Dr. Kerim's Interview for the London School of Economics
Interview done by: Tena Prelec
Let’s start with your background. You have been travelling the world since an early age: how has this shaped your path toward the UN?
I was born in Skopje, but I have lived in Istanbul, Munich, Bonn, Belgrade, Berlin, Vienna, New York, Paris and a few other cities. And I have learned quite a few languages along the way: German, French, English, Macedonian, Serbian, Croatian, Bulgarian, Russian, Spanish, Italian and Turkish. This very fact has made out of me a cosmopolitan person, and my outlook on the world is cosmopolitan. It has definitely had an effect on my world viewpoint and has made me engage with issues related with globalisation: my latest book is entitled Globalization and Diplomacy.
Are you happiest when you work as a writer and an academic or as a diplomat?
I have had four professions in my life, and each of them has had a role, a meaning. The academic profession is important for me. When I graduated from Belgrade university they offered me a route to enter politics, but I opted for academia instead, becoming a Professor in International Economics. This is important because it allowed me to quickly acquire relevant knowledge about the world. I have written 10 books on international economics and international politics.
Alongside academia, my involvement in politics has helped me to sharpen my reflexes, and to get a better feeling when it comes to dealing with people. I have also spent fourteen years working in business, having had important functions in two big companies, a French one and a German one. I was Vice-President at Copechim-France, a company trading in crude oil, and the CEO of WAZ Mediagroup for Southeastern Europe, covering all the countries from Hungary to Bulgaria. This has been a very important learning experience for me because it allowed me to understand how things work in these big systems.
Last but not least, there is my diplomatic work – which is, after all, my love. I have always been very open, happy to engage with people, very curious, and always ready for meeting new people. And I have learned that a goal needs to be reached through peaceful means, not through force. Diplomacy is the art of achieving aims through legitimate means. My mantra is that each and every aim, however hard and complicated it may be, can be achieved in a peaceful way. Multilateralism is what I have been focusing on over the past three decades: connecting countries and connecting peoples. Multilateralism led by the United Nations was the core of my diplomatic activities for more than 3 decades. This is why I have decided to run for the position of UN Secretary General.
Tell us about your UN manifesto. How did you put it together?
My manifesto was born after a year-long consultation process with all 193 UN member states. I have consulted them in various forms – through regional groups and interest groups. I had meetings with the African Union, Caribbean States, the Small Island states, the Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the European Union, South America, and individual member states. I have been in each of the capitals of the P5: Beijing, Moscow, Washington, Paris, London. And I have visited more than 60 other countries. The manifesto is a result of these consultations, in which I practically involved the whole membership.
The reform of the UN’s management structure is the first point on your candidature manifesto. Why do you consider it of crucial importance?
At the UN we already have a number of goals, agreements and resolutions already in place: on sustainable development, on climate change, on financing for development, on human rights. Security architecture is another matter: this needs to be addressed and modernised. The security architecture needs to be adjusted to modern threats.
So we have all these roadmaps, but we have a problem. Our problem is the decision-making system in the Secretariat, which is extremely bureaucratic and complicated at the moment. And the Secretariat is in charge of the operations. If this fails, all the plans fail as well. This is why we need a UN Secretary General with a very clear vision on management reform: someone who will be the Secretary General of the UN, and not of the whole world.
And these targets need to be addressed within a five-year term. I do not want to spend the first five years thinking about how I will be reelected. I want to set very clear targets, and if they are not fulfilled within the first five years, I will leave the position myself: I will not stand again. If I am to be reelected, this will be on the back of the results I will have achieved.
In order to accomplish these targets, you need allies. Your first allies are the member states. I will establish a Council of the Member States, which will meet on a monthly basis, it will be open and with no fixed representatives. Whoever wants to participate and give their suggestions is welcome and the subject will be known in advance each time. Second, I foresee the identification of focal points and the establishment of task forces in the Secretariat to implement the management reform.
How will you choose your staff members?
The Deputy Secretary General will be a woman and an expert in management reform. I have of course somebody in mind, but I cannot share this now.
I will talk in very practical terms. It is high time because we need to take over already in October, and if you don’t know by 10 October where to start from and what to do, you are in trouble. I already have a plan for the first 100 days. The first 100 days the Secretary General needs to stay in New York for 90 per cent of the time, not travelling, not moving around. You need to stay with your people there and work hard.
The plan for these 100 days would be as follows. First, to tell people they are there to serve the member states, and not the other way around. One of the problems is that after 70 years the Secretariat’s structure has become petrified, and people have started to behave as if the member states are there to serve them and their cause, and not the other way round. Second, I don’t want people around me telling me we can’t do something, but only people who will tell me how it will be done. Third, the rotation of employees – be it on the level of the Secretariat or broader – is a further strategy I intend to use to tackle inertia and bureaucratisation.
Deadlines must also be realistic. My pledge to improve gender equality in the Secretariat is that within five years I will bring the male-female ratio to at least 60-40. Right now the gender ratio is 78-22, which is a catastrophe and I want to make it more balanced. In order to do that, I will remove the jungle of provisions over the recruitment of people.
Under the present system, the wrong people end up being recruited because of an excessively centralised structure. We must have a more flexible and more operational system which is also decentralised: i.e. the people on the ground need to be able to make the final decisions on the recruitment for their teams.Last but not least, there is the role of the Secretary General. The Secretary General needs to be the general of the people working in the Secretariat, in the executive body of the UN, but the secretary of the member states.
You can read the full interview on the following link:
Photograph by: Fadil Berisha