Interview with Mark Malloch Brown, former Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations
New York, 6 June 2007
Question: In 1999 you became Administrator of UNDP, the United Nations Development Programme, one of the largest UN organizations with 7000 people working in 166 countries. According to public assessment you have been quite successful in this job. What is your own assessment? Is UNDP in better shape today than it was before?
Mark Malloch Brown: UNDP, when I got there, was an organization full of talent and potential development opportunity. But it was terribly squeezed because in the push for more development efficiency people tended to look at the World Bank, the European Commission, and their own bilateral programmes as the three big pieces of the development donor cooperation system.
UNDP was in danger of being marginalized. So we tried to focus on things it clearly could do better than other people, like building good governance, championing the Millennium Development Goals, fighting against poverty more generally, working on failed states and above all, coordinating the totality of the UN development and development support. Getting that right and establishing UNDP’s comparative advantages as well as rebuilding the organization around them was a management challenge.
UN agencies are stirred to change slowly and somewhat reluctantly. I was helped by the fact that there was a sense across UNDP that the organization was headed to some kind of crisis despite its talents and abilities, and therefore I was enormously supported by the staff and what we did.
Q: In 2004 UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked you to take up the post as his Chef de Cabinet, one year later you became Deputy Secretary-General. If you had six years as you had as UNDP Administrator for the UN job, let’s say as Deputy Secretary-General or as Secretary-General, would you think that it is possible to have the same amount of reform and effectiveness?
MMB: No, I think it needs at least six years. One should remember that, in a sense, Kofi Annan has done more reform than any previous Secretary-General. And yet, the organization I came to was lacking way behind, let’s say, UNDP or other Funds and Programmes in terms of its reform. So, it is not just the duration of the team at the top. It is also the intergovernmental environment which will allow reform. And I think, Kofi Annan’s years became increasingly difficult in terms of that intergovernmental environment. The moment will come when there is a better environment. I do not think that moment has come yet.
Q: Why not?
MMB: Because the fundamental stand-off between the G771 and the P42––because you have to put China in a way on the G77-side of this argument––has created a kind of matter gridlock which blocks reform. And that needs a political resolution out of which fundamental root-and-branch institution-wide reform must flow.
Q: How could it come to a confrontation similar to the one in the 1970s? The G77 seems to rally against the United States, being more united than ever in blocking any kind of comprehensive reform. Why so and why now?
MMB: I think there is a positive and a negative reason why it has come to this. I think, historically, in the 1970s you saw in some ways globalization stirring. A lot of the confrontation in the seventies was around commodity prices. This was the big driver of the New International Economic Order assuring developing countries some stability of income as commodity producers. That stirred the need to regulate global markets in the seventies and that issue is again alive now, ever more urgent and pressing.
The positive dimension to this is that in both moments you were seeing a push for more effective global governance. But the negative dimension—which was very much the case in the seventies and is the case again now—is that there is no agreement on the balance of power within that new global governance. The current sort of class system of the P5 and then the rest—which is replicated in different variations and diluted forms across other international organizations, like the World Bank or IMF—is just not sustainable. There has to be readjustment of governance to create something closer to today’s real political economy. That sort of readjustment expresses itself at the UN in the desire to expand the permanent or long-term membership of the Security Council to include, in addition to Germany, Japan, but perhaps more critically Brazil and some African countries etc.
Now, you have got a similar debate going on at the World Bank and the IMF where you have two groups who feel under-represented. One group consists of the poor countries, the other of middle-income countries who feel in some ways that they are the income source of these institutions and yet, do not have the voting rights that should come with that.
And in those cases the enemy is, in some ways, not so much the US but Europe and its combined over-representation in the eyes of others. There are differences in each of these cases but what lies behind it is systems of shareholding which were determined in 1945 and essentially have not been adjusted. How can you expect the G77 to turn over power to a system which they feel disenfranchised from? And that is the big 800-pound gorilla in the room that has to get solved before you are going to lift the block on really meaningful management reform.
Q: Yes, and that includes human resources. You often criticized that there is a lack of accountability and meritocracy, a lack of executive managers in the UN. However, you cannot apply the same high standard to the UN as you do for a transnational cooperation. Could one of the reasons be that the positions are not filled with people best qualified for it because the P5 and others are demanding certain posts—and as an answer to that, the G77-countries cling to their posts in the same way.
