United States holds monopoly on UNICEF for 74 years – in a global organization where money speaks
– With Henrietta Fore’s decision last week to step down as Executive Director of UNICEF, her successor will likely be another American since this post has been held – continuously – by American nationals for almost 74 years, a unprecedented record for a classification job in the United Nations system.
The seven US nationals who have headed the United Nations Children’s Agency since its inception in 1947 are Maurice Pate, Henry Labouisse, James Grant, Carol Bellamy, Ann Veneman, Anthony Lake and Henrietta Fore. Pate held the position for 18 years, from 1947 to 1965, and Labouisse for 14 years, from 1965 to 1979.
No other agency has had a national grip on such a high post in the 76-year history of the United Nations.
As for the people monopolizing the function, Dr. Arpad Bogsch, another American national, held the post of Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva for 24 long years (1973-1997).
But more recently, however, the working life of senior officials in the UN secretariat is typically five years, with a possible extension of another five years.
Since the money talks, the United States has continued to claim the work of UNICEF, primarily as a major financial contributor.
But this statement also applies to several United Nations agencies, which depend on voluntary contributions, and where some of the high-ranking positions are largely occupied by donors or major powers, mainly Western Europe, or China and China. Russia.
James Paul, former executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum (1993-2012) and a prominent figure in the NGO advocacy community at the United Nations, told IPS that the appointment of the head of a large agency was overwhelming. part at stake in the United Nations system.
Powerful governments are fighting for prestige and policy making, he said, stressing that “interest is intense now, as the appointment of a new UNICEF chief approaches.”
“Observers inevitably wonder: what country gets the job, what region of the appointee, what ethnic or national group does this person represent, what is the gender identity of the person, and finally, finally and above all, what is the political orientation and administrative record of the selected person? said Paul, author of “Of Foxes and Chickens” —Oligarchy and Global Power in the UN Security Council (2017).
He said some candidates may be serious people with years of experience while others may be personal friends of a powerful head of government.
How will the selection process work and what pressure will be exerted on those who have a say in the appointment process: the UN Secretary-General and Executive Boards or Committees? He asked.
In the early years of the UN, he said, there was a tendency to nominate male candidates who were US nationals. The US government has often acted very crudely to get what it wanted and has repeatedly threatened to withhold funding or punish UN officials if its candidate is not selected.
Two well-known cases of American hegemony are UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the UNDP, the United Nations Development Program.
UNICEF is known because its chief executive has been a U.S. national since the organization was founded 74 years ago, Paul said. Now that the current head is withdrawing, the question inevitably arises: will Washington be able to pull through once again?
Certainly he has made a concession over the years. Under pressure in 1995 to accept a highly accomplished Scandinavian woman, the United States agreed to drop its male candidate. Washington then proposed a woman and turned up the heat.
Carol Bellamy, the American candidate, was finally appointed. The current manager, Henrietta Fore, is also female, but she also has a U.S. passport, Paul said.
Former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali (1992-1996), who had a love-hate relationship with the United States, attempted to break the American monopoly in 1995. But he failed.
In his book “UN-Vanquished – a US-UN saga” (1999), Boutros-Ghali says he was thwarted by US President Bill Clinton and US Ambassador Madeline Albright.
Clinton wanted William Foege, former head of the US Centers for Disease Control, to be named head of UNICEF to succeed James Grant, also an American.
Given that Belgium and Finland had already put forward “outstanding” female candidates – and the United States had refused to pay their UN dues and also made “disparaging” remarks about the world organization – ” there was no longer an automatic acceptance by other nations that the director of UNICEF inevitably had to be an American man or woman, ”said Boutros-Ghali.
“The United States should select a female candidate,” Boutros-Ghali told Albright, “and then I’ll see what I can do,” because the nomination involved consultation with the then-composed UNICEF Executive Board. of 36 members. “
Albright rolled his eyes and scowled, repeating what had become his standard expression of frustration with me, ”he wrote.
When the United States continued to pressure Foege’s candidacy, Boutros-Ghali said that “many countries on the UNICEF board were angry and told me to tell the United States to ‘go to hell’.
The United States finally submitted another candidate: Carol Bellamy, former director of the Peace Corps.
Although Elizabeth Rehn of Finland received 15 votes to 12 for Bellamy in a straw poll, Boutros-Ghali said he asked the chairman of the board to convince members to reach consensus on Bellamy in order that the United States can retain the monopoly it had held since the creation of UNICEF in 1947.
And thus hangs a tale.
According to the latest figures released, the total contributions to UNICEF in 2020 amounted to more than $ 7 billion. the public sector contributed the largest share: US $ 5.45 billion from government, intergovernmental and interagency partners, as well as global program partnerships.
The top three resource partners in 2020 (by contributions received) were the governments of united states of america ($ 801 million), Germany ($ 744 million) and the European Union (514 million US dollars).
As UNICEF’s largest donor, the United States was seen as “an indispensable partner”.
“Our partnership with the US government is broad and diverse, spanning humanitarian and development programs in key areas of UNICEF’s work, including health; education; early childhood development; water, sanitation and hygiene; nutrition; child protection; gender equality; HIV and AIDS; immunization; and research programs, ”according to UNICEF.
Samir Sanbar, former UN deputy secretary-general and head of the Department of Public Information, told IPS that the row over the post of UNICEF executive director was the first clash between Boutros-Ghali and the ambassador Albright who, by the way, was very friendly, as both were “former teachers”.
As Boutros-Ghali once joked: “I may be America’s man of yes (as he was described in the Arab press when he was elected secretary general) but certainly not, yes. sir ”.
Initially, U.S. executive directors of UNICEF like Henry Labouisse and James Grant proved their worth not only by bringing in U.S. funds, but through their proven achievements, Sanbar said.
Guterres, an experienced politician, will most likely explore options: perhaps wait for the Biden administration’s proposals while keeping open the potential interest of Security Council members like Norway – and others, who might offer. a substantial contribution, as long as its candidate is a woman, said Sanbar who had served under five different secretaries general during his long UN career.
Paul pointed out that UNDP provides an interesting basis for comparison. It has had an American head (the title is administrator) for thirty-two consecutive years, since its founding in 1967.
In 1999, when the time for a new appointment arose, UN members stepped up the pressure for a more diverse pool of candidates.
Finally, the spell of American domination was broken, when Mark Malloch Brown of the United Kingdom was given the green light. And since 1999, there has not been a single US national in this post of UNDP administrator.
It was a sign that Washington’s grip on the UN was waning and its global influence was waning – slowly, perhaps, but unequivocally.
A capable New Zealand woman, Helen Clark, was part of the new breed, with a Turk, Kemal Dervis, and a German, Achim Steiner, currently occupying the post.
But not all of the American candidates turned out badly, Paul said.
James Grant was a highly respected leader of UNICEF, and Gus Speth was hailed as head of UNDP. But symbolism is important in a multilateral organization with a global membership and a very diverse constituency.
“No matter how competent the American candidate may be, and regardless of their independence of mind, color coding and gender, it’s time for UNICEF to have a non-American CEO. The world of 1947 is long gone. American hegemony is not what it used to be.
“A little fresh air at UNICEF is long overdue,” said Paul.
Thalif Deen is the author of a recently published book on the United Nations titled “No Comment – and Don’t Quote Me on That”. Dotted with dozens of anecdotes – from the most serious to the most hilarious – the book is available on Amazon worldwide. The link to Amazon through the author’s website is as follows: https://www.rodericgrigson.com/no-comment-by-thalif-deen/