Jury's out on top UN job - Helen Clark

SPECULATION: Helen Clark says there will inevitably be rumours about her future at the UN.
SPECULATION: Helen Clark says there will inevitably be rumours about her future at the UN.

She’s still not ruling out the top job.

Helen Clark, former New Zealand prime minister and current United Nations Development Programme administrator, said today that when it came to the possibility of her taking on the job of UN secretary-general, ‘‘the jury’s out on that’’.

Speaking in Rotorua, Clark said that while she enjoyed her current role, which puts her at No 3 at the UN, and had another three years in the job, ‘‘there will be speculation.’’ 

‘‘There will be a new secretary-general elected, probably at the end of 2016. Will it be a woman? Where will the person come from? Do the member states want a traditional diplomat or a different skill-set? All those things are in the mix, let’s see what happens.’’ 

Over a wide-ranging conversation Clark was candid about the limits of the UN when it came to dealing with global crises.

‘‘There’s always these questions, ‘why can’t the UN do something?’ What I always point out is that for the UN to ‘do something’ in terms of putting peacekeepers in, you have to have a Security Council resolution.

‘‘Geo-politics are such that the chances of the UN ‘doing something’ in these highly charged geo-political cases are very, very slight.’’ 

The only significant Security Council success had been the removal of chemical weapons from Syria, ‘‘which crossed every red line imaginable’’.

With conflict in Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Eastern Ukraine, Afghanistan and in many African countries, money was a pressing issue when it came to UN intervention too.

‘‘The financial burden of these crises now is becoming overwhelming. The humanitarian spend last year was $22 billion, and at the end of June this year it was already $16.4b, and that was before Gaza and Eastern Ukraine. It’s going to be another record year I think.’’ Discussing the recent flare up of hostilities in Gaza, Clark said it was upsetting to see infrastructure work conducted by the UN destroyed, especially given how hard reconstruction work is in the occupied territories.

‘‘It’s not easy to get permission for infrastructure as it needs concrete. You have to be very careful to account for every bag of cement,’’ she said.

Clark said she visited Gaza and Ramallah in the West Bank in February and was impressed by the stoicism of the people she met.

‘‘I could have understood if they’d raged, but I was struck by how constructive they were.’’ 

The two-state solution was the only way for the long running Israeli-Palestinian crisis to be resolved, but she sounded less than hopeful, especially in the wake of the latest failed diplomatic attempts by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

‘‘When I was there the John Kerry initiative was coming up to its deadline dates, there was a feeling that they weren’t going to make that date, and we’ve seen what happens when you don’t make dates, you go into a new abyss.’’ 

Closer to home, Clark said her UN role had made her appreciate just how well organised New Zealand is as a country.

‘‘It has strong institutions, strong democratic institutions. Most of the countries in strife don’t have strong institutions and the governance is not by consent. People don’t choose their rulers,’’ she said.

‘‘All of this can add up to a lot of trouble.’’