1. Selection process of UN Secretary General
  2. Latest selection: Antonio Guterres
  3. Informal rotation system
  4. UN Secretary General: significance and limitations

Selection process of UN Secretary General

Q. Discuss in brief, the selection procedure for the post of United Nations Secretary General.
संयुक्त राष्ट्र महासचिव पद की चयन प्रक्रिया की संक्षिप्त में चर्चा करें।

  • Nations send applications of candidates to UN Security Council (UNSC) [15 members]
  • UNSC takes a series of “Straw Polls” to decide the most favored candidate.
  • In this straw-poll, the UNSC members have three options:
    1. encourage a candidate
    2. discourage a candidate
    3. no-opinion.
  • If permanent member gives ‘discourage‘ vote to a candidate, then it’s same as exercise of veto power. e.g. In 2006 selection, USA vetoed Shashi Tharoor, because President Bush wanted winner from his stronger ally (South Korea’s Ban Ki Moon).
  • To become the UNSC Topper, a candidate must win minimum 10 out of 15 votes (=2/3rd Majority) and no veto from a permanent member.
  • After clearing UPSC UNSC, Topper’s is forwarded to DoPT UN General assembly (193 members) for final confirmation.
  • So far in history, UNGA has never rejected any name forwarded by UNSC.
  • Term: five years. Technically, there is no age, attempt or term limit. But no Secretary general has served for more than two terms i.e. 5 x 2 = 10 years. Ban ki Moon’s second term ended on 31/12/2016.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres

Latest Topper: Antonio Guterres – the 9th Secretary General of UN

  • Antonio Guterres will replace Ban Ki Moon (S.Korea) as ninth UN secretary general from 1/1/2017.
  • Earlier, Antonio has served as Portugal’s PM and UN high commissioner for refugees.
  • So far no woman secretary-general.
  • This time, UNESCO chief Irina Bokova and few other women had thrown their hats in the ring but no success in the UNSC voting.

Informal rotation system

  • Traditionally, candidates from the Permanent Five members of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), are not considered for the position of Secretary-General to avoid further concentration of power within the UN.
  • As per informal arrangement, UN Secretary General job rotates among Four Regions:
Regional Rotation of UN Secretary General post
  • Europe. (as such Antonio Guterres’s job starts from 1st Jan 2017).
  • Although Eastern Europe (incl. Russia) has so far not cleared this UNSC exam.
  • We can hope, Antonio will win second term as well so 2016-2016 will be his ‘era’.
  • Latin America
  • Africa e.g. Earlier Kofi Annan (Ghana from 1996 to 2006)
  • Asia.
  • So far, Asia has given two toppers: U.Thant (Burma, 1961-1971) and Ban Ki moon (S.Korea- 2006-16)
  • If India gains UNSC-permanent seat by then, we can’t hope to have an Indian UN Secretary General. (Because Indian can’t apply, to prevent concentration of power).

UN Secretary General: function, significance and limitations

Q. “UN Secretary General is neither ‘Secretary’ nor ‘General’ of united nations.” Examine critically.
“संयुक्त राष्ट्र महासचिव न तो संयुक्त राष्ट्र के ‘सचिव’ है न तो ‘सेनापति”. समालोचनात्मक परिक्षण करे.

Significance of Secretary General Limitations of his office
He’s the chief administrative officer of United nations. [UN Charter #97]
  • UN Charter doesn’t clearly define the functions and powers of Secretary General.
  • So unlike an Indian State’s Chief Secretary (IAS), he’s not the real boss of “UN/international civil services”.
  • As a result, he’s unable to carry out Administrative reforms within UN & its agencies. E.g. It takes avg. 213 days to recruit new specialists in UN or its agencies- hence slow response to Ebola crisis. Moon couldn’t reform this red tape within UN staff recruitment system. [Counter: Atleast it doesn’t take five years, like GPSC!]
  • Durfar Peacekeeping mission – Despite mal-administration by a Russian General, Moon couldn’t get him replaced due to Russian veto.
  • Sexual abuse and rapes by UN peacekeepers in Africa. Moon failed to bring them to book. So he lacks power similar to ‘General’ of an army.
He is answerable to every nation on earth — and no nation at all.
  • UN largely dependent on funding and goodwill of 1st world countries. Therefore, we often find the policy-direction being aligned as per USA and Europe’s priorities.
  • 2007: Moon criticized UNHRC for criticizing Israel for human rights violation. (Due to, US-pressure!?)
  • Ban Ki Moon himself admitted he couldn’t add Saudi Army in the list of human rights violators during Yemen crisis. [Because USA and its strong ally Saudi (Sunni) don’t want Iran backed Houthi rebels (Shia) to capture power in Yemen.]
  • He can call warring parties to peace table.
  • He’s broker, referee, supervisor and top-diplomat of global-disputes and global development.
  • U.Thant couldn’t to stop Vietnam war.
  • Koffi Annan couldn’t stop US invasion on Iraq or Afghanistan.
  • Moon failed to solve Palestine, Syria, Crimea, N.Korea or Kashmir.
  • Climate-change or poverty reduction: UNGA has become mostly lip service and talk shop.
  • Earlier selection process was ‘secretive’. We couldn’t know who were the candidates, their class 10,12 marksheet, work-experience and world views.
  • But under 2016 reform, UN member-nations and civil society members were allowed to ask questions to the candidates in TV-debate. ( Similar to US presidential TV-debates)
  • Selection is not done entirely on merit and transparency.
  • e.g. allegations that South Korea used “foreign-aid” to buy votes of UNSC’s non-permanent poor members (Peru, Ghana, Congo) to ensure Ban Ki Moon wins (2006).
In this Left hand column, we learned what he can do via moral authority and personal initiative. In this Right hand column, we saw how his efforts can be frustrated by P5, 1st world, and bureaucratic redtapes.


  • Red tapes of UN bureaucracy, money power of first world and Veto power of P5 create obstacles for the Secretary General.
  • Therefore, effectiveness of UN Secretary General depends more on the moral authority of the office-bearer than the formal authority of office itself. (similar to Aag Paani aur Rajanbhai).

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