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United Nations: weak leaders wanted

Extracts from the editorial of The Guardian (see full article here):

The myopia of powerful governments is clearly shown in their preference for weak candidates for UN secretary-general. Occasionally they misjudge their man, with interesting results. With Dag Hammarskjöld, it was peacekeeping. Kofi Annan's staff devised the millennium development goals. This time – with the quiet reappointment of secretary-general Ban Ki-moon this summer – they got what they wanted. Mr Ban presides over the slow decay of the UN secretariat, an institution that should be working, as Hammarskjöld said, on the edge of progress. In its last annual report, Human Rights Watch wrote "far from condemning repression, Ban sometimes went out of his way to portray oppressive governments in a positive light". China, Burma, Sri Lanka have benefited from Mr Ban's lax hand. To save his legacy he must refresh his top team with people who understand the UN's principles.

In Washington, the flame of Roosevelt and Truman burns low. Barack Obama and his UN ambassador Susan Rice are too aware of the Republican opposition at home to make a powerful case for the UN. But Mr Obama seeks retrenchment, and an effective UN would help him achieve it. The emerging powers are jealous of their sovereignty and ambivalent about human rights. The challenge is to bind these powers into a progressive security council. Take Libya. Britain, America and France should never again elide the responsibility to protect populations with regime change. Brazil and India, among others, must also recognise that when a ruler declares war on his own people he forfeits sovereignty.