ignore a U.N. sanction or U.N. resolution. So it does involve—as Truman, and especially as Eisenhower recognized—a voluntary session of your sovereignty. And there’s a difference between the United States and Russia and China and Denmark. The Danes know that they have a limited freedom of action. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee does not believe it has any limitations on its freedom of action if it so chooses. And this is why, of course, we have built into that interesting sub-clause of Chapter V on the processes and voting privileges of the Security Council—built in and drafted by the British—the veto clause, though the word is never used, because the British were dead scared in ‘43, ‘44, ‘45 that American isolationists on the one hand, and Uncle Joe and Brzezinski and Molotov on the other hand, would pull out, would not even be part of a world organization; and therefore you would be left with some sort of replay of the disastrously abandoned League of Nations. So you had to give these big guys—to keep the elephants in the tent, you had to give them that negative, delaying vetoing power, and just realize that the consequence of not giving it to them was worse than the consequence of giving it to them, because if they walked out you would be back to a League of Nations circa 1937 or something.
HOGE: Now we’ll talk about the future, which was what we’re supposed to be doing here. (Laughter.)
A lot of people, particularly in this country, posit the idea of an alternative to the United Nations. John Bolton, the ambassador, has actually suggested on a number of occasions that if the Americans find the United Nations to be ineffective, that Americans will find their way to creating a new organization that will be more responsive.
A favorite idea—and this is one that Paul Kennedy brings up in his book—and like a good professor, brings it up and then shoots it down—is this idea of that why can’t we have an organization of democracies; no more dictators and despots, just be with our own kind?
And what’s the best way, Paul Kennedy, to get this new and improved U.N.? You suggest a number of them. You even hint which one you think is the best.
KENNEDY: Well, as some of you know, I was asked in 1993 by the Ford Foundation and the secretary-general’s office to create a group with Yale which would be the secretariat for a long-term report on the future of United Nations. I knew very little about it, and I’m not sure that I know much more 12 or 13 years later. I learned a lot from Jim Sutherland sitting there, and I learned a lot from Charlie Hill when he was advising Boutros-Ghali.
And as I asked questions, as we spent three years preparing our Ford Foundation-Yale University report on the next 50 years, one word kept coming up, which was the most elusive word of all, and it’s called “U.N. reform.” And I discovered when I would go down to Washington, go on the Hill, talk to NGOs, talk to ambassadors, that people meant entirely different things by the phrase “U.N. reform.”
So briefly, before I pass the torch on, it seemed to me that some people regard U.N. reform as cleaning the stables. It’s what I call the Jesse Helms version of U.N. reform. You close down overlapping agencies. You get rid of high-paid corrupt diplomats on the shores of Lake Geneva. You do this, you do that. It’s a small organization. It’s tighter and trimmer. And those voices have come again, unsurprisingly, because of the mismanagements of oil-for-food. But that’s a kind of negative view of U.N. reform. It would be a smaller organization probably doing less, but it would satisfy the conservatives.
At the far end, when I talked to the Indian ambassador, for example, U.N. reform means nothing less than the constitutional charter amendment such that the Security Council permanent membership would be widened, and in particular include India. And if I talk to, say, smaller articulate nations like Kishore Mahbubani, the permanent rep for many years from Singapore, it’s to try to get rid of the veto altogether. So they regard U.N. reform as being constitutional charter amendments with all of the hurdles which that requires—hurdles which, by the way, are even larger than getting a constitutional amendment to the American Constitution.
But in the middle are a group of people like Jim Sutherland, like Brian Urquhart—and this is where I ended up—thinking, well, what do we do in terms of practical reform proposals, which don’t necessarily call for charter amendment, but nonetheless would enhance the efficiency and the operational effectiveness of the world body, whether it’s in terms of prearranged, readily trained troop units, police units; whether it’s in the training of judges and civil servants in the developing countries; whether it’s pre-positioning for disaster relief on the one hand; whether it’s a better organization of the multitude of bodies dealing with either development or women or children—there are 10 U.N. bodies dealing with the status of women in the world; whether it is an advanced intelligence unit which would be able to get the information coming out of the field, not usually from U.N. agencies, but the first indicators that something is going wrong is probably from the churches, the Quaker Relief services or Doctors Without Frontiers? How do you get the information back to New York, which would then give the secretary-general’s office the chance to go along to the Security Council and say, “We have bad signals coming out of Cote d’Ivoire”?
