Australian eyes top UN post

Michael Sheridan finds Canberra's Foreign Minister has world ambitions

For a man who is quick to note that there is, as yet, "no vacancy" at the top of the United Nations, Gareth Evans, Australia's Foreign Minister, is remarkably fluent in his diagnosis of the UN's weakness and his own proposals to shake it up.

Mr Evans, 51, found an attentive audience this week at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, where his recommendations came as the UN ended its Bosnia mission. Mr Evans, Foreign Minister since 1988, is spoken of in some quarters as an ideal figure to replace the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, 73, next year. Australia's Labor government faces election defeat next year and Mr Evans may be spending more time with his family by then.

But Dr Boutros-Ghali, to the dismay of many of the big powers, is giving every indication he wishes to stand for a second five-year term. "Look, I'm a healthy realist about it," said Mr Evans in an interview. If the Secretary-General runs again, he obviously reckons there is little chance to dislodge him.

Yet Mr Evans is not a man to cloak his feelings in diplomatic urbanities. Like most Western governments, he thinks people at the top of the UN should serve only one term. "It's debilitating in any international organisation when towards the end of the first term the person has to turn his sights towards what's necessary to get another one," he said. "A single seven- year term is the best way to address that."

Having thus indirectly deplored Dr Boutros-Ghali's aspirations, Mr Evans runs briskly through the need to scale down the absurd trappings of protocol attached to the post and to impose order on what he terms "the hopelessly unco-ordinated" UN hierarchy. He thinks the Secretary-General should be more like the chief executive officer of a multinational and less like a minor head of state, and would like to see four deputies, to impose order on more than 40 agencies and departments that report at present to the Secretary-General.

He believes the Security Council "no longer represents the international community" and should be expanded to include as permanent members Japan, Germany and perhaps some big developing countries. He has hardheaded proposals for UN work in peace-keeping, development and administration that should attract Western industrialised countries and developing nations.

But his manner may also act to his disadvantage. Australia's reaction to French nuclear tests in the Pacific has probably ensured a veto from Paris against any Australian candidate for the top UN job. And Mr Evans is hardly less scathing about Britain's attitude to the nuclear issue, so he has displeased two nuclear powers which are permanent members of that "unrepresentative" Security Council. Undaunted, Mr Evans was yesterday telling the Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, of the "spectacular insensitivity" inherent in the last Anglo-French declaration reaffirming the value of nuclear deterrence. The nuclear powers must "get absolutely serious" about disarmament, he believes.

It may be doubted whether the big powers would, in the end, turn out to prefer the articulate Mr Evans to the circumlocutory Dr Boutros-Ghali.

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