Annan: diplomatic tightrope walk to Nobel peace prize
NEW YORK_ Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize
with the United Nations, has always walked a thin political line refusing
to publicly antagonize the world's big powers or offend developing countries
who comprise the overwhelming majority in the 189-nation world body.
As the first Secretary-General Trygve Lie of Norway (1946-1953) once
remarked, the office of the chief executive officer of the UN is "the most
impossible job on this earth."
Although he is customarily voted by the entire membership of the UN,
the election of the Secretary-General is largely in the hands of the five
veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council _ the US, Britain,
France, China and Russia.
Every Secretary-General has had to play politics for his survival _
or to ensure a second-term in office.
Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt was vetoed by a single country, the US,
despite the fact he had positive votes from 14 of the 15 members of the
The US proved beyond any reasonable doubt that its veto power will decide
who should _ or who shouldn't _ be the Secretary General of the United
Nations that year.
China exercised its veto 16 times against Kurt Waldheim of Austria when
he ran for a third term in 1981, eventually resulting in the election of
Javier Perez de Cecllar of Peru (1982-1991) as Secretary-General.
Since Annan has already been elected for a second five-year term, far
in advance of December 31 when he completes his current five-year term,
he has the added advantage of being able to speak his mind because he is
not seeking votes for a third term.
Since he is almost a "free man", he has the ability to be outspoken
and forthright, without having to please every single member state.
Enrique ter Horst of Venezuela, a former Assistant Secretary-General,
says "the world expects a UN Secretary-General to act as a moral beacon
and speak out forcefully against outrageous behaviour" _ irrespective of
whether he is speaking against the US, Britain, France, China, Russia,
or even Israel.
"This will require that the Secretary-General stick his neck out, publicly,
if necessary," he said, in an article in the International Herald Tribune
last July. "He (Annan) has the chance of really making a difference, a
To his credit, it should be said that Annan has occasionally been candid
about his assessment of ongoing political problems _ but exercising his
own measured diplomatic niceties.
Last week he expressed reservations over an implicit US threat to exercise
its right to extend its military attacks on countries beyond Afghanistan.
In a letter to the Security Council, the newly-appointed US Ambassador
John Negroponte said the US had the right to attack other unnamed terrorist
The State Department's list of seven "terrorist states" includes Iraq,
Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, North Korea and Cuba, five of which are Muslim
"There is one line in that letter that disturbed some of us," Annan
told reporters four days before he was named co-winner of the Nobel Peace
"I think the one sentence which has caused some anxiety amongst the
membership _ which I've also asked about _ was the question that they (the
Americans) may find it necessary to go after other organisations and other
States," he added.
At the same time, he tempered his criticism by saying that he was still
happy that the US had indicated this is not a "predictor of any intentions"
that Washington intends to take.
"Basically, it is a statement that they are at early stages (of their
military operations) and keeping their options open," he added.
At least on two sensitive political issues _ high level corruption and
military dictatorships _ he takes an uncompromising stand.
Last year, he lambasted African leaders who line their pockets with
public funds: a criticism applicable to most developing nations, including
Addressing a press conference in London, he characterised Africa as
a continent suffering from multiple crises _ ecological, economic, social
But still, he said, "billions of dollars of public funds continue to
be stashed away by some African leaders _ even while roads crumble, health
systems fail, and school children have neither books nor desks nor teachers,
and phones do not work."
Annan also criticised African leaders who overthrow democratic regimes
to grab power by military means.
When he was in Zimbabwe for a summit meeting of the Organisation of
African Unity (OAU) four years ago, Annan had proposed that no African
military leader should be permitted to speak at OAU meetings.
"I think it was the first time anyone had spoken like that at an OAU
meeting _ and I recall the OAU Secretary-General (Salim Ahmed Salim) saying
that I was lucky, because anybody else would have have been lynched for
saying so," Annan added.
But later he was delighted to find that the OAU summit in Algiers had
unanimously decided to bar all military leaders from future meetings.
Last year, Annan said he was hoping that the General Assembly would
follow in the footsteps of the OAU and bar military dictators from addressing
the world body.