Now, you can see where I’m going because a set of practical advances, and the idea that the U.N. can work effectively and intelligently, could do a lot, I would argue, to restore its name, its reputation and its authority without the big hurdle of going for charter amendment.
TRAUB: Yeah, I actually also have a chapter of my book, which I raise and then dispose of this idea. And so I’ll try to give a super freeze-dried version of it, because in my case, the initial draft of a chapter, I explained why we should have something like an alliance for democracies, and then I convinced myself that I was wrong.
Now my premise—like that of most people who favored this idea of some such body—is the problem, the most important problem with the U.N., is it cannot bring the requisite force to bear in the face of genuine catastrophes, whether it’s Darfur or other situations like that, and thus the notion of let us get those countries that are committed to these principles, and that should be the institution.
So these are the problems I ran into. One, the democracies you would have in the organization would consist largely of countries that don’t believe in that kind of action. That is to say, it is almost entirely the Western democracies that believe deeply in these kinds of responsibility-to-protect-type issues. Countries like India are profoundly protective of sovereignty issues. So first you wouldn’t even get where you wanted to go.
Two, in order to have this institution you’d have to exclude, certainly, China and Russia. Well, if you excluded China from the organization, then about 40 countries would refuse to join it, because China would make their lives miserable if they joined. And it wouldn’t just be Singapore and Malaysia. Australia would say, “We can’t afford to alienate the Chinese.” So you have to let the Chinese in, in which case you wouldn’t get where you were trying to go.
HOGE: Exclude all the Arab countries also.
TRAUB: What’s that?
HOGE: You’d have to exclude all Arab countries.
TRAUB: As that’s so—this goes to the third problem—
KENNEDY: After this we can add all of Africa.
TRAUB: This goes to the third problem. So what you’re then doing is you wind up acting in places that are not members of the organization, because it’s the members who have the more or less stable democracy. They don’t have the turmoil. So you’re only intervening in countries that are not members. And so this whole crucial legitimacy question really becomes problematic, the Middle East being the worst example. The only member from the Middle East would be Israel. What kind of action could you possibly take in the Middle East if none of those countries were members and only Israel was?
So I came to the conclusion that for all of the profound structural—and I think kind of incurable flaws of the U.N.—the cure would be worse than the disease.
SCHLESINGER: Well, it reminds of—I don’t know if you all know The Onion, the humor magazine, which once had a headline last year, which was “U.S. to Create Its Own U.N.” And this was the notion that they had gleaned from the Bush administration, that they’ll just put together all the nations that are allies of one sort or another and the hell with the rest of the world. It sort of gets to the point that Jim was making that—
TRAUB: I was saying that only the U.S. would be a member.
SCHLESINGER: Well, in fact, that may end up the way that it could work.
But to me, having seen how difficult it was to get the organization put together in 1945, it seems to me absolutely impossible to even imagine trying to get another organization together in the year 2006. It was remarkable. It was a miracle that that moment in history brought together these 50 nations to actually come together with a common framework and common goals, and produce this charter, which for the last 61 years has survived through turmoil and conflict to be, still today, the place where countries go—whether it be Israel and Lebanon just a few months ago to settle for a cease-fire, or many other countries that have used the U.N. to stop conflicts of one sort or another; or the organization that provides the basis for international law through its conferences and through its general meetings that happen on a regular basis, whether it’s airline safety or maritime laws or whatever.
It just seems to me that given the nature of what the U.N. has done over the last six decades, it’s almost impossible to image something like this being developed again of this sort in our present era.
TRAUB: The Alliance for Democracy allows airline safety to stay with the U.N. as its current—
SCHLESINGER: Oh, I see. Okay.
But I do think Madeleine Albright had an idea, which was to bring the alliance of democracies, working within the United Nations, as a kind of pressure point for getting changes in the organization. That certainly, it seemed to me, is a viable proposition and something that could be pursued. It has not been pursued under this Bush administration that makes such a big fetish of democratization. You would have thought that they might have promoted such a concept.
But by and large—I’m not sure exactly where this question began, but I think that’s where I’ll end.
