UN Secretary General: Learning from the Candidacy of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan & Qualities of Exceptional Leadership

“Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, a luminary in diplomatic circles, a prominent international statesman and the longest-serving United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR] (for 12 years), was a stronger and more qualified candidate for the post of [United Nations Secretary Genera] UNSG.”

 

– Najmedin Meshkati, Professor of Engineering and International Relations, University of Southern California (USC)

UN Secretary General: Learning from the Candidacy of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan & Qualities of Exceptional Leadership

In memorium of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan’s birthday (Jan 17th).

On the Choice of the New Secretary General for the United Nations: Dr. Javad Zarif – A Man for All Reasons

By Najmedin Meshkati for The World Post The Huffington Post and Berggruen Institute. January 19, 2016: Nearly every ten years the world goes through the ritual of selecting a new Secretary General (SG) for the United Nations (UN); as the UNSG, by tradition, is allowed to serve for up to two five-year terms.

Twenty-five years ago, as a concerned observer, I followed my own conviction and weighed in on the process by publishing a letter in response to a biased editorial in the New York Times,”The Right Choice for the U.N.” (October 4, 1991). This editorial strongly promoted the candidacy of Dr. Boutros Boutros Ghali, who was later on appointed as UNSG (on January 1, 1992). Using the same criteria in the editorial, I demonstrated that Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, a luminary in diplomatic circles, a prominent international statesman and the longest-serving United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (for 12 years), was a stronger and more qualified candidate for the post of UNSG. The letter was adorned with an eye-catching graphic in the NYT (“Experienced Insider”, October 26, 1991) had good traction and generated tons of mostly supportive reactions from all over in forms of letters, faxes and phone calls (at that time there was no email).

Mr. Aga Khan, a most qualified candidate for the post of the UNSG in the history of the Organization, was passed over twice for this job. The first time in 1981, when Mr. Kurt Waldheim tried unsuccessfully for a third term as UNSG, Mr Aga Khan “drew more positive votes in the Security Council than anyone else, but was blocked when the Soviet Union, which thought him too pro-Western, cast a veto” (New York Times, May 15, 2003, Section B; Page 11). “Around that time stories circulated that the prince was a secret agent for the British, using his job as a cover for intelligence gathering. It was almost certainly nonsense, but the Russians may have believed it. Sadruddin insisted that he had equal sympathies with eastern and western peoples… His description of himself as “a citizen of the world” was a fair one”” (Economist, May 22, 2003). He died at the age of 70 on May 12, 2003.

… I believe now, as I did back then, that the role of the UNSG is a crucial one for the whole world; it will certainly affect the life and well-being of our and the future generations on this planet.

“The UN was created not to take humanity to heaven but to save it from hell.”

 

– Dag Hammarskjöld, second Secretary-General of the United Nations

On the nature of the UNSG’s Job

The [UNSG] position also takes unusual commitment, persistence, perseverance, patience – because finally all 192 Member States will have to be on board in the way forward. I could add a fourth P-word – Passion. To lead the Organization, you have to love it; you have to have passion for it. Exceptional leadership is required – strong, charismatic, enlightened leadership.

What is expected from the Secretary-General and the United Nations is that the Organization has such a standing that it is seen as and really constitutes a relevant and even a necessary partner in solving complex issues in the world, issues that otherwise would not be addressed. The organization is established to serve the world community and must be properly organized and led in order to be that relevant partner for the Member States.

UNSG Selection Criteria

However, this time, the world cannot afford to be only a passive observer of the smoke raising over the U.N. building indicating a choice being made. The selection of the new Secretary General is too important to be left to some compromises taking place behind the closed doors of the Security Council or the General Assembly. The importance of this decision, plus the above tasks facing the new SG, call for a person with vision, managerial skills, seasoned diplomatic subtlety, and courage to take on challenges.

On December 15, 2015, the President of the UN Security Council (UNSC), H.E. Ms. Samantha Power (US), and the President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), H.E. Mr. Mogens Lykketoft, issued the aforementioned “joint letter”, promised to follow “the principles of transparency and inclusivity“, and outlined criteria for the role of the UNSG and invited Member states to present candidates. The following are a few noteworthy points from this important letter:

  • “… the process of selecting and appointing the next United Nations Secretary-General, in accordance with the provisions of Article 97 of the Charter of the United Nations and guided by the principles of transparency and inclusivity.” ;
  • “The position of Secretary-General is one of great importance that requires the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity, and a firm commitment to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations. We invite candidates to be presented with proven leadership and managerial abilities, extensive experience in international relations, and strong diplomatic, communication and multilingual skills.”

About Najmedin Meshkati

Najmedin MeshkatiNajmedin Meshkati, a Professor of Engineering and International Relations at University of Southern California (USC), has been conducting research on complex and High Reliability Organizations (HRO) organizations and also on the U.N. system and its specialized agencies for the last 30+ years. He was invited and testified before the U.S. Commission on Improving the Effectiveness of the United Nations, which was formed by President George H. W. Bush, on February 1, 1993.

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