Q&A with UN Secretary-General Candidate Srgjan Kerim

6 minute read

TIME foreign affairs columnist Ian Bremmer speaks with Srgjan Kerim, Macedonia’s former foreign minister and a candidate to be the UN’s next Secretary-General:


What is the single most important thing that a UN Secretary General can do to make the United Nations a more effective institution?

Times have changed. The world has changed. The UN is more than due to changing. Management reform is in this regard “The Be or Not to Be” for the future of the UN. Reforming the UN should be the primary objective for the next UN Secretary General. The UN’s ability to improve the lives of millions of people who currently live where there is conflict, poverty and poor governance are directly impacted by the UN’s inability to reform itself.

To ensure that the UN is fit for purpose for the new generation of challenges, the Secretary General must lead in applying a model of continual change, equipping the organization with more flexibility to adapt, grow and reform over time.

More efficient and effective UN management is possible only with a substantive shift in the mindset of the entire UN system including staff, high ranking officers in the Secretariat and the Secretary General. The Member States of the UN should guide the decisions and vision of the organization, not its Secretariat. A U-turn can and should be made on this front to ensure the Secretariat serves Member States.


What aspect of the UN’s work do you believe is in greatest need of reform?

The reform process is a complex one. Each Secretary General has initiated and started reforms in different aspects and areas of the organization to varying degrees of success. But, making it all work has been difficult.

The complexity of the issue requires:

  • A clearly articulated strategic vision from the Secretary General
  • To engage Member States in building of the rational for reform
  • To involve the General Assembly through its President in building a consensus among Member States
  • To identify accountable focal points for change within the Secretariat
  • To engage staff unions at the beginning stage of the reform process
  • The lessons from the past are clear. The 12 fast track change initiatives of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Change Plan as a whole is a MUST for the five year term in office of the next Secretary General beginning January 1st, 2017.

    In other words, strengthening the UN means more effective delivery of mandates, doing more within recognized resource constrains through innovation and change management initiatives as well as making the UN more open, flexible and accountable.


    You’ve identified “management reform” as the first priority of the next Secretary General. In what way will this help the UN meet current and future challenges?

    It is true that Management reform is one of the most relevant challenges and tasks of the UN. However, it’s important to understand that it is not an exercise by itself. Rather it is intertwined with serious improvements of the security architecture of the UN especially peacekeeping, peace building and human security.

    Streamlining the sustainable development agenda 2030 with climate change and financing for development is also critical. It is a precondition for efficient citizen participation, education, health, human rights and gender equality. Finally, the application of the major tools such as preventive diplomacy, mediation and partnerships also depends on a more efficient, rational and well organized management of UN’s activities.


    You’ve written of the need to reform the Security Council. What changes do you feel must be made to make the Security Council more effective?

    The only way to reach an agreement on this extremely sensitive issue is to negotiate. This is why I initiated and contributed as President of the United Nations General Assembly to the adoption of General Assembly Resolution 62/557, which made it possible to negotiate on reform of the Security Council.

    My personal view is that when it comes to the most politically sensitive issues which touch upon changes of the UN Charter; decisions must be made based on consensus. Another important point in this regard is serious political preparation and consultations among Member States should precede the process.

    To make the Security Council work more effectively is not only an issue of enlargement but also of the way the veto power is used, which means a serious and all encompassing analysis is needed to comprehensively review this issue. And, the new Secretary General has to make his or her personal contribution to this cause.


    No institution can be all things to all people. What things do you believe the UN should avoid trying to do?

    My latest book “Globalization and Diplomacy” has the subtitle In Search of a Better World. This vision is shared by hundreds of millions of people across the globe and engaging that sentiment is the only way to change the world for the better. Before the UN can harbor that change effectively, we must focus on reforming the institution itself. Only this way it can truly make a lasting contribution towards peace, security, and prosperity in communities worldwide.

    The purpose of the UN management reform is to ensure that the organization, its staff, and its constituents are better prepared to address emerging challenges, the fluidity of the geopolitical landscape, shifting security threats-partnering with thematic and regional organizations where appropriate.


    As a citizen of Macedonia, what do you believe are the most important lessons the UN should take from its failings in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s?

    My country was the only of the 6 Republics of Yugoslavia which did not participate in the armed conflicts occurring during the disintegration of the Yugoslav Federation. In spite of that, the engagement of the UN was necessary on its Northern border with its two peacekeeping missions (UNPREDEP and UNPROFOR). Both of them were success stories and serve as a good example of UN’s contribution to peace and security. On the other side, the UN missions in other parts of former Yugoslavia weren’t as successful. As a matter of fact, besides the UN other organizations such as NATO, OSCE and EU also participated in the crisis management process in that area, so it was a complex procedure of coordination and cooperation among various international organizations.

    The tragedy was that a lot of men, women and children lost their lives and thousands of homes, religious sites and other historic monuments were destroyed. But, at least existing borders were kept intact, which was very important for the overall security architecture of not only the Balkans but Europe in general.

    A world confronted with unpredictable cyber war activities, terrorism lurking around every corner of the globe, growing migration and massive movement of refugees, evident abuse of human rights as well as women and children, is in need of an organization with the capacity to tackle all these serious issues. And I don’t know of a better one than the UN with all of its shortcomings.

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