HOGE: We all had the floor.
We’ve used a bit too much time. I had one other question I wanted to ask and if one of you wants to ask it, I’d be very grateful. I wanted to know what they thought about the choice of Ban Ki-Moon.
Anyway, please raise your hands; it’s your turn to speak.
Claude Erbsen. There’s a microphone coming to you.
QUESTIONER: Claude Erbsen, INNOVATION International Media.
When you hit upon the future part, you guys talked a bit about all the things that would be nice—constitutional reform, this, that and the other—but they’re not practical. Does the U.N. have a future?
KENNEDY: Unless I misheard myself, I suggested that the constitutional reform was the most difficult thing of all to get, because, as you know, any change in the charter involves not only the acquiescence of the five veto countries, but it involves the passing by the parliaments, not the governments, of two-thirds of the member states.
So that is a hurdle so big, and it’s very hard to think that you can do anything other than perhaps a small amendment, perhaps increasing the number of rotating members on the Security Council, which is why, sir, I suggested, if we’re talking about things to do for the future, we look at the practical levels of intelligence-gathering, preparation for disasters, preparation for combined training, and to look again thoroughly at whether we can still have further improvements in the overlap of such a lot of agencies in the same fields, like food distribution.
HOGE: We’re going to go to another question. That would be the parliaments of 127 countries. I just did the math.
QUESTIONER: My name is Rohit Desai. I’m a member of the Council. It seems to me the panelists have agreed that the status quo of the U.N. is probably the best way to run the organization. There were four countries that were asking to become permanent members to the Security Council. They haven’t yet had the courage. What will happen to the U.N. if those four countries withdrew from the U.N.?
TRAUB: Well, I guess the question is also, what would happen to those countries? (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: You can answer both.
TRAUB: Yeah, I don’t—you know, I mean, India, for example, you know, has been quite loud in its unhappiness about not—about Security Council reform not having succeeded. But I don’t think there’s much danger of India withdrawing. I’m not sure that it would do unspeakable harm to the U.N. It wouldn’t do unspeakable harm to India either, for that matter.
But I think the more interesting question—you know, this was a big issue about a year and a half ago or so, which was this was supposed to be the central question of the U.N.’s future. Can the U.N. be made more representative? And clearly, you know, the premise of your question is right, that it is unrepresented.
At the same time, many people said, and I was one of them, that if the U.N. succeeds in becoming more representative, I’m almost sure it’s going to become less effective, because it would then wind up adding countries that were less committed to the principles that I think and that other people in the West tend to focus on; that is to say, these international peace and security issues.
So it might be a more democratic and a more representative and, in many ways, a better organization. But it also might become, in certain quite critical ways, a less effective one. And it’s not all that effective to start with.
KENNEDY: Kishore said two years ago, before he left to found his school of international studies in Singapore, it’s bad enough having five fellows who can put a stick in the wheels of international machinery, but the idea of having nine or 10 fellows who can put a veto, that is, a stick into the wheels, would be unacceptable for a considerable number of the members. So they wouldn’t vote. Their parliaments wouldn’t vote to get Germany, Japan, Brazil and India onto, again, a Kishore phrase, onto a high table.
TRAUB: By the way, just one last point about that. The moment you start fooling around with a veto, you start getting into the issue of the American congressional attitude towards the United Nations. And as you know, the only way, as Paul pointed out, in 1945 that the veto was finally accepted by the smaller countries is both the Soviet Union and the United States threatened to walk out of the conference if they didn’t get the veto.
And I can guarantee you that if there was any fooling around with the veto today, it would be the easiest thing for Congress to do, which is to start cutting back on dues, threatening to walk out, and basically bringing the U.N. to a halt.
HOGE: (Off mike.)
QUESTIONER: Thanks, Warren.
Just to follow up on the question that you were about to ask. I’m Pranay Gupte and this is to any one of you, but perhaps particularly to Jim, in light of his book, which, by the way, I’ve enjoyed very much.
It can hardly be said that Mr. Ban is, well, likely to fill the sandals of Kofi Annan. I don’t wish him ill, but I certainly wish him well. The question really is that—should there be another way to select the secretary general? I mean, there’s wide consensus, I believe, that he was a candidate by default, that perhaps more qualified ones, some of whom you know and some of whom are in your book, like Shashi Tharoor or even Kishore Madhubani, might have been better qualified to lead the U.N. and provide a vision and direction at this rather strange time.
