…Helen Clark. And I’m not just saying this because she’s a New Zealander. Here are my reasons:
- There has never been a female Secretary-General of the UN, and yet the UN itself is committed to “gender mainstreaming” – sooner or later the UN will have to have a women on top. This gives Clark a potential advantage over other candidates who are male. To me this is the key reason to predict this. The UN has already had Secretary-Generals from African, Arabian, Asian, Latin American, and European countries but they have all been men, so while they cannot be accused of being Eurocentric they can be accused of being sexist. I’m sure that the big powers are aware of this and will look to do something about it.
- She has the right experience. In her current role as head of the UNDP she is already near the top of the UN hierarchy. Foreign Policy Magazine recently called her the “most powerful woman you have never heard of,” although seeing as she was Prime Minister of my country for nearly a decade I had, in fact, heard of her. Between leading a country and running the UNDP she surely has enough experience in global politics for the role.
- New Zealand is inoffensive (to most people). New Zealanders have headed up international institutions before: former Prime Minister Mike Moore was Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, while former Foreign Minister Sir Don McKinnon was Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations. Diplomatically speaking, New Zealand has managed to generally tread enough of an independent path to not be accused of being a big power lackey, but managed to not ever get anyone too offside. Of course being small, isolated, and stable probably helps this. Being a New Zealander should make Clark palatable to both the Security Council (who recommend candidates for the position) and the General Assembly (who vote on it).
So that’s my prediction. I wonder if there’s any bookies taking bets on this sort of thing. Probably not, and if there are they probably aren’t the sort I want to deal with.
In an earlier post I explained why I think Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities are kinda scary. Continuing on this theme, here are a few reasons why I think North Korea’s missile test and possible nuclear test aren’t things to stress about:
- North Korean leaders are not insane – they want to remain in power. When you are isolated and threatened by much bigger, more well armed opponents it can be useful to appear insane because people will be wary of you. Having nuclear weapons will mean that the North Korean regime will continue to be propped up by international (primarily Chinese) food aid because the world is scared of what North Korea will do if it starts to collapse. Developing a missile just means that the threat of North Korea going nuts isn’t as hollow, because they have a delivery system for their nukes now. Using a nuke as an offensive weapon would be suicidal on the part of North Korea’s leaders, and I really don’t think they want to be nuked themselves.
- Following on from the previous point, this exercise is about the North Korean leadership maintaining internal control as well. Nothing like a missile test and setting off a nuke to get the people cheering for your weird Stalinist quasi-monarchy thing you have going on.
- No one, least of all China and the US, wants war on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea knows this so it can push the boundaries knowing it is safe from retribution. Case in point, the torpedo attack on that South Korean naval ship a while back. Ballistic missile and nuclear tests are naughty, but definitely not naughty enough to go to war over.
- Breaking a UN Security Council Resolution, as these tests will, doesn’t actually mean anything unless there’s actions the UN members can take to punish you. North Korea’s already diplomatically isolated and under economic sanctions, so what can the big boys do except cutting off aid or military action – neither of which they will do because they don’t want North Korea firing off a nuke as it is attacked and/or collapses because it can no longer feed its citizens.
North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are effectively a way of ensuring the long-term survival of the Pyongyang regime – something akin to a guy in a crowded room holding a hand grenade and threatening to pull the pin unless his demands are met. Odds are he won’t do it, but no one will want to take that risk.
It is important to note that China also wants North Korea to survive, as it provides a useful buffer between China and the liberal capitalist ally of the US in the form of South Korea. Having a land border with such a state is not something the Chinese government wants to have to deal with. At the same time, although the US and South Korea would both rather North Korea did not exist the cost of making this happen would be far too high to contemplate.
Well it was only a matter of time until I wrote a blog about the Syria mess, so here it is.
Yesterday reports emerged stating that Syrian government forces had fired across the borders into Lebanon and Turkey. While Lebanon is probably used to its neighbours firing shots into its territory by now the situation with Turkey is potentially a game-changer, for a simple reason: Turkey is a member of NATO. If Turkey can claim that its territorial integrity is under threat (when another government starts shooting people inside your borders I’d say you’ve got a good case) then under the terms of the North Atlantic Treaty its NATO allies are obliged to join the fight. Furthermore, NATO has already established a precedent for just such an operation without a mandate from the UN Security Council, so those pesky vetoes from Russia and China could be rendered meaningless. A NATO operation in Syria would arguably be more legitimate than the Kosovo one because it would be the result of an attack on a NATO member.
As long as the violence in Syria remained contained within its own borders then arguments for intervention could always be countered by the principle of sovereignty, but the moment those shots crossed the border a new justification became available to those who want intervention. Of course a few gunshots over a border might not seem like much of a threat to Turkey’s territory and the Syrian government can deny that it was their troops who fired. Nonetheless, the spread of violence beyond Syria itself indicates a fundamental shift in the nature of the crisis and offers a potential way to approach it outside of the confines of the UN Security Council system.
Whether intervention would be a wise idea is not a question I am going to go into here. I just wanted to point out the implications of the attacks in Turkey as I see them. With the failure of Kofi Annan’s ceasefire plan (gee, that was unexpected…) the idea of a diplomatic solution seems dead and buried, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see some sort of shift in Western powers’ approach to the crisis. It might be a good time to buy shares in the companies that make those fancy drones and smartbombs.