Former Slovene President for UN Secretary-General?

In recent days, the debate has continued over the potential candidacy of former Slovene President Danilo Türk for Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN). The debate reflects the willingness of the state to support Türk’s candidacy should he decide for it, but it also reveals disapproval within certain political groups. This article will analyse how both supporters and opponents could affect Türk’s candidacy, since a contrastive view of the topic is a vital part of the debate.

The main point this article will try to make is that large projects which can increase Slovenia’s visibility in the international community should be supported, but at the same time critically examined. It is important to ask whether the active support of the Slovene government, which has, in fact, already launched Türk’s campaign, has not been somewhat premature. On the other hand we should not underestimate the zeal of the political opponents who oppose his candidacy. But before I continue with this train of thought, let us examine some procedural and practical aspects of electing a new Secretary-General.

According to Article 97 of the UN Charter, the Secretary-General is appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council. The Security Council decides on a new Secretary-General in accordance with Rule 48 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure adopted in 1946. Due to the importance and political sensitivity of the function, the practice of recommending only one candidate was implemented in the same year, upon the suggestion of the General Assembly. In addition, Security Council deliberations on candidates for a new Secretary-General take place behind closed doors. Considering the significance of the decision and the fact that the five permanent members of the Security Council have the right to veto, a certain level of confidentiality during the process seems reasonable.

However, the lack of transparency during the process of deciding on a new Secretary-General has gradually become a problem and has often been criticised. The critics included the General Assembly, which urged a more transparent procedure, notably through its 1997 resolution and again with a resolution from 2006. The members of the Security Council partly addressed the criticisms even before these resolutions, for example by adopting the so–called Wisnumurti Guidelines in 1996. These introduced a more structured (but not necessarily more transparent), process of deciding on a recommendation for a new Secretary-General. One noticeable improvement during the election process for the current Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, whose mandate started in 2007, was the proactive approach of the countries and the candidates, since the latter tried to convince the Security Council that they were suitable for the position at a public meeting. There are countless more suggestions for a more transparent selection process, but one thing has not changed since 1946: candidates are still recommended by the Security Council in its own way, so it is unlikely we shall see more transparency in the future.

We must also keep in mind that the process can be full of surprises and unexpected turns. To give an example, there has been much discussion about the fact that we have not yet had a Secretary-General from Eastern Europe. In this context, we might expect certain pressures to find candidates from this region. No one can argue that Eastern Europe does not offer excellent candidates; however, a Secretary-General from this region is not the only possible scenario.

Another important factor to consider is that the UN has also never been led by a woman.

This issue was raised by the Non-Aligned Movement, which even suggested that the Security Council when deciding on whom to recommend for the next Secretary-General should consider only women candidates.

Considering the unpredictability of the decision-making process and all the other events and factors that have influenced or may still influence the choice of the next Secretary-General, we need to build upon Türk’s declared willingness to be considered for this position. Since this is a very sensitive topic, the state should carefully consider when to start systematically supporting the candidacy in order to avoid doing anything that might harm Türk’s chances. In principle, there is nothing wrong with a public declaration of support from the Republic of Slovenia at a certain point in time. In my opinion, this was already done when the government of Alenka Bratušek announced its support for Türk’s potential candidacy. This announcement was important, because it would be difficult for Türk to present himself as a candidate without the support of his national government. However, the issues surrounding the state’s actions and decisions become more complex when it comes to intensifying the not-yet-existing campaign. We should also mention that in Slovenia one of the most important aspects of the candidacy, perhaps as important as the international aspect, is its affect on the local political situation.

First, it is important to understand that while Türk announced his willingness in principle to stand for election a year ago, he has not yet publicly declared his candidacy for the position of UN Secretary-General. He said he would do so when the time was right and only then. We should bear in mind that the current Secretary-General still has almost two years ahead of him. The vocal and unequivocal support of the Slovene government came practically in the middle of the current mandate. Whether this active and public debate surrounding Türk’s candidacy at the highest state levels was premature or not, only time alone will tell. I do not know whether Slovenia has already counted the votes in support of Danilo Türk. If not, however, questions about the timing and contextualisation of the current active support of the government should indeed be raised.

Let us also touch upon the so-called “already counted” votes. From time to time, a rumour surfaces about one or another permanent Security Council member that has supposedly promised to support the former Slovene President. While rumours may interest the media for a day or two, they do not hold any real value, unless of course they were to be confirmed by representatives of the Slovene authorities. However, at this time this would probably mean shooting themselves in the foot. A different but no less important question is how to react if a diplomat of one of the permanent Security Council members makes a public statement about the candidacy. After the former President of Slovenia announced his willingness to run, the outgoing US Ambassador to Slovenia, Joseph Mussomelli, implied that Türk was “not a good candidate” for the position of the Secretary-General. Of course, we cannot exclude the possibility that, for whatever reason, Mussomelli reacted too quickly. However, by definition a statement from an ambassador expresses not only his own feelings, but also those of the country he represents. And after the impending arrival of the new ambassador, Slovenia will have to request clarification about whose opinion Mussomelli was expressing, if this has not yet been done.

One of the factors that will surely influence the potential candidacy and the steps taken to promote it is the almost proverbial determination of Slovenes to thwart the international ambitions of political opponents by any means possible.

In this case, should Türk actually decide to offer his candidacy, furious attempts to discredit him before the international community would come as no surprise. While I hope that my predictions will not come true, we can expect intense international lobbying against him wherever his opponents find willing ears. It would be no surprise to see harmful YouTube videos and a statement or two circulating in the social media to show “the whole world” that not everybody in Slovenia supports Türk’s candidacy. I have never been able to understand and and never shall why our small country with its 2 million inhabitants would stoop to such actions when we should be celebrating every success of “our people” in international institutions, which is why I keep revisiting this topic.