MMB: Yes, everybody behaves equally badly. But all of it, to my mind, still stems from something beneath it. Again, I track it back to governance. If you had a UN that everyone felt they had an ownership’s stake in, that it would hopefully give everybody the kind of assurance which would allow them to step back sufficiently, to play the role of board of directors in the multinational cooperation analogy, and allow management to manage. It is the absence of that assurance of ownership which makes them the perpetual, sort of dissident shareholder of the annual meeting phenomenon, always trying to vote off the board of directors or meddle in corporate decision making. They do not feel that they have a proper seat at the table or proper respect as shareholders. And this has made it impossible to build up the kind of quality independent management, managing through results against a strategic set of objectives set by the government owners.
Those relationships have been completely broken down. You have a Secretariat which is largely adrift with this intergovernmental gridlock of it. It is sacked into the worst of bureaucratic ways with a loss of quality control, a promotional appointment system which is being thoroughly politicized and a full amount of patronage of different government systems. And you have very dedicated civil servants constantly trying to preserve the integrity of it, but against efforts to undermine it at all times. So, it is very tricky.
Q: Why has it come to that?
MMB: At UNDP, where you had a balanced board between donors and recipient countries, there was enough confidence in the organization to let management manage. I, as Administrator, could go ahead and reform the personnel system; putting in place a talent-based recruitment and promotion system; have outreach and recruitment which was reflective of a broad range of nationalities.
We understood very well which nationalities we were overrepresented in, which we were underrepresented in, and to target our outreach and recruitment to them. We sent recruitment missions to Central Asia to look for candidates because we were weak there. At one point we were weak on Germans, so we looked for good German candidates. You can deal with these vital issues of geographic distribution which are critical to a global organization with no concession on the quality dimension.
But the wrong way is if you allow your recruitment and promotion system to fall into the hands of the missions in New York. That is when it becomes a degraded patronage system.
Q: But within UNDP not everything seems to have gone well either. After all, a Commission had been established to work out recommendations for a better coordination of UN’s operational activities. What do you think about the report of this High-level Panel on System-wide Coherence3 which was released in November 2006? Ban Ki-moon has issued his own recommendations which are just six pages long. Do you think this report is breaking new ground? The ‘One country’ approach, at least, is quite an old thing …
MMB: That might be true. But something very interesting happened during the process of the report writing which is the very fact that three prime ministers and other eminencies looking over the shoulders of the UN agencies, forced the agencies at the executive head level to really think about this and come to a view on it. And this put a whole new lease on life into the interagency reform process. So, the ‘One UN’ at the country level has actually been given a new injection of adrenaline by the process of the Panel.
So, the thing that I thought had run out of life has gotten new life. But the thing that I had wanted to give life to—the intergovernmental process—looks frankly pretty moribund because it has run into the depths of the G77 versus the donors. It obviously does not have the understanding or leadership on the 38th floor but it had, when I was there, because I was a veteran of six years as administrator of UNDP. This was very personal and up-close for me, this issue, and what I saw very clearly was: First Avenue is an enormously wide Avenue. And for the most people sitting on the 38th floor, the only issue, their span of interest is the secretariat building. The Funds and Programmes are millions of miles away. Kofi and I, because we both had worked all over the system, we had the privilege to have a kind of total view of the UN which frankly is rare.
Q: One of the ever-lasting hot issues is that of Security Council reform. Would you agree that this reform is a prerequisite to any other more fundamental reform? If it was not achieved, reform efforts like those proposed by the Secretary-General in his report ‘Investing in the United Nations’ would not stand a chance to be put into practice? On the other hand, Security Council reform seems to be a quite unrealistic endeavor, today even more than two years ago.
MMB: Well, I think in the short term it is unrealistic. But you are right; it is the precondition for pretty much everything else. In my view, you should not give up on everything else just because the Security Council is blocked.
Neither of the two reform options on the table [model A and model B]4 is right. I believe there has to be a model C. Despite the fact that there have been years of discussion on Security Council reform, I find it extraordinary that—let alone the academic literature where there might be a lot of models that I am not aware of—there are not—as far as I can see—yet any terribly smart solutions. So, at some point some smart minds need to apply themselves to what a Council should look like. It should not just focus on membership and terms but very much on operating procedures, as well.
Q: What is lacking there?
MMB: Several things, for example, the way issues can or cannot be brought to the attention of the Security Council; or can or cannot be brought to a vote. The way critical issues can stay off its agenda for years at a time; or one country can prevent something being brought to a vote. There are a lot of things which increase the dysfunctionality of the Council and which should be settled at the same time that you deal with the question of voting. Because they could help solve the question of voting, they could particularly deal with the veto.
