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Kelly Knight Craft Is Quickly – and Smartly – Making Africa a Priority
Kelly Knight Craft Is Quickly – and Smartly – Making Africa a Priority
Kofi Annan’s Lessons in Global Leadership
Kofi Annan’s Lessons in Global Leadership
Op-Ed / United States

Kelly Knight Craft Is Quickly – and Smartly – Making Africa a Priority

Originally published in World Politics Review

How is Kelly Knight Craft doing as U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations?

It is almost exactly one month since Craft presented her credentials to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sept. 12. It has been an eventful period, including the annual General Assembly jamboree and Security Council crisis talks on North Korea and Syria. To top it off, Guterres warned this week that the U.N. is about to run out of operating funds because over 60 members have not paid their annual dues. The U.S. has accumulated over $1 billion in arrears, equivalent to a third of the U.N.’s regular budget, putting Craft in a tricky spot.

Burdened with a long to-do list when she hit the ground in New York, Craft has had little time to set out her agenda. But she has dropped hints about her priorities, with a focus on Africa. Foreign diplomats will watch her position on the cash crunch closely.

The new ambassador’s immediate priority was to steer President Donald Trump through the General Assembly during the week of Sept. 23. This was a moment for self-effacement. All ambassadors recede into the background during the high-level gatherings of assembly week, letting their heads of state dominate proceedings. Trump gave a lackluster performance at the U.N., distracted by the threat of impeachment, but Craft got through the week with no big hiccups.

The General Assembly week aside, Craft has made an effort to engage earnestly in routine Security Council diplomacy. Her predecessor, Nikki Haley, largely avoided debates on African issues in her first months in New York in 2017, though she eventually gave them more weight as her term continued. By contrast, Craft has already attended council sessions on Mali and the Great Lakes region of Central Africa. She and her South African counterpart, Jerry Matjila, are also set to be co- leaders of a Security Council visiting mission to South Sudan later this month.

This early focus on Africa, and South Sudan in particular, is smart for several reasons.

Most immediately, South Sudan faces serious political risks in the coming weeks, as President Salva Kiir and his long-time rival Riek Machar are supposed to agree on a new government. If they fail to do so, there is a risk of new violence, leaving the already overstretched U.N. peacekeeping force in the country hard-pressed to protect civilians. The Security Council visit, and the clear demonstration of American interest in the process, may help prod the politicians toward a bargain, although Kiir has had fraught relations with the U.S. in the past.

In picking up the South Sudan issue, Craft has shown an instinct for focusing some American attention on crises that would otherwise stay below the radar.

Second, the decision to link up with South Africa is a clever way to strengthen ties with the strongest African state currently on the council. When the South Africans took their seat at the start of 2019, their initial instinct was to side with the Chinese and Russians on controversial topics like the Venezuelan crisis. But they were disappointed when Beijing and Moscow blocked the Security Council from

supporting the African Union’s efforts to mediate a transition to civilian rule in Sudan after the fall of former President Omar al-Bashir. Since then, the South Africans have been more open to working with the U.S. and Europeans in New York. Craft’s cooperation with Matjila on the South Sudan trip is a good way to cement that relationship.

It is also an opportunity for the U.S. ambassador to define some political space of her own on a topic that more-powerful players in the Trump administration, such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, do not prioritize. As I argued earlier this year, Craft is unlikely to be a crucial figure in U.S. diplomacy over first-order national security concerns such as the Korean Peninsula and the Middle East, although she did use a Security Council session on the latter to affirm, as all U.S. ambassadors must, that she is a strong supporter of Israel. She can have a real impact in other parts of the world, though, and as I suggested when Haley announced she would be stepping down last October, Africa is one of them.

The Trump administration’s continuing lack of interest in using the U.N. as a platform to address higher-level national security concerns was made very clear this month, as North Korea conducted new missile tests and Turkey launched its latest incursion in Syria. In both cases, European members of the Security Council—led by France, Germany and the U.K.—insisted on holding emergency sessions after the U.S. failed to call for them. In the case of North Korea, the U.S. presumably did not want to harm its already strained diplomatic contacts with Pyongyang or create a sense of urgency about an issue Trump claims to have in hand. In the case of Syria, U.S. policy toward the Turkish operation has been so confused throughout the past week, it is not surprising that others took the lead in New York.

In such situations, the U.S. has little interest in promoting multilateral debates, and Craft and her team have little room for maneuver or creativity. This is not the ambassador’s fault, but it underlines the need for Craft to identify her own priorities on files where she can have an impact.

That said, it may be difficult for Craft to focus on many foreign crises while the U.N. goes through a financial crisis of its own in New York. Guterres has been warning for much of this year of shortfalls in the organization’s regular budget—which covers basic headquarters costs, like hosting meetings, but also its political missions in places like Libya—due to member states’ failure to pay their annual contributions.

This week, he declared that the U.N. may not be able to pay its staff in November, and Security Council members have been told to end their daily meetings at 6 p.m. sharp as there is no money to pay extra translators for the additional hours.

This is partly a bit of theater to put delinquent states on the spot—experts on U.N. financing think Guterres could get around the problem through ruses such as borrowing money from the separate peacekeeping budget. But it is a headache for Craft. The U.S. owes over $600 million in regular budget dues to the U.N. for this year, and almost $400 million for past years. (It also owes $2 billion to the peacekeeping budget Guterres could end up borrowing from.)

