The next UN Secretary-General’s nationality is irrelevant (2)

The wastefulness of promoting Shashi Tharoor’s candidature

The Indian government has taken up a pointless task — that of promoting Shashi Tharoor to succeed Kofi Annan as Secretary-General of the United Nations. Apart from reducing Tharoor to the stature of Munir Akram, Pakistan’s colourful UN ambassador and candidate, this move achieves nothing. Tharoor’s candidature is unlikely to succeed, and even if he did, it won’t do much for India. Sending part of the foreign policy establishment on a wild goose chase at a time when there are pressing matters in the neighbourhood and beyond is an act of extravangant waste that India can ill afford.

But first let’s assume that the UN Secretary-General really matters. A South Asian or an Asian nationality does not guarantee that he or she will be sympathetic to Indian positions. In fact, even if an Indian national were to somehow occupy that office, it is difficult to see him making a difference where India’s stakes are concerned. Apart from spoils in the UN bureaucracy — some jobs, some plum appointments, some promotions perhaps — there’s little that an Indian/South Asian/Asian Secretary-General can do for India. Notions of geographical or regional solidarity do not even correlate with the promotion of national interests. Are Africa or Ghana any better off due to Kofi Annan’s office? Certain African individuals certainly are. Kojo Annan, for example. [The Acorn]

Moreover, it is generally accepted that candidates from major powers don’t get the job. So why is the India so keen to downgrade itself?

Update: If, as some reports suggest, Pakistan has put up its candidates as spoilers to extract concessions from India, then in a grand gesture of subcontinental solidarity, India would do well to retract its candidate. Now, wouldn’t that be a nice confidence building measure?

11 thoughts on “The next UN Secretary-General’s nationality is irrelevant (2)”

  1. Nitin,

    IMO almost everything this government does suggests it doesnt take India to be a major power – something you’d see Nehru believing in 50 years back. Its living in times of NAM etc.,
    It would be hard to expect this government to see India as anything but at best a middling regional player – heck, it doesnt even have a stance on crises next to our borders! So, this new appointment is in line with this government’s view of the country.

  2. The UN is already a defunct body and is a enormous waste of resources for India. Instead of lobbying to scrap this body, Indian policy makers have embarked on a pointless exercise, Just like the seat in security council.

  3. I am not sure why the only body in the world that can legally authorize war – entire world against one nation – is a defunct body. Sure it’s a corrupt institute, but it’s got power to attack any nation on the globe or it can be made powerless if some levers are pulled right – made impotent to stop current Sudan massacres. Either way it is a useful body for a country that can use the levers right.

    Shashi Taroor may not dovetail to all concerns of India, but he can put some of them on the agenda, even if most go nowhere – not too different from status quo.

  4. hi. firstly i don agree with ur views. just bcoz a UN sec-gen frm India can’t make much of a difference to the Nation we should run away from staking our claims on a top post..our guys had been moderate for more than 50 years and the result of this moderation is very much visible now..we don have a say in the world of politics on the international stage so much so that though we had always been on the receiving end in regards to terrorism we had very few sympathisers and supporters on our side..we have to follow a very agressive foreign policy forthwith..of course this post will be a kind of a misnomer..thats different..but we shouldn’t be laggards and listeners always..

  5. Chandra and Mahe,

    What powers the UN has are distinctly different from what the UN Secretary General has. Putting an Indian at the head of the UN bureaucracy will not give India any greater influence in international affairs than Kofi Annan’s stint gave Ghana.

    The UN Secretary-General does not have powers to declare or legitimise war, he may just about have enough powers to make speeches and issue press releases.

  6. Nitin,

    Great point…agree whole heartedly…but what else is to be expected out of this ridiculous joke of a government that wastes its time in scolding film actors for modelling for coke and pepsi?
    I think Shashi Tharoor’s defeat is evident and would waste desperate resources that could be better utilized pushing the permanent membership agenda..also Tharoor if in the unlikely event of being elected would be a scapegoat for the joke that is the UN…you’d hear no end of his mistakes or supposed mistakes on Fox and Limbaugh..this is a dead end for him…his career stops here..


  7. Nitin,

    While there is no disputing that having an Indian at the UN Secretary General’s post is of little ‘use’ to India, nominating an Indian (of for that matter nominating or canvassing for any candidate of any nationality) is just a political process, not very different from canvassing for a permanent seat in the UNSC.

    India’s contributions to UN, its hazaar bodies & the Fund is big enough for it to have a say in all matters of importance, including who the next Secy Gen should be. I believe India nominating Shashi Tharoor is more Shashi Tharoor wanting the job and India willing to lend him a hand. His win or loss, admittedly, will have little impact on India’s standing in the UN or in the world.

    The bid for the Secretary General’s job is mostly a personal quest, with India’s might behind it mainly because an Indian wants the job.

    While I hate the government & India’s former foreign minister and its inaction in its neighborhood, overall, strategically, India has made the right strategic choices in foreign policy like the nuclear deal & the Iran vote.. nominating one of its own for Secretary General is NOT a major policy decision, and let us leave it at that.

  8. Vimal,

    Unfortunately, the decision to support Shashi Tharoor (whose qualifications are impeccable) is not without costs and implications, the most significant of which is the expeding of resources (people, money, energy) into a side issue. There will also be the need to seek and owe favours to various countries. In the world of diplomatic quid pro quo, India’s cookie balance will be depleted or worse, driven into overdraft. Countries like South Korea and Thailand, who felt they would have India’s support (which could have added to the cookie balance) are sure to be disappointed.

    The reason why the government’s decision is unwise is because, as you mention, all this is being done for what is not, in the end, a big deal.

  9. Nitin,

    At a purely political level, I think you are right. But your point of view takes it for a fact that having India as a permanent member with veto power at the UNSC is something that is going to be talked about & voted upon at a global level in the foreseeable future.

    While having a permamnent seat is a stated goal of Indian foreign policy and is by all means deserved for a nation of India’s might & size, it will come up for discussion only when the current Security Council is ready to discuss it. A UN without India at the Security Council will remain less relevant than with India at the high table. But I remain skeptical that it will happen in the next, say, 5 years.

    When it happens, the world would have forgotten this particular diplomatic quid pro quo, and indeeed there will be entirely new issues on which diplomatic favors will be exchanged and India’s cookie balance might be entirely different based on the realities then.

    Indeed, if it is not a big deal for India, I am sure it is not a big deal for South Korea, Thailand or Sri Lanka either (it will always be a big deal for Pakistan, though, because India is involved) and the diplomatic favors exchanged now will be inconsequential or forgotten when the big deal comes upon us.

    The concern that major powers should not have Secretary Generals is just a tradition and I dont think we need to read too much into it.

    As you say, Shashi Tharoor’s credentials are impeccable, and he is probably among the best candidates that Asia can offer. It will be cowardly not to support him.

  10. Honestly, I don’t understand what India is trying to accomplish by promoting Shashi Taroor’s candidacy for the post of Secretary General of the United Nation. It would be better for India to abandon such a foolish pursuit and concentrate on getting a permanent seat on the Secretary General. The latter is a position of prestige, the former is not.

  11. There are reports that the former Singapore PM Goh could stand for the Secretary-General post if he is assured support of 3 out of the 5 permanent members of UNSC. If that happens then it will be wise on our part to withdraw Tharoor and support Goh’s candidature. We should remember Singapore is our only ‘true’ friend in ASEAN.

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