The Next UN Secretary-General? Part IV – John William Ashe

John-Ashe-1It has been a whole 12 months to the day since this website published the most recent in its series of candidate profiles for the potential next Secretary-General of the United Nations. At the time, commentators were pointing to Eastern Europe as the obvious corner of the world from which to pick the victor. However, a lot has happened in a year, focusing mainly around Russian President Vladimir Putin’s continuing realpolitik attitude to the West, and the impact of such behaviour on the international political dynamic circling the old Soviet bloc. The Ukraine crisis has put off the idea that the UN Gen-Sec, supposedly the most non-partisan and diplomatically neutral individual on Planet Earth, could come from the region.

Instead, quieter, but nonetheless equally important, areas of the globe are being highlighted. This article turns to the Caribbean, which is yet to see adequate representation in the UN executive, and specifically to John William Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda, the current President to the 68th session of the UN General Assembly. He is the successor to this website’s first profile, Serbian diplomat Vuk Jeremic (, who, along with the third profile, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski (, has fallen out of the limelight due to increasing instability east of the Danube. Former Kiwi Prime Minister and UN Development Programme Chief Administrator Helen Clark remains there or there abouts (

Incidentally, there is no obvious reason, bar history, to suggest that the current UN Gen-Sec, Ban Ki-Moon of South Korea, will not run for a third term in 2016. However, no Gen-Sec, for reasons including personal preference, Security Council veto and death, has lasted longer than a decade.

Candidate IV – John William Ashe

Ashe hails from Antigua and Barbuda, one of the smallest nation states by both geographical size and population, a dual-island state (plus various other smaller and less densely populated islands) located in the ring that closes off the Caribbean Sea from the Atlantic. He was the first in his family to attend university, for which he travelled to Halifax in Canada, before completing a PhD in Bioengineering at the private Ivy League University of Pennsylvania. In 1989 Ashe entered his country’s diplomatic service, as part of the Permanent Mission to the UN, and has since, remained a member of various representative teams of Antigua and Barbuda.

His later diplomatic years have been marked by a commitment to developmental projects. Ashe has served in the executive of various UN agencies, including the UNDP and UNICEF, and has chaired various councils including the Commission of Sustainable Development in 2005 and 2012. Despite his personal ambitions within the organisation, Ashe has retained his representative role for his country, serving as its chief officer in the World Trade Organisation and the UN since 2004. He has also put a lot of effort into climate change programmes, including the Kyoto Protocol. All in all, his diplomatic career is impeccable, and is supported by a commitment to both his country and the wider international community, building a reputation as an apt mediator. At the end of the day, given the parallel authority of the UN alongside its nation-state members, mediation is perhaps the most important trait of the Gen-Sec.

Ashe’s tenure as President to the UN General Assembly has been reasonably calm and quiet, marked most distinctly by a resolution (68/262) passed and supported in favour of recognising the Crimean Peninsula as a part of Ukraine and, not autonomous or Russian. It is difficult to see, however, why the Russians, who maintain a veto as a permanent member of the Security Council, would hold the passing of that resolution against Ashe (given that 100 UN member states voted in favour of it, and only 11 voted against it, with 82 either absent or abstaining). He might, therefore, be a neutral successor to Ban Ki-Moon, whose premiership has been heralded as one of the most neutral of the eight administrations so far.

Might Ashe, though, be too neutral (if the UN Gen-Sec can be so)? Two further years will pass before Moon’s tenure ends (if indeed it does), and there are various examples of political turmoil worldwide that could develop and/or worsen. These include the newly reignited Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which as of August 2014 has been left reasonably alone by the global governance corner of the international community; also, the Ukraine crisis, which could see the Russians encroach further on their old territory in Eastern Europe. Violence in Iraq and Syria will need dealing with too, as the ‘Islamic State’ group threaten to plunge the region into another internal war ( Can, therefore, Ashe be trusted to bring stability to the global political dynamic, or will his interest in development and sustainable political economy put off the permanent members of the Security Council?


