Who Will be the next UN Secretary General?

As Ban Ki-moon’s current tenure comes to a close in 2016, January sees the start of the marathon campaign for the selection of a new UN Secretary-General. After months of anticipation, the UN General Assembly has now circulated a joint letter to all member states inviting nominations for the position detailing the qualities and requirements […]

As Ban Ki-moon’s current tenure comes to a close in 2016, January sees the start of the marathon campaign for the selection of a new UN Secretary-General. After months of anticipation, the UN General Assembly has now circulated a joint letter to all member states inviting nominations for the position detailing the qualities and requirements needed to lead the UN.

The UN convention of regional rotation means that, international politics permitting, the next Secretary-General should come from Eastern Europe. Pressure from advocacy groups such as ‘1 for 7 billion’ and ‘SheUnited’ as well as the Colombian-led initiative pushing for a woman Secretary General appear to have found fertile ground in the General Assembly and Security Council.

All potential candidates will undergo thorough and vigorous vetting from member states, and must somehow transcend regional and international political hurdles. They will also likely face hearings in the UN General Assembly. The next UNSG faces challenges both new and old, and each candidate will take the opportunity to articulate their vision for the organization and the global challenges that urgently need to be addressed under their leadership.

Emerging threats such as increased international terrorism and deepening religious intolerance are now recognized as destabilizing issues alongside more established issues of climate change, poverty and inequality, and the long overdue institutional reform of the UN itself.

The Leading Eastern European Candidates

Several leading candidates are already in the rumor mill, but what has been lacking until now is a comprehensive analysis of each individual’s attributes and suitability for the role.  Having never held the position of UNSG, which like all senior UN posts is supposed to be rotated among the regions, Eastern Europe is now long overdue the opportunity to get this prestigious role. We examined the leading nominated and potential candidates from the region, and assessed their suitability for the position.

The likely leading candidates from within the region will include, in alphabetical order, IrinaBokova, Bulgaria’s former Foreign Minister and current UNESCO Director-General; European Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources Kristalina Georgieva; former Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremić; the former Macedonian Minister of Foreign Affairs SrgjanKerim; Special Representative and Head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan JánKubiš from Slovakia; Miroslav Lajčák, his successor as Slovakia’s Foreign Minister; Igor Lukšić, the former Prime Minister and current Foreign Minister of Montenegro; Croatia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Vesna Pusić; and Danilo Türk, the former President of Slovenia.

Criteria & Methodology

The September UNGA resolution established a series of qualifying recommendations and attributes that the most suitable candidate should possess. The contents of UNGA letter and the known attributes of previous candidates have provided enough data to allow for a thorough comparison of the current candidates. As part of our methodological approach, regional and international political experts from the permanent members of the Security Council as well as from across Eastern Europe provided their input on each candidate and in each criteria allowing for the creation of a comparative tableaux on the likely UNSG candidates.

The following criteria were examined, which we reclassified in three sets, the first pertaining in a sense to professional skills, the second to political acceptance, and the third to public acceptance at a time when the UN wants to modernize its image:

  • UN and diplomatic-related experience
    • proven leadership;
    • managerial ability;
    • extensive international relations experience;
    • diplomatic and communications skills;
    • experience in the United Nations;
    • diplomatic record;
    • linguistic ability
  • Acceptability within UN system
    • acceptability to the five Permanent Members of the Security Council
    • likely to gain support from the Eastern European region as a whole
    • likely to gain domestic support
  • Acceptability to global public opinion at a time of key UN transformation
    • understanding and sensitivity to multicultural issues
    • gender

We examined the criteria and compared the candidates, assigning a mark between 1 for a poor score and 5 for an excellent score for each candidate in each criterion. Based on their experience and capabilities, an average score from each equally weighted criterion is assigned to every candidate with the exception of gender. In light of recent momentum for a woman SG, gender will have a significant impact on the scoring. In this matter however, giving only a full mark of 1 for men or 5 for women would have led to disproportionate effects even if it was only one of twelve parameters; thus we keep it as a sort of “dummy variable”: 2 vs. 4. Proven leadership and managerial abilities are seen as fundamental requirements, as are extensive international and diplomatic experience. An ability to converse easily in many of the official UN languages is a significant positive for any candidate, and any previous UN institutional experience will strengthen a candidate’s case. The final candidate must also be politically acceptable to the permanent members of the Security Council whilst bridging divisions in Eastern Europe’s regional politics.

Table 1: Results

Table 1

Table 2: Gender-sensitivity and variance


Table 2

The analysis of results shown in Table 1 identified three distinct groups of UNSG candidates.

The current head of UNESCO, Bulgaria’s Irina Bokova appears by far the strongest candidate from Eastern Europe. She scored above 3 on all criteria, and obtained the maximum score of for 8 criteria. Her total average score of 4.5 places her head and shoulders above the others. The low variance within her scores demonstrates consistency across all aspects of the profile.

A second group of candidates is led by Slovenia’s Danilo Türk, and includes the Croatian Vesna Pusić, Miroslav Lajčák, and Ján Kubiš equally of Slovakia, Macedonia’s Srgjan Kerim, and the Montenegrin Igor Lukšić. They all score between 3.0 and 4.0 and all enjoy strong reputations and solid profiles.

Our analysis reveals that the two weakest candidates by far are the Bulgarian European Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources Kristalina Georgieva and Serbia’s former Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremić, who respectively score 2.9 and 2.8. Neither of them has a serious chance of succeeding Ban Ki-moon.

It is equally important to measure the variance (Table 2) of scoring to ensure that candidates have no gaps. The smaller the variance, the more consistency of the profile. Bokova scores 0.5 while all others are above a score of 1.1. Kubiš and Jeremić rise above 2.3 which is probably too high.  Last but not least, these results are not affected by counting or discounting gender as a factor (Table 2); so, all things being equal, we can expect to see a woman elected as UNSG through merit rather than by any question of affirmative action. At any rate a new time for the UN has come.

BT-OpEd-DC-UNSG-Ranking 2016 01 06-infography 


About the author: Joël Ruet is Chairman of the The Bridge Tank and writes for The Diplomatic Courier.

You may also like