Timely history on international appointments – US likes to throw its weight around

Last week, an IPS article provides a timely history of how the US likes to throw its weight around in international appointments. It review some ongoing appointments at UN agencies and relates stories from the leadership of Boutros Boutros-Ghali at the UN Secretariat.From IPS:

Ertharin Cousin, a U.S. national, will be the new executive director in an organisation [World Food Programme] which in recent years has been dominated by the United States, the last two heads being Catherine Bertini and Josette Sheeran. According to one political source, the administration of President Barack Obama insisted that Sheeran be succeeded by Cousin, currently the U.S. representative to both WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), both based in Rome.

As a result, both Ban and FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva had little or no choice in the appointment, jointly announced in Rome and New York.

Judging by past history, successive secretaries-general have come under heavy political or donor pressure for high-level appointments in the U.N. system.

The article note this about heads of the UN children’s agency UNICEF:

Still, the United States, the largest single donor, continues to unreservedly hold the unique monopoly of nominating its own national as the head of the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, since its inception in 1947.

I would only argue with the word “unique” in that quote. Yes the US is unique, but the US appointments to UNICEF are not unique; the US has maintained the exact same sort of monopoly over the World Bank, which is at least nominally a specialised agency of the UN system.

While Jo-Marie laments the lack of action by emerging markets on the IMF front last summer – when faced with this kind of diplomatic powerplay by an American (or European) administration(s), it is little wonder other good candidates won’t come forward for these jobs.

But all is not doom and gloom. The FAO recently had a very competitive selection process for its head – proving that merit-based selection is possible. And the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has a selection process looming this year that might be quite interesting – especially because of the ILO’s tri-partite governance arrangements. In fact the ILO’s governance arrangements might point to a way out of the impasse at the World Bank and IMF. What is needed, as called for last year by numerous NGOs, is reformed governance arrangements that try to balance voice and representation of different categories of countries, like a double majority system.

IPS notes that:

When Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announces his new team of senior officials shortly, his appointments will be based not only on merit but also on demands made by the five big powers – the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia – as well as key donors who sustain U.N. agencies through voluntary contributions.

However the World Bank is a bit different, in that its operating expenses are not paid by voluntary contributions but profit on lending activities. That means it is actually developing countries who sustain the World Bank (excluding IDA), not the US. Or for the IFC, the private sector arm of the Bank, it is private corporations, most of them from emerging markets. Isn’t it time we stopped letting our arms be twisted by the US over these selections?