Washington normally doesn’t pay its full U.N. obligations until late October or November anyway, so this is not necessarily part of some grand U.S. plot against the U.N. But it is a distraction for Craft just as she is trying to establish her broader diplomatic agenda. She should do what she can to ensure that the U.S. fulfills its obligations to the U.N. regular budget as fast as it can. In picking up the South Sudan issue, the new ambassador has shown an instinct for focusing some American attention on crises that would otherwise stay below the radar. It will be harder to do that if she is bickering with other ambassadors over cash.

Kofi Annan’s Lessons in Global Leadership

Originally published in Project Syndicate

Sadly, principled statesmen and women who can forge bold, morally consistent responses to today's global problems are in short supply. We must therefore safeguard and promote the virtues that the former UN secretary-general embodied.

The world is facing a set of acute crises without recent parallel: a war in Europe that could escalate into a nuclear conflict, skyrocketing food prices that are hitting the poor the hardest, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the climate emergency. We need principled statesmen and women to forge bold, morally consistent responses to these and other global problems. Sadly, such leaders are in short supply.

Many politicians prefer to advocate polarizing policies, avoid hard choices, and deny the scale of the threats at hand. Others have tried to address these issues honestly. But those who favor cooperation and solidarity in dealing with global threats are on the defensive, as last year’s underwhelming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow and grossly unequal global access to COVID-19 vaccines clearly illustrate.

In times like these, we should recognize and honor those leaders who do try to tackle global challenges responsibly and constructively. Twenty-five years ago, one such figure, Kofi Annan, became UN secretary-general at another moment of global disorder, amid the political uncertainty and regional conflicts that followed the end of the Cold War. Although he could not have known it then, the UN system would soon face the traumas of 9/11 and the Iraq War.

Kofi led the UN with humanity and strategic vision. He revolutionized international development programming by launching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the precursor of today’s Sustainable Development Goals. He built innovative partnerships such as the Global Fund – which brings together civil society, the private sector, and international agencies – to combat HIV/AIDS. He oversaw the dispatch of UN peacekeepers to stabilize and rebuild weak states, like Liberia, and help build new ones, like Timor-Leste. And he ushered in the idea of an international “responsibility to protect” the vulnerable from mass atrocities.

[Kofi Annan seeked] to make [the UN] more open, inclusive, and transparent.

As the UN’s administrator, Kofi cared deeply about the institution where he had spent most of his working life, seeking to make it more open, inclusive, and transparent. He was also the first secretary-general to develop a link between the UN and the private sector, and strongly supported civil society.

Moreover, he urged the major powers to reform the Security Council to reflect post-Cold War realities. He would not have been surprised by the Council’s current inaction over Ukraine, although it would not have deterred him from doing all he could to halt the conflict.

As a public figure, Kofi enjoyed a level of global recognition and respect that most national leaders he worked with could only envy. This was partly because he had a decency and instinctive respect for others that struck all those who met him. He brought out the best in his colleagues and could laugh with them – and at himself – even in moments of high pressure. He connected easily with young people, inspiring them and giving them hope. While UN officials respectfully referred to “Mr. Annan,” to many, including us, he was simply “Kofi.”

In addition to his personal qualities, Kofi grounded his leadership in certain basic principles. One of these was a deep respect for the rules and institutions of the post-war international order, reflected in the UN Charter, which he saw as undergirding peace and security.

This does not mean that he was always cautious. Although he could be pragmatic when necessary, he also took risks. In 1998, he traveled to Baghdad to meet with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in an effort to avert war in the Middle East, and he supported the establishment of the International Criminal Court, despite fierce opposition from successive US administrations.

[Kofi Annan] was dogged in his pursuit of peace, even where … the chances of success were slim.

To be sure, Kofi knew that not all of his diplomatic gambles would pay off. He was dogged in his pursuit of peace, even where – as with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – the chances of success were slim. After stepping down as secretary-general at the end of 2006, he continued to work as a peacemaker in countries ranging from Kenya and Syria to Myanmar. He was sometimes frustrated, but he continued the demanding work of building relationships with mistrustful political actors until his death, in 2018.

Kofi was driven by a fundamental concern for the dignity and welfare of all people, especially the most vulnerable. This informed his advocacy for not only the MDGs but also fair elections and democratic institutions. He cast himself as a global advocate for the common good, arguing that countries shared a “common destiny” and that “we can master it only if we face it together.”

It is easy to admire Kofi’s virtues in retrospect, but it is more difficult than ever for leaders to replicate them in the present. In an era of populism and division, those who champion solidarity and unity – within or between countries – are often drowned out in public discourse. It is therefore vital to speak up more loudly on their behalf.

For this reason, our organizations – the Kofi Annan Foundation, the International Crisis Group, the International Peace Institute, and the Open Society Foundations – have joined forces to launch a new initiative to celebrate leaders who reflect Kofi’s qualities. Later this year, and in each succeeding year, we will invite a national leader or inspiring international figure to give a lecture in New York on the values of international cooperation. We will select the speakers based on their commitment to human rights, international solidarity, and the defense of the international system that characterized Kofi’s life and work.

“I have always believed that on important issues, the leaders must lead,” Kofi said in 2014. “Where the leaders fail to lead, and people are really concerned about it, the people will take the lead and make the leaders follow.” Now more than ever, we must safeguard, celebrate, and promote the virtues he embodied.

For more information about the Kofi Annan Lecture series see here.

Contributors

Nane Annan
Wife of the late Kofi Annan, nutrition advocate, artist, and former lawyer
President & CEO
EroComfort
Susana Malcorra
Co-Chairs Crisis Group, former foreign minister of Argentina
Mark Malloch-Brown
Member of Crisis Group's Executive Committee, former deputy United Nations secretary-general, co-chair of the UN Foundation, and President of the Open Society Foundations
Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein
Former UN high commissioner for human rights, President of the International Peace Institute