The liberals would like to hope that it would not, and that Ashe, perhaps combined with the developmental expertise of someone like Helen Clark, could take the helm at the UN with distinct productive capacity. Others may not see any particular benefit from installing him as Gen-Sec, preferring either to keep Ban Ki-Moon in place if he will stay, or promote someone more dynamic if more divisive. Ashe has only a month left on his contract as President of the General Assembly, but will be around the UN for years to come anyway due to his commitments as representative of Antigua and Barbuda. Whether this presence will transcend into a top leadership role is to be seen.


3 thoughts on “The Next UN Secretary-General? Part IV – John William Ashe

  1. Mr Charrington’s Antique Shop’s series of publications on the next UNSG offers interesting presentations on four potential candidates for the 2016 elections. They seem, however, to be selected by the personal intellectual preference of the author of the blog rather than covering the on-going political process of governmental nominations of official candidates and their consideration by the UN regional groups. The latter process is obviously much more relevant to the chances of any candidate to fill up the UNSG vacant position in 2017. Unfortunately, none of the four distinguished names discussed so far in the blog’s series has been nominated by any government, which makes them – at least for the time being – just wishful plausible candidates. At the same time, this series of publications leaves unnoticed the only two officially nominated candidates from Eastern Europe, which is the region whose turn of election comes in 2016. Hence, I would strongly recommend that the blog focus on presenting – at the same level of detail and analysis – the two most likely holders of the UNSG’s position from 2017 onward: (a) Ms Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, former Foreign Minister of Bulgaria, officially nominated on 12 June 2014, and (b) Mr. Danilo Türk, former President of Slovenia, former UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, officially nominated in January 2014. It might also be prudent to include a couple of other high level potential candidates from the same region – one from Lithuania and two from Slovakia, who have been discussed elsewhere but have remained omitted here. Such correction of the author’s approach would fill a significant gap, thus giving it a really objective and comprehensive flavor. Otherwise, the blog would remain focused narrowly outside the main stream of the on-going governmental considerations pertaining to this matter.


    1. Comments and analysis much appreciated, and yes, the choices presented are certainly more intellectual preference that evidential fact. However, at the time of publication (except for this final piece), the first three proposals were all very much in the running and relevant to the debate. Helen Clark, even in January (as mentioned in the above hyperlink you have posted), was considered one of the most likely, and the two presented from Eastern Europe (Sikorski and Jeremic) are two of the most active diplomats/politicians in the region. Perhaps John William Ashe was a weak candidate, but that is for you (or the UNSC) to decide.

      I think it is important to consider that there is no fixed pool that can be drawn from, and that official nominations are very new to the proceedings in this upcoming ‘election’.

      1. The author’s explanation is much appreciated. The points that (a) “official nominations are very new to the proceedings in the upcoming election” and (b) ” there is no fixed pool that can be drawn from”, are particularly relevant in explaining the limited coverage of the blog’s “UNSG series”. At the same time, these very points indirectly suggest the direction in which further consideration needs to be expended covering new serious candidates. It is clear why the series has s far focused on “speculative candidates” – one can only analyze what is available at the time of writing, which precedes the stage of official nominations. The political world has moved, however, to a stage of official UNSG nominations. This cannot be overlooked by any serious political analysis claiming to have practical value. In addition, one needs to respect a major UN principle – equitable geographical distribution and the related UN “rule of rotation”, which fully applies to the UNSG election. In this context, my main point above was (and still remains) that once the international community has moved to the nomination stage, it might be worth devoting the next parts of this blog to such type of candidates. I have mentioned above two high ranking strong official nominees – one female from Bulgaria currently heading the biggest UN agency (UNESCO), and one male from Slovenia having served in the UN Secretariat before. There might be additional official nominations or new “speculative candidates” from the UN regional group of Eastern Europe whose term of election comes in 2017 (you may wish to note that Helen Clark and John Ashe belong to other regional groups and, like Sikorski and Jeremic, are not officially nominated). In this context, if only slightly amended, the blog’s approach to “the next UNSG election” could become more comprehensive and practically useful. The input so far confirms the quality of the analysis offered and the relevance of the main criteria used. Hence, the author may wish to apply the same type of political analysis, with the same UN-relevant criteria, when including new candidates, particularly the strong candidates officially nominated. Success on this promising road!

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