So the question is, should we be selecting the secretary general in some more of a better way? Thanks.
TRAUB: My quick answer is that people tend to blame on process a problem that is, in fact, political. And so if you had a different process, it would not change the fact that those who have the most authority in the institution have a deep interest in having a nonentity as secretary general.
Now, they often fail. I mean, Kofi Annan was actually a far more substantial person than they thought they were getting. Dag Hammarskjold happened only because they had no idea who they were getting. I think they probably knew quite well what they were getting in the case of Ban Ki-moon. I’m not saying he is a nonentity. As I say, others have turned out to be far larger than they want.
But the secretary general is someone who poses a threat from the point of view of the major states, above all from the U.S., but I think that’s also in this case from China, of crimping their own autonomy. They don’t want someone who will do that. And certainly I suspect that Ban Ki-moon looked to them like someone who would not.
SCHLESINGER: By the way, I should add that Shashi Tharoor and I were on a conference recently, and he tells me that as part of the process of selection, he, as one of the candidates, was actually asked to talk to all the different geographical-regional groups at the U.N., which is a big breakthrough. This has never been done before with the candidates for secretary general. So, in fact, the process has been expanded, has been deepened, and allowed more countries to participate and ask thorough—have a sort of thorough questioning process of each candidate.
Nonetheless, as Jim pointed out, in the end it’s a political decision. Mr. Ban had started the campaign, I think, almost a year and a half ago and had been out there very much doing the negotiations and talks and meetings with all the different diplomats that counted, particularly the five veto countries. And this man actually, I think, may turn out to be a little like Kofi Annan, that he’s soft-spoken, seems sort of a cipher, and yet he may turn out to be a much stronger leader than one suggests. He’s already come out for the International Criminal Court, which is something that the U.S. has not embraced.
He’s been a man who’s been talking regularly to the North Koreans, another issue which is a bit complicated as far as the American government is concerned. And he has been speaking out about the Middle East just recently. So it may be that he’s going to be a more forceful secretary general than one thinks right now, because he’s so far been very low-key about his approach to the job.
HOGE: Any reaction to Mr. Ban’s choice?
KENNEDY: I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, somebody who gets the approval of Washington, on the one hand, and Beijing, on the other hand, must have a certain amount of diplomatic competence, to say the least.
He has spent a long time negotiating with the North on the Korean peninsula and, in fact, might find the job of secretary general here in New York a trifle easier than dealing with the absolutely nutty regime 40 miles north of Seoul. So he may well, as has just been said, turn out to be a sleeper candidate and somebody who will turn out to be a fine secretary general.
There’s not much we can do in terms of process because it is defined there in Articles 97 and 98 of the charter that the secretary general is appointed by vote of the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council, so that this person has to get a majority of votes on the Security Council and, of course, no veto from any one of the big five. So you’re bound to have a compromise candidate.
HOGE: Roy Goodman has a question. Wait for that microphone, Roy, if you will. It’s coming to you.
QUESTIONER: Thank you.
In examining the history of the United States, I think we come upon a very interesting era which may reflect favorably upon our present dilemma. That is the question of how the original founding fathers were able to deal with problems in which we finally developed a compromise known as the bicameral legislature.
I see no basic reason why this form of compromise is not applicable to the present dilemma in which the U.N. finds itself. Is it not conceivable we could have a bicameral United Nations legislative body in which a certain group of nations is, based upon population or other gauges of the power, in one house, and those with the major population density are given probably another house? It seems to me we should study very closely that era in American history to find out the way in which statesmen were able to arrive at a solution.
With respect to individual leadership, I would respectfully point out that Dag Hammarskjold was the type of leader who, it seems to me, personified exactly what is needed at this point in time. In looking at the history of that period, it seems that Dag Hammarskjold attracted universal respect and was a man of considerable personal power and persuasion and was able to bring the United Nations forward in a manner that was quite surprising and constructive.
Is it not conceivable that, with any luck, Ban Ki-moon might possibly possess the same characteristics, although superficially there appear to be differences? What I’m really driving at is that it seems to me that, with the combination of a bicameral approach to the structural matter and the right selection of a leader, a man of dynamism and ability to lead in a way that is most constructive, we might be able to thread our way through these difficult and complex issues.
