ASEAN gets a new chief

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) gets a new secretary general this month. Vietnam's Le Luong Minh takes over leadership of the organization from Thailand's Surin Pitsuwan, who served a five-year term.

The right to nominate secretaries-general rotates within the organization, and it was Vietnam's turn to select the organization's leader. In Minh, Hanoi has selected a diplomat with considerable experience in the multilateral realm. He served as Vietnam's United Nations ambassador for seven years (during that time, Vietnam served a two-year stint on the Security Council). Minh has also been posted to Geneva, where he interacted with UN agencies headquartered there as well as the World Trade Organization.

Pitsuwan led ASEAN through a tumultous several years, which included heightened tension with China over the South China Sea and Myanmar's political tranformation. Many of those reading the tea leaves anticipate a more restrained form of ASEAN diplomacy from the Vietnamese diplomat, particularly on the South China Sea. Via Voice of America:

For an argument that Minh has big shoes to fill, see this article in the Jakarta Globe

The Multilateralist

Romanticizing the Security Council

Last week, Human Rights Watch's Philippe Bolopion published a devastating indictment of the Rwandan government for its support of brutal rebels in eastern Congo. For Bolopion, the fact that Rwanda has just assumed a seat on the UN Security Council, engaged in "lifesaving work", makes its activity particularly noxious:

Few countries dare challenge the Security Council the way Rwanda does; even fewer get away with it. Yet on Tuesday, despite backing an abusive rebel group that has attacked U.N. peacekeepers in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda will take a two-year seat on the council. At the famous horseshoe table, Rwanda will get to make life-and-death decisions on the future of countries in crisis, including the very neighbor it is accused of destabilizing. 

Bolopion is right to call out Rwanda and to note the incongruity of a country engaged in nefarious behavior serving on the body charged with maintaining international peace and security. But flouting Security Council resolutions is an activity hardly unique to Rwanda. And the problem of suspect Council membership is much more widespread than Bolopion implies. This month's Council president is Pakistan, which is almost certainly supporting elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan and is likely in violation of Council resolutions on countering terrorist activity. Plenty of other recent Council members have been conflict-ridden, including Lebanon and Nigeria. Gaddafi's Libya was a Council member in 2008-2009. Bosnia took a turn on the Council recently even though it lacks a functioning central government.

Rwanda's election to the Council is a symptom of a much broader problem with the UN's regional rotation and election system. The dominant view is that serving on elite UN bodies is a matter of right, not something that countries earn. It's a view that runs deep and is only beginning to yield.