Systematic discrediting abroad – let us call it evil diplomacy – is not an intellectually demanding task, but it can be highly effective.

If nothing else, it offers more ammunition to rivals in their endeavours to undermine the competitor, since they can say: “Look, this chap doesn’t even have the support of his own country.” We cannot be proud of such behaviour. It is no secret that I personally support Mr. Türk’s candidacy. My reasons for doing so are based on principle and I am not the only one to believe that he is a good candidate. However, there is more to the story than just that. There is a certain symbolism in his candidacy. It is part of a larger story about our country. For some reason, Slovenes simply do not have a good understanding of international relations and therefore cannot comprehend the effects of an opinion expressed domestically in contrast to one expressed in an international environment.

The candidacy is a part of the story whose message – i.e. that Slovenia is not the centre of the world, at least as far as international politics are concerned – still has not penetrated our collective consciousness.

In fact, Slovenia is not even close to the centre of Europe. On the contrary, due to the policy gap between two international strategies, which has been left open for over a decade, our country is steadily moving towards the extreme periphery. To move closer to the influential circle of European countries and to improve its reputation, Slovenia needs to take advantage of any and every international success. Unfortunately, we do not fully understand the meaning of the so-called relational power in international relations, nor what wielding it means for Slovenia and, what is worse, we do not discuss it enough. However, the fact remains that Slovenia cannot be seen as a trustworthy partner for other countries until it learns to present a unified front.

We each have our own opinion about Türk’s approach to certain political topics. However, there is empirical evidence supporting the fact that Mr. Türk is one of the top specialists in the domain of international organisations. In fact, considering the field of international politics as a whole, there is currently no one in Slovenia who can boast of such a successful career. He is undeniably more recognised abroad than many Slovene politicians, including his worst critics. And in a mature country, all these facts should suffice for a constructive debate concerning wider support for his candidacy. Also, after twenty-odd years of experience in international relations, I believe that Slovenia should understand that international politics are governed by a different logic than internal politics.

Countries and other actors in international politics do not concern themselves with the inner workings of Slovene politics, unless they can use them to weaken the international position of our country.

Their only concern is with the opinion of the person representing the country and its interests, be it the President, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs or an ambassador. Furthermore, the topics discussed at the international level affect the lives of all citizens, not just the supporters of one political party. Thus, when it comes to representing the country in international politics, there is not and must not be any distinction between “ours” and “theirs”. This goes for any topic in the domain of international politics, including the candidacies which bring “our” people to important positions within the international community where they are included in the decision-making process.

It should be obvious, not just in the case of Danilo Türk but as a matter of principle, that when a candidate for a high position in an international institution is “our person”, “our” signifies a citizen of Slovenia and not a sympathiser of a particular political party.

So: we can all agree that the candidate should not bring shame to our country, meaning that we must only support candidates with internationally recognised skills, knowledge and a good reputation in the domain of the international institutions that he or she is prepared to lead or within which he or she is prepared to take on an important position. It is also important to let the members of the international institution decide, after deliberating all the positive and negative characteristics of “our” candidate, to decide whether he or she is the most suitable candidate for them at the given time. If these conditions are met, we should all feel proud of any elected Slovene citizen, or at least take the election as an indication that Slovenia as a state and Slovene representatives carry a certain weight in the field of international relations.

There is not much that Slovenia as a state and its current government can do against evil diplomacy, or at least not much that would produce immediate results. But we can stand up to it with the right approach and through the use of existing human resources. First, while it is true that announcements of support for Türk’s candidacy and further diplomatic actions came in all instances from the highest possible level, one question that must not be overlooked is whether the “message to the world” that we have been witness to in recent days was premature, and if so, how premature was it? The answer should be communicated, through the appropriate channels, to the international community, so that Slovenia does not find itself, to use a sporting expression, in an offside position. Second, do all Slovene diplomats support the candidacy? We know that some of our diplomats are biased, but still: is it possible to reach an agreement and internalise the idea that Mr. Türk’s candidacy, should it occur, would be in the best interests of Slovenia as a country? If we take into account the quality of Slovene diplomacy, which is in my opinion exceptional, not only at the ambassador level but also at lower levels in Slovene embassies, such a consensus would be of great importance. And finally, the third and most important question: is it possible for Slovene politicians to take real steps towards a unified view on the candidacy, which would include the majority and allow for different political options?

Should Mr. Türk officially decide to run for the position of the Secretary-General the answers to these three questions will definitely be of considerable importance. However, it is impossible to predict whether that alone will be enough. Neither the success nor defeat of the candidacy would have fatal consequences for Slovenia. Nor should the result affect our self-confidence as far as further candidacies for leading positions in international organisations go. Slovenia’s reputation would be harmed to a greater extent if the international community gradually got used to our country entering the field of international relations like a badly equipped and confused army, full of deserters, without a battle plan and without an HQ.

P.S.: For more information about the UN, its activities and publications and for answers to any questions you might have about this international organisation, visit the .


Author: Zlatko Šabič. Teaches international relations at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana and occasionally tries to generate interest in foreign affairs, international organisations and European integration among the general public on Meta’s List. That is, however, not all he does and he is known not just in Slovenia. He has also been a Fulbright scholar, editor of the Journal of International Relations and Development, and president of the Central and East European International Studies Association (CEEISA), where he still edits the organisation’s journal. In 2015 he will end his term as member of the governing council of the European International Studies Association, the umbrella organisation for international-relations scholars. Can be found on Twitter at @Zlatko_Sabic.


Translated by: Nina Maslovarić.


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