The other thing that I have lately come to the conclusion of is that this sort of dysfunctionality of the Council and the governance crisis stem from the fact that since 1946 there is a complete divorce between the status of the five Permanent Members of the Security Council (P5) status and their responsibility, i.e. their obligation to be top troop contributors and principle financiers of peacekeeping operations. Therefore, I think you have to put back into this question of reform also the kind of responsibilities which go with membership.
Q: How could that look like?
MMB: You may have noticed a little piece of reform that we slipped into the Peacebuilding Commission with this odd electoral system where to qualify for one of the electoral lists. You have to be a top contributor of troops or money. These kind of criteria might be used for a future Security Council.
Q: Do you think that the UN peacekeeping operations are successful? There are now 100,000 blue helmets in the field and maybe more in the years to come. Still, the European countries and the United States are not contributing troops. Is this the true underlying problem or is this kind of burden sharing—the West gives the money and East Asia provides the troops—the most efficient way?
MMB: Well, I think the peacekeepers have, in a sense, performed better than governments deserve. Because they have developed up to the 100,000 troops level, heating up against some kind of ceiling at the moment in terms of finding more troops. They have done it at a unique cost which is a fraction of US or NATO peacekeeping efforts. It is a great kind of ‘low-cost supermarket of peacekeeping’.
But there are all kinds of vulnerabilities. Anyone of which could bring this system crashing down. The first is, that it is not financed adequately, and therefore not armed and equipped adequately to take on robust missions. It has none of the stand-by or common training arrangements to allow swift deployment as we saw on Lebanon. That was the swiftest deployment ever, mainly because of the French and Italians that went in.
That was one of the drivers of the personnel reform: we had 40 per cent and more vacancies in critical civilian functions like procurement for example, with an average length of staff among civilians of two years or less. And yet, the civilian component of these peacekeeping operations is now several times bigger than the Secretariat in New York and Geneva combined. This is leading to occasional, dramatic, procurement breakdowns, to scandals that make the people lose confidence in the mission.
On the troops’ side there is a lack of investment in common training, inadequate investment in R&R [rest and relaxation], in the kind of preventive steps against sexual abuse. That means the peacekeeping operations were embarrassed by terrible instances of sexual abuse by peacekeepers, military and civilian. And so, it is just an underinvested in, undermanaged system which, like so much the Secretariat, survives on the hard work, and the energy, and commitment of the people who lead it and who work in the field to do it.
But it survives despite governments, not because of them. The kind of incidents we have seen [sexual abuse] which have embarrassed us so much in the recent year will, in my view, continue until there is a proper investment in the functioning plus addressing this kind of root political problems, the divorce between Security Council membership and responsibility for these operations.
Q: Germany might expand its troop contributions to peacekeeping missions, but only if it is an (UN-mandated) EU mission, not an UN-led mission.
MMB: Well, they better reflect on it. As the debate on the Security Council expansion matures these kinds of responsibilities—to serve prominently within these missions with enhanced financial responsibilities, as well—are going to become very explicit terms of membership. Germany is not going to sit on its laurels and believe the Security Council membership comes to it despite those kinds of conditions for participation.
Q: What do you think about Germany’s role today? In two books about Kofi Annan’s Era, Germany does not play a big role, if a role at all. Is this a coincidence or does it reflect its marginal role?
MMB: I do think that for several years there was a lot of preoccupation on the Security Council candidacy issue. Germany’s own domestic politics were in turmoil that did have consequences for Germany on the world stage; but not on the development side because there Germany was pretty prominent. So, they have always been quite active and they had their force in UNDP. I think that it is a clear force. And, Germany has had a series of good UN ambassadors. I met with Thomas Matussek in November—he is very strong. I think you will see Germany become more influential.
One area where there is a real opportunity for Germany to show leadership is the environment. Interestingly, Germany did not have candidates for the post of Executive Director of UNEP [UN Environment Programme] on the grounds that it had been held by a German before. So, believing that these old, sort of spoiled systems were still operating it never occurred to them that we would go out and find the best candidate. But we did it and now an ex-German NGOer [Achim Steiner] is head of UNEP. This happens at a time where the environment is racing to the top of the global agenda. Given Ms. Merkel’s interest in the environment and what she has been trying to achieve at the G8 summit, this trend will continue. So, there is a whole space for Germany to show leadership that goes well beyond the G8/European Presidency period. I hope they will fill it at the UN.
