It 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 (http://wp.me/p3g0mz-1g), who, along with the third profile, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski (http://wp.me/p3g0mz-3X), 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 (http://wp.me/p3g0mz-1l).
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 (http://wp.me/p3g0mz-7Q). 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.