HOGE: Paul, yours is the book with “Parliament” in the title. So a bicameral legislature—would it work?
KENNEDY: Well, you see, the founding fathers thought that they had created a bicameral organization; that is to say, the effective or the efficient, to use Walter Badgett’s (sp) term, the effective, the efficient camera was that of the Security Council, where all issues on war and peace would be decided. It was the negative powers given to the Permanent 5 as well as the positive powers.
The parliament of man was going to be all of the members, large or small, each of whom would have a voice, because the argument then and still now is that the United Nations General Assembly is not a reflection of world economic balances and not a reflection of world population balances. It is a colloquy of 191 governments.
HOGE: One hundred ninety-two now.
KENNEDY: One hundred ninety-two.
KENNEDY: Yes, Montenegro crept in under my radar screen.
So the notion was, here are all the governments, and their representatives can come together, and it’s their United Nations. But if you want something really done in a hurry by an organization, by a body, bicameral, which can meet day and night over the weekend and instruct things to be done, then you have it there in the Security Council.
So their argument, back to you, sir, would be “We already have the bicameral institution.” And so long as you recognize that the General Assembly can do these things and the Security Council can do those things, well, there it is.
HOGE: We have to get to some more questions. Jim Sitrick.
QUESTIONER: Jim Sitrick, Baker McKenzie.
First of all, for my—it’s with trepidation that I suggest to—criticize the math of my good friend and presider, Warren Hoge, but if it’s 192 nations, it’s going to be 64 or 65—it’s going to be 128 that’s required, not 127. That’s not my question.
My question is, there’s been an interest—
HOGE: You just had your chance. (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: There’s been an inclination in recent years, for good reason, to dwell on the defects of the United Nations, the corruption, the oil-for-food scandal, the bloated bureaucracy, the raping of innocents by blue helmets. What would you gentlemen think are the greatest achievements of the U.N. during its history, and most particularly during Kofi Annan’s tenure as secretary general?
TRAUB: Well, we actually haven’t dwelt on the defects all that much, to tell you the truth. But I will—that wasn’t the force of your question, though I’d be happy to do that.
It’s funny. Before we came in, we were talking about a number of things, and one was peacekeeping. And I’d like to say a word about that, because peacekeeping has kind of a bad name. And I think one can say that one of the major achievements of the U.N. during Kofi Annan’s tenure has been peacekeeping.
The reason I say that is because most of us still, when we think about peacekeeping, we think Rwanda, Bosnia, Somalia, unspeakable catastrophes. Now, the fact is that the best way to learn something is through public humiliation. And shame has been a powerful teacher for the U.N. and in peacekeeping. And there was an interval of three or four years when almost no new peacekeeping missions began. And then they started up again in 1999, basically; Sierra Leone, then Congo, Liberia, a whole series of extremely difficult missions in Africa, also East Timor.
And if you look at those, they actually have been quite effective. Now, effective often just means something dreadful doesn’t happen. But if something dreadful doesn’t happen, that is effective. And the U.N. has now left Sierra Leone. They are in the process of drawing down in Liberia because they’ve done what they were supposed to do. And that, I think, is an insufficiently heralded achievement of the institution in recent years.
HOGE: I’ve got time for one more question; right there in the middle.
QUESTIONER: Gregory Maniatis, Migration Policy Institute.
If you were writing Ban Ki-moon’s inauguration speech, what would be the three or four things that you would signal that he would want to get done over his first term?
SCHLESINGER: Well, I think he certainly has to deal with the issue of Darfur. And whether the responsibility-to-protect principle which Kofi Annan proposed and, in fact, was adopted by the General Assembly as a principle, not an obligation, should have some weight in making the decision of whether to send U.N. troops into Sudan without the approval of the Sudanese government.
I think, secondly of all, he has to deal with the nuclear issue, which is to say North Korea and Iran. He has his own dealings with North Korea, and Iran is on the plate of the IAEA right now, and sanctions are being considered in the Security Council.
