Global Leadership: After the Cold War

Courtesy Reuters


The definition of the U.N. secretary-general's role is far from precise. The U.N. Charter identifies the secretary-general as "the chief administrative officer" of the United Nations, permits him to "bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security," and instructs him to perform those functions entrusted to him by U.N. organs, but it leaves much about the position a mystery. This is not a liability but an asset. The leeway the language of the charter provides is essential if the United Nations as a whole, and the secretary-general in particular, are to deal effectively with the rapidly changing complexity of human and international affairs.

During the Cold War, the superpowers controlled global decisions, and the ideological contest between them constrained the secretary-general. Today we are living in the midst of a worldwide revolution. With the end of the Cold War, an international system that had politically, economically, and strategically involved every country in the world disappeared almost overnight. As international trade and commerce have rapidly expanded, peoples and places have undergone unprecedented change. The explosion of scientific knowledge has produced remarkable inventions, and human horizons appear limitless. With the communications revolution, image is becoming more influential than fact.

As the 21st century approaches, the planet is in the grip of two vast, opposing forces: globalization and fragmentation. Globalization is creating a world that is increasingly interconnected, in which national boundaries are less important, and it is generating both possibilities and problems. Alarming environmental developments expose the earth to permanent damage and spur massive human migration. Transnational criminal activity grows. Even the spread of communications technologies, which has produced so much good, engenders pressures that our institutions were not designed to address.

And then there are the forces of fragmentation. Rising insecurity and unmet needs are leading people everywhere to seek refuge in smaller groups. This tendency can promote

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