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Where Rudd might end up on team Guterres

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13 October 2016 12:33

With the UN General Assembly expected to approve Antonio Guterres as the next UN secretary-general (SG) this week, 'the race is on to join team Guterres'. As Peter Nadin has suggested, Kevin Rudd may try to translate his work as chair of the Independent Commission on Multilateralism (ICM) into a 'cabinet' post under Guterres. I've also hypothesised that Rudd's latest manoeuvre to confirm that another country wanted to nominate him as SG may have been an attempt to keep his name in the conversation as negotiations over senior UN posts take place behind closed doors. Questions remain, however, around Rudd's relationship with Guterres, whether he would be satisfied with a lower-level UN role after pining after the top job himself, and which position would he fill.

Rudd's chances of winning a top spot at the UN will hinge largely on his relationship with Guterres. The two men almost certainly have some sort of relationship, as Rudd's two stints as prime minister overlapped with Guterres' decade as UN refugee chief, but it's unclear how well they get along personally or if the UNHCR's criticisms of Rudd's refugee policies caused any friction between them. In addition, Rudd's being a Western male may work against him, as Guterres attempts to appease calls for geographic diversity and to fulfil his pledge for gender parity at the UN.

Rudd's willingness to take a role beneath the new SG may depend on which position he is offered, if any. Senior appointments in the UN system can be complicated not only due to the political jockeying involved, but also because positions follow different bureaucratic procedures. It may help to think about the possible opportunities available to Rudd by breaking down the appointments into three general categories:

1. Appointments that are solely at the discretion of the SG.

The top spot under the SG is the deputy SG, a position created by Kofi Annan and established by the UN General Assembly back in 1997. Several recent reports, including one by the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations and Rudd's own ICM Chair's Report have suggested that the next SG consider appointing two or even three deputy SGs. Below the deputy SG are those at the rank of under-secretary-general (USG), which includes the chef de cabinet; the heads of departments (USGs for peacekeeping, political affairs, management, economic and social affairs, etc); chiefs of the UN's offices in Geneva, Nairobi, and Vienna; and the SG's special representatives and envoys. These officials are typically contracted for a couple of years, with optional one-year extensions. As Megan Roberts notes, many of these types of appointments are 'increasingly 'sticky', meaning that positions are successively held by nationals of the same country, despite multiple General Assembly resolutions against the practice'.

2. Appointments where the office holder is appointed by the SG either in consultation with a body's executive board or with the confirmation of the UN General Assembly.

These officials are often appointed for a specific term of office and include positions like the UNDP administrator, UN high commissioner for refugees, UN high commissioner for human rights, UNICEF executive director, and executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Candidates may be nominated by their governments, depending on the position. Some UN watchers consider the UNDP administrator to be the third highest-ranking position at the UN after the SG and deputy SG.

3. Appointments where the officeholder is elected by independent decision-making bodies with their own specific procedures.

These include UN specialised agencies and related organisations, such as UNESCO, WHO, IMF, etc. Office holders typically are nominated by their governments and enjoy their support during some sort of campaign period. They are also appointed for a specific timeframe.

Rudd's best shot at a UN post is probably within the first category of independent SG appointments, assuming he has a positive relationship with Guterres. He will, however, face steep competition, especially from candidates who enjoy lobbying support from their home countries. China is rumoured to want the peacekeeping chief post, traditionally held by France, and Russia is angling for the political affairs post, which has most recently been filled by the US. Rudd is almost certainly a long shot for deputy SG if Guterres chooses a single one, since Guterres will be under pressure to demonstrate gender and geographic diversity. His chances increase if Guterres decides to establish more than one deputy SG, but even then, the appointment of a Western male would probably draw criticism.

Rudd might also have a chance at a job within the second category of appointments if the timing of the end of someone's term happens to coincide with Rudd's interest. For example, Helen Clark's term as UNDP chief ends in April 2017 (unless she were to resign earlier). The timing for several of the other positions in this category are not as well aligned, since the refugee chief is in place through 2020, the human rights chief through late-2018, and the climate change chief until mid-2019. If Rudd is pushing for these types of roles, he may find himself on the outside looking in for some time.

The third category of appointments would also depend on timing but is probably off limits for Rudd if Australia isn't willing to back him. It does raise an interesting question as to whether Prime Minister Turnbull sees Rudd as 'unsuitable' for any multilateral position or just for secretary-general. Regardless, the very public spat that ensued over Turnbull's refusal to support Rudd for SG could harm Rudd's chances at these types of roles, even assuming Rudd and Turnbull find a way to mend fences.

UN political appointments are notoriously opaque, and they are usually influenced by some combination of backroom deals, power politics, interpersonal relationships, and informal UN traditions. With Guterres slated to replace Ban Ki-moon on 1 January 2017, we should know by early next year whether Rudd lands one of the main SG appointments. Otherwise, he may have to focus on his current role as president of the Asia Society Policy Institute and his fellowships while he waits for other senior UN officials to step down.

Photo: Getty Images/VCG

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