And thirdly, I think he has to deal with the issue of terrorism and failed states, and how do you prop up states that have had dismal histories, Afghanistan being the most obvious one right now; Iraq, Somalia and so on. And he does have two new ventures that the U.N. has adopted, the Democracy Fund and the Peacebuilding Commission, which have not been used before. And these will be a real test of his stewardship, whether he can make these two ventures actually work on behalf of creating a stable government in these failed states.
HOGE: We do have time for one more question.
QUESTIONER: John Swing. I don’t mean this to be a trick or a screwball question, but it nonetheless is relevant. What is John Bolton’s future at the U.N.?
KENNEDY: I’m teaching his daughter right now, so—(laughter)—
MR. : (Inaudible.)
KENNEDY: Tom Friedman’s daughter as well in the same class. I think I’ll pass.
SCHLESINGER: You know, I think after yesterday’s election, this guy is never going to be the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.
TRAUB: No, but the Heritage Foundation has been keeping his seat warm for him, so I don’t think he’ll starve. I mean, this is a man who was a member of pretty much every important conservative think tank during his period out of office, and I assume he’ll be extremely welcome at any of them.
HOGE: Okay, Ron Silver.
QUESTIONER: I’m Ron Silver. It seems to me that everybody on the panel seems to share a similar premise, that, while imperfect, it is a necessary institution. Now, if the U.S. were to withdraw, if the institution ceased to exist and problems had to be dealt with on regional bases—NATO, regional alliances, Shanghai Cooperation Council—after all, Yugoslavia could not go to the U.N., so NATO had to take care of it—what do we lose without a U.N.?
TRAUB: I think that’s a very good question. Part of my answer to the “Should we have an alternative U.N.?” is we already do. We already have all these other institutions, some of which you mentioned—the G-8, the EU, which do a lot of that work, and I think more of it is going to get done.
But the thing we would lose is this thing that you get with a global organization, which is the capacity to have its decisions regarded as being made by everybody and that special legitimacy.
I would say, in addition, that weak parts of the world, like Africa, you can say, “Well, you know what? You have an African regional organization and they do peacekeeping, so we’re going to leave it to you to do. And if you can’t, well, we gave you an African solution to an African problem.” Well, I don’t think that’s an acceptable answer.
SCHLESINGER: But under the U.N. charter, anyway, under Article 51, regional organizations do have a role within the U.N. And, in fact, they’re supposed to deal with issues in their own region first before the U.N. even gets into them. The issue only goes up to the Security Council when it’s clear that the regional organization cannot deal with it.
In fact, the regional organizations are very important because they help shoulder the burdens that otherwise the U.N. couldn’t deal with, because the U.N., as we all know, is limited financially and limited by its reach militarily. So actually, it’s better to have more regional organizations at work in a very vigorous and expansive way. It only helps the U.N. in the long run.
KENNEDY: I suppose you’re right. The three of us do sound a bit like Dr. Johnson’s remark about the dog walking on its hind legs. It’s actually surprising that it can do it at all rather than it does it very well or very elegantly. It’s surprising that the U.N. functions at all rather than that it functions incredibly well and effectively.
But, you know, just one last word here. I’ve never really understood—this is a question which has come to all of us—I’ve never understood what the phrase “taking the U.S. out of the U.N.” means. Does it mean that we’re going to pull out of all of the international organizations which are part of the United Nations organization? We’re getting out of International Maritime Institute? We’re getting out of International Air Traffic Control? We’re getting out of World Trade Organization? We’re pulling out of Bretton Woods institutions?
Our businessmen would go berserk at the idea that we would be pulling out. So does it then mean we’re just not going to attend Security Council and we’re just not going to attend the General Assembly? But everything else we’d be there in. And I think we would find that an incredibly inept and impossible position to maintain.
HOGE: We’re out of time, and I’m going to end it by asking Stephen Schlesinger a question, the answer to which I know, and it’s two words. So we’ll be out of here in a minute. It is something I discovered from reading his book. I tried it on both Jim Traub and Paul Kennedy. They also did not know the answer. So only Steve knows it, and he is primed to give it to you after I ask the question.
The question is, who was the person who physically carried the original United Nations charter from San Francisco to Washington and put it into the hands of Harry Truman and who notionally can be considered the first secretary general of the United Nations? And the answer is?
SCHLESINGER: Alger Hiss.
HOGE: Thank you very much. (Laughter.)
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