Aung San Suu Kyi and the U.N. Secretary General

Published on January 6, 2006

By Nehginpao Kipgen

Opinions and comments have lingered in the minds of many political analysts and observers whether Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma is the next viable UN Secretary General (UNSG). With the office tenure of the incumbent UNSG expires in December 2006, there have been diplomatic campaigns launched by several contending candidates for the top post of the world’s highest body.

One among them is Thailand Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, a Harvard-trained lawyer. According to the UN Charter, the Secretary General is to be appointed by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the 15 Security Council members. However, practically speaking, the Permanent Five or P5 (Britain, China, France, Russia and United States) ultimately remains the deciding factor.

Traditionally, the UN top post is given to relatively lesser powerful country with lesser rivals – specifically with the five permanent members. If this has to be taken into account, the next UN chief will hail either from Asia or Africa.

As appeared on November 26, 2005 edition of the Washington Post newspaper: “Asians contend that the next secretary general should come from their region because an Asian has not held the job since 1971, when U Thant of Burma completed a 10-year term. Russia and China agree, but the Bush administration opposes the concept of regional rotation and has urged aspirants from around the world to compete.”

There is a possibility that the next UN chief will be from Asia. It is important to remember that a candidate, in one way or another, has to have the endorsement of his or her country.

The UN top post has become one of the world’s most prestigious titles especially after the cold war era. Theoretically speaking, the UN Secretary General is the head of one hundred and ninety one UN member countries. The United Nations has proven itself to be much more realistic and responsible than ever before.

In one of my International Relations class during my Master’s Program in the United States, my professor was very critical about the role of the UN permanent members and their powers. He argued that the former League of Nations was much more democratic than the present structure of the United Nations. He cited how the world body, at times, has been hijacked by the five permanent members.

At the League of Nations, it used to be done with consensus. There is no doubt about the controversy surrounding veto power of the permanent members. Proponents say that the P5 are the police officers policing the flow of the UN, while critics argue that there should be a body to control the abuse of power by the P5.

Basing our analysis on the above given circumstances, it is unlikely that Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, recipient of the 1991 Nobel Peace prize for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights, will be considered for the top UN post.

Even if she is proposed by the United States, Great Britain and France, the endorsement of other Security Council members is doubtful. Moreover, the State Peace and Development Council (the Burmese military junta) is unlikely to recommend her name.

Even if the SPDC thinks this could be a chance to send her away from the country, the consent of Aung San Suu Kyi, who is held incommunicado, is uncertain. Moreover, there are many other qualified candidates for the post.

Nehginpao Kipgen is the General Secretary of US-based Kuki International Forum and a researcher on the rise of political conflicts in modern Burma (1947-2004).