Academic journal article Global Governance

The UN Secretary-General and Norm Entrepreneurship: Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Democracy Promotion

Academic journal article Global Governance

The UN Secretary-General and Norm Entrepreneurship: Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Democracy Promotion

Article excerpt

Through his last few years in office, Kofi Annan found himself weathering an almost constant storm of controversy. Following his "annus horribilis" (1) of 2004, things scarcely improved, with the reputation of the Secretariat being severely damaged by the investigations into the Oil-for-Food scandal, continuing contestation over organizational reform, and the appointment of the notoriously anti-UN John R. Bolton as the US ambassador to the UN. Of course, this was not the first time that the holder of the office has become embattled, and indeed Annan's secretary-generalship came about as a direct result of his predecessor Boutros Boutros-Ghali's reelection being blocked by the United States. Boutros-Ghali himself attributes this to the fact that his "activism, once encouraged and praised, had become an annoyance to the [Clinton] administration." (2)

Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali's time in office (1992-1996) neatly encapsulates one of the tensions with which all secretaries-general have had to contend: balancing the desire to actively pursue the purposes and principles of the UN as set out in its Charter with the need to maintain the confidence and support of the member states. The early days of Boutros-Ghali's time in office followed the ending of the Cold War and coincided with a new optimism that the organization might be able to break free from the constraints of interbloc rivalry and that it might at last be possible to move toward the realization of the UN's founding objectives. It was also a period in which a new wave of democratization was sweeping the world, not least in those states that had either directly or indirectly come under the influence of the Soviet Union prior to its collapse. Boutros-Ghali himself noted, "The key theme of my term as secretary-general was democratization." (3) This reflects not only the events that were taking place in eastern Europe and Latin America, particularly during the early 1990s, but also his own desire to use his office to drive forward a democratization agenda.

This article examines the potential of the UN secretary-general to act as a "norm entrepreneur," and, in particular, the ways in which Boutros-Ghali sought to promote a norm of democratic governance during his time at the head of the organization. It argues that the secretary-general's role places him (and to date it has always been a him) in a strong position to engage in norm entrepreneurship but that his chances of success are contingent, first, on his ability to frame his ideas effectively and, second, his willingness to balance the desire to advance particular principles with the need to maintain the support of the most influential member states, a challenge that can only be met through skillful political maneuvering. Boutros-Ghali was relatively successful in meeting the first requirement, presenting democracy as both a fundamental UN principle and as a contributor to other key concerns of the organization, especially international peace and security, development, and human rights. However, his attempts to retain the confidence of the membership (and one member in particular) were notably less successful.

The Secretary-General as a Norm Entrepreneur

Since the early days of the United Nations, the secretary-general has exhibited a significant degree of independence vis-a-vis the member states. It is, of course, the case that the membership--and especially the permanent members of the Security Council--are the most powerful actors within the organization, but this is not the whole story. The UN can be seen as significantly more than the sum of its parts (or, rather, the sum of its members). Michael Barnett and Martha Finnemore, drawing on Weber, attribute this in part to the fact that the Secretariat, as a bureaucracy, embodies a rational-legal authority that enables it to exercise a significant degree of independent power while presenting itself as a politically neutral technocratic organ. …

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