The Brexit in Great Britain has recently shown, in an alarming way, how crucial charismatic personalities can be: Not only contents and the convincing argument matter in political debates, but just as much the persons involved. Everything comes down to their power of attraction, their rhetorical talent, and their degree of sympathy.
At the UN it is also high time to place a person with tensile force again back onto the top of the world organization. The Brexit has, with unrelenting hardness, further demonstrated that our international system, which evolved and ripened steadily since World War II, is not safe for eternity.
The “fatigue” regarding international and supranational organizations is perceptible everywhere. And it is growing. Its destructive force will also not – even in the case of doubt – stall before the United Nations. In the best case scenario it would push the world organization completely into insignificance or, if the worst happens, set off a wave of withdrawals there as well. To avoid that these kinds of thoughts become part of election campaigns, it is all the more important to appoint a leader as the next UN Secretary-General who is competent, inspired by the UN, and charismatic. After 70 years and eight men it is now finally time for a woman.
Unsatisfactory List of Candidates
Looking at the list of the official nominations – currently eleven – one cannot be satisfied with the selection so far. Surely there are euphonious names like Helen Clark, longtime Prime Minister of New Zealand, and António Guterres, former Prime Minister of Portugal, among the nominees. However, the list includes also names barely known, as for instance Natalia Gherman from Moldova or Vuk Jeremić from Serbia.
Since it is supposedly Eastern Europe‘s turn this time to come forward with the next UN Secretary-General, Clark and Guterres would be out of the race a priori if this criterion found strict application. And for both it is quite uncertain whether they would receive the necessary support within the UN Security Council. Clark has the reputation of being a strident woman which would apt to the current world situation. However, whether she can score at winning over the decision makers of the Security Council is questionable. Guterres, on the other hand, is regarded as tired out after ten years in the strenuous position as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Thus, one prominent name is missing on that list: the one of Michelle Bachelet. She is not from Eastern Europe, but the Chilean brings in all preconditions to become a good Secretary-General and – which is just as important – to win the favor of the Security Council. Her biography contains something for everybody. To begin with the obvious: She is a woman – that alone is a good argument in Western capitals, e.g. Washington, D.C., London, and Paris. Furthermore, it is said, that she is even friends with Hillary Clinton. Depending on the outcome of the election campaign in the USA this would be a weighty connection. During her time as Foreign Minister Clinton had allegedly had significant influence on Bachelet‘s appointment as first Executive Director of UN Women in 2011.
To Moscow’s and Bejing’s Pleasure
Politically, Bachelet belongs to the Chilean socialists; although according to our understanding her opinions would rather be described as social-democratic. Due to old traditions the label “socialist” might evoke sympathies in Russia, which would be significant during this election because of the official-unofficial access rights of Eastern Europe. Furthermore, Bachelet, who was expelled from her home country during the turmoil of the Pinochet dictatorship, had lived in the GDR for a few years and studied at the Humboldt University in Berlin. This is another reason, why Moscow – and Beijing – should be disposed towards her.
Being a trained physician Bachelet does not belong to the genus of sleek diplomats or smart economists with Western socialization – this could be another advantage for her in Beijing and Moscow. After all, she has gathered experiences regarding “hard policy issues”: long before Ursula von der Leyen it was Bachelet who became the first female Defense Minister of Latin America in 2002. She fulfilled her obligations in this position so successfully that she was elected the first female president of her country in 2006. As Chile’s constitution prohibits a second legislative period Bachelet retired and transferred to the United Nations after the end of her presidential term in 2010. There she became Executive Director of the newly founded UN Women before taking over the presidential office of her home country for second term in 2014.
With this mixture of hard and soft topics – she had also been Minister of Health – she excellently fits into the “portfolio” of the United Nations, which, on the one hand and on quite pragmatic political terms, concentrates on peace forces around the world, and on the other hand, on issues in regard to human rights, development, climate protection as well as oppressed, poor and underprivileged people.
Bachelet might have a realistic chance
In short, Bachelet might have a realistic chance to win over the Security Council. Her curriculum vitae is impressively diverse, and at the same time impressively different: pioneering and unconventional. Consequently, it corresponds with the concept of a UN Secretary-General one would wish for at the current state of the world. As of that, smooth yes-sayers are just as little needed currently than stubborn fools. Instead, a person with principles AND diplomatic expertise is needed, with a clear justice agenda AND a sense for what is feasible.
Bachelet combines all of these aspects and, beyond that, she is brave. Thus, not least reflected by her private life: she is an atheist, divorced, has raised three children from two different men and has been a single parent for many years. With that she amasses all deadly sins of catholic Chile, Bachelet once commented her unusual CV – and, nonetheless, managed to being appointed to top positions in her country. That speaks in favor for her power of attraction as a person. The fact that she is facing domestic headwind right now should not belittle her overall balance sheet in the long-term. Instead it could slightly stir the flames of her interest to move to New York again.
It is all the more regrettable that Michelle Bachelet’s name is not yet on the list. However, being the president of her country she cannot nominate herself; that is prohibited by the diplomatic comment. Therefore, the call for her application should sound all the louder now. Only a global wave of support could carry her from her presidential position in Santiago to New York. It would be worth a try. In the end, of course, Michelle Bachelet might fail in this position as well, but she would bring in a lot more than all the other nominees, to avoid just that.
Friederike Bauer works as freelance journalist and author. She lives in Frankfurt am Main and mainly writes about foreign- and development policy and is member of the editorial committee for the journal VEREINTE NATIONEN.