Annan has earned a second U.N. term

Reformer: Secretary-general has introduced efficiencies, helped heal relations and raised standards.

March 28, 2001

KOFI ANNAN, seventh secretary-general of the United Nations, needs to be replaced in December when his five-year term is up.

On Thursday, he offered his services for a second term. He should get it.

Since the United States helped put him in office after vetoing a second term for his predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt, Mr. Annan has presided over long-demanded administrative reforms.

He reached a deal on U.S. dues with Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and Sen. Jesse Helms. He managed peacekeeping, brokered disputes and shined the spotlight on neglected crises of anarchy and health. He has brought dignity, efficiency and high purpose to his office.

As a career U.N. civil servant, Mr. Annan knows better than anyone what reforms remain necessary, and what more can be accomplished through the office of secretary-general.

But he is no sure thing.

The next secretary-general must be nominated by the 15-member Security Council, on which each of the Big Five permanent members wields a veto. Then the candidate must be elected by the 189-member General Assembly.

The catch is that a tradition has grown up, purely by happenstance, that a region or continent gets two successive terms, after which the next secretary-general comes from somewhere else.

Many Asians believe it is Asia's turn. Former President Joseph Estrada of the Philippines made a fuss about it.

The Asian caucus of U.N. members met Monday and spoke highly of Mr. Annan, without endorsing him or ruling out the possibility of an Asian candidate.

The opposition to Mr. Annan, in other words, is based on no fault found with his performance, only that it is Asia's turn.

If that's the issue, Mr. Annan deserves vigorous U.S. support, backing up the clear endorsement that President Bush gave Friday.

There is no validity to the Asian argument that would not be stronger for someone from elsewhere. To date, the secretaries-general have been citizens of, successively, Norway, Sweden, Burma, Austria, Peru, Egypt and, currently, Ghana.

One continent is unrepresented on the list, if anyone wants to carp. That's North America.

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