When leaders of the world start descending on the United Nations in September for the opening of a new General Assembly session, there will two new internationally well-known figures in prominent positions at the top of the organization. In July, Jan Eliasson of Sweden became the UN’s deputy secretary-general, and in mid-August, Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal of Austria, an expert in communications and new media, will take over leadership of the crucial department of public information, which has been languishing in recent years.
Around the UN, these are considered bold appointments. Eliasson rejoins the UN with a strong reputation not only as a diplomat and leader in international work on humanitarian issues but also for a stellar term as president of the General Assembly in 2005-2006, when he succeeded in marshaling support for a summit document that introduced the “responsibility to protect” doctrine. He went on to oversee the abolition of the Human Rights Commission and its replacement by the Human Rights Council. As deputy secretary-general, he is expected to handle UN management issues with skill.
Launsky-Tieffenthal is a newcomer to the UN – he calls his appointment “a coronation of my career after nearly 30 years” – but not a stranger to international diplomacy and media relations worldwide. He has most recently been Austria’s foreign ministry spokesman, after several decades of diplomatic service. He was Austrian consul-general in Los Angeles as well as a diplomat in the Middle East and Asia, notably in India. In July, Ban also named Launsky-Tieffenthal UN coordinator for multilingualism, heeding the General Assembly’s request that a senior United Nations official be appointed to manage questions on multilingualism throughout the Secretariat.
In creating a largely new team for his second term in office, Ban has made other prominent appointments, often drawing on experienced insiders with successful track records. Among them is Susana Malcorra of Argentina, Ban’s new chief of staff, who was formerly an under secretary-general directing field support for UN peace missions. Earlier, she was chief operating officer and deputy executive director of the World Food Program after a career in the private sector, including at IBM and Telecom Argentina.
Ban has replaced Malcorra in the department of field support with Ameerah Haq of Bangladesh, who most recently headed the UN mission in Timor-Leste as it consolidated its vulnerable and sometimes shaky democracy. She is a 37-year veteran of UN work, much of it in the field: Sudan, Afghanistan, Laos and Malaysia. She has also served as deputy assistant director for crisis prevention and recovery at the UN Development Program headquarters in New York.
Angela Kane of Germany has been named high representative for disarmament affairs after a term as under secretary-general for management and earlier as assistant secretary-general for political affairs. She has more than 35 years of experience at the UN, where she rose through the ranks during a period when women found it hard to advance at the world body.
“Her credentials in the UN system and her success in her former position in managing financial and human resources issues successfully bodes well for this next position on disarmament issues,” said Kennette Benedict, the executive director and publisher of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which focuses on the threats of nuclear weapons.
“We are all seeking vigorous leadership on nuclear disarmament at a time of great opportunity,” Benedict said in an e-mail to PassBlue. She added that with the United States and Russia concentrating on the new Start treaty, “the international community can contribute through the Conference on Disarmament to negotiate a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, among others measures.” The international community could also be more effective in pursuing nuclear weapon free zones, especially in the Middle East and in Northeast Asia, Benedict said.
“Even if the United States and Russia made drastic reductions in their arsenals in the coming decade, other countries, such as France, Britain, and China in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, will need to be engaged to bring down the world’s arsenals,” she added. “In addition, how to engage those outside the NPT, namely India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea, will be a great challenge.”
The new head of the UN’s department of political affairs is American, Jeffrey Feltman, who has extensive Middle East experience, including as US ambassador to Lebanon and later as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs at the State Department, where he dealt with the tumultuous changes of the Arab Spring.
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Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.
Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”
Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.