Q: Speaking about global leadership which is the subject of the book you are currently working on. Can you phrase ‘global leadership’ in simple terms? What can it provide and what does it take?
MMB: The book’s core proposition is: None of us has understood just how fast and revolutionary global change has become. We just do not understand that our national and global institutions are dealing with a global population which is growing at a rate of a billion every ten or fifteen years. But beyond population growth, everything, be it income or economic growth or technology: everything has accelerated at rates that we cannot see and yet, our institutions behave as though we are still living in an era of incremental change. This is true of national government and global government. None of them have been re-kitted for the dramatic change taking place in our global political economy.
And so the book is ending up being more about, in a sense, right-sizing national and global governance for today’s problems out of which then the right kind of leadership, hopefully, follows. It has to be a leadership which is able to listen to people, which has multicultural sensibilities, which understands that a lot of the co-decision makers are people you do not control.
Q: Could you state an example?
Assume, you are worried about the environment as a German politician. You know, whatever you push through the Bundestag or through a Ministry: it is not going to help you if you have not got a grip of what is happening with Brazil’s rainforests or the Chinese industrial sector. And old leaders do not understand that. To make decisions stick, you’ve got to find ways of working with people who are not accountable to you. So, it is a totally different decision-making frame, it needs totally different institutions to manage it and certainly different traits for individual leadership to do that.
Q: What will the United Nations look like in ten, twenty, thirty years? Will it still be the same situation or will other institutions take over some parts of their work?
MMB: I think, it is arriving at some kind of fork in the road. It could take either way. One is, that it becomes reduced to a little more than a kind of convening, endorsing function to change an issue management which happens elsewhere, regional institutions, NGOs, governmental coalition, all sorts of other formats which are tooled for handling particular issues. And in that sense, I could see it being reduced to rubber-stamp agreements made elsewhere to get some kind of additional legitimacy.
The other way is that it meets the challenge and grows. At the moment, obviously, the likelihood is, unfortunately, that it falls back into the first. But my own view is: there is still everything to play for. I think, what it will take at this stage is some kind of crisis which shocks the system into first, solving the governance problem and out of that, into empowering the kind of management which can built a UN suited to the size of challenge it now faces.
The text above is the original transcript of the interview published in VEREINTE NATIONEN—German Review on the United Nations, Vol. 55, No. 4, 2007, pp. 155–159.
Anja Papenfuss, Editor-in-Chief, interviewed Mark Malloch Brown in New York on June 6, 2007.
Mark Malloch Brown
took office as Minister of State at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office with responsibility for Africa, Asia and the United Nations on 9 July 2007.
Previously, Malloch Brown had served as Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations (April to December 2006) and as Chef de Cabinet of Secretary-General Kofi Annan from January 2005. In these positions he had set out an ambitious reform agenda for the United Nations and overlooked the management policy and operating procedures. Furthermore, he had led the UN system’s efforts to help support the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals as well as the preparations for the World Summit in 2005.
Prior to these key positions in the UN Secretariat Malloch Brown was Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for six years (July 1999 to August 2005). During his tenure he oversaw a comprehensive reform effort that was widely recognized as making the UNDP more focused, more efficient and more effective.
He joined the World Bank as Director of External Affairs in 1994 and served as Vice-President for External Affairs and Vice-President for United Nations Affairs at the same institution from 1996 to 1999. In 1997, he chaired the United Nations Secretary-General's task force on the reform of United Nations communications.
Mark Malloch Brown started his career in the UN system at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 1979, working in Asia, Horn of Africa, Central America and Geneva.
In the seventies and eighties, the former student of the Magdalene College, Cambridge University and of the University of Michigan worked as political journalist for the British news magazine The Economist.
Beside his current governmental responsibilities, Malloch Brown was appointed Vice President of the Quantum Endowment and Vice-Chairman of the Open Society Institute – both institutions founded by the investment banker and Hedge-Fonds-manager George Soros.
Mark Malloch Brown was born in England in 1953.
1 Group of 77 = 130 developing countries plus China.
2 P4 = Permanent Four (France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States). With China it becomes the more commonly known P5.
3 Delivering as One. Report of the High-level Panel on United Nations System-wide Coherence in the Areas of Development, Humanitarian Assistance and the Environment, UN Doc. A/61/583, 20 November 2006.
4 See In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All, Report of the Secretary-General, UN Doc. A/RES/59/2005, 21. March 2005, para. 167.