Kofi Annan and his legacy

RIP Kofi Annan (1938-2018). How would you assess the effect Kofi Annan has on the UN, what is his international legacy? Read few comments.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan meets with Eduard Kukan, Foreign Minister of the Slovak Republic (19 December 2003). Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Courtney Smith, Senior Associate Dean, Associate Professor, School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Seton Hall University

Kofi Annan’s legacy at the UN, and in the international community more broadly, is on balance a positive one. He certainly faced challenges navigating the UN into a post-Cold War environment where more tasks with greater complexity we placed on its doorstep. He used his stature as a “secular pope” to push the UN into new areas of activity – from the responsibility to protect to the Millennium Development Goals. The organization and its members did fall short of expectations on multiple well-known occasions, but those limitations should not detract from the many positive developments under his tenure. No occupant of “the most impossible job in the world” can expect to remain unscathed from conflict within the Security Council and personal challenges as well.  Both were certainly true for Annan. But his personal legitimacy, his efforts to modernize and reform the UN, and his willingness to push the boundaries of international attention and action will have a lasting impact on the UN and its members.

Hugh Dugan, Sharkey Scholar and Fellow, Center for UN and Global Governance Studies, School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Seton Hall University

Kofi Annan was the first UN Secretary-General to have completed a full career coming up through the UN Organization’s bureaucracy, and therefore his appointment was very well-received by a Secretariat staff that had been battered by his predecessor Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s fabled autocratic management style and Boutros-Ghali’s ignominious departure.  Regarded as the United States’ choice, Annan nonetheless found favor with all member states as a skilled and humane interlocutor among them and manager of a uniquely challenging enterprise, the many-tentacled UN Organization.

Annan was as much an intellectual as a time-tested technocrat who had the reputation for loyalty sideways as well us upward and downward.  He was able to fashion predecessors’ conceptual offerings into practice through the bureaucracy and reach of the UN Organization, most notably developing the doctrine of “responsibility to protect” into a household phrase globally.  Taking direction from a Security Council that continued to probe the UN’s potential in the aftermath of the Soviet-US superpower stalemate, he was as aggressive on improving the protection of individuals against violations by states as was the Security Council on ensuring the security of states.

Annan stepped outside the bounds in publicly and repeatedly excoriating the United States for its policies in the Iraqi theatre, straying too far in the direction of “general” away from his responsibility as “secretary”, or chief administrative officer, which was the role’s principle function.

He showed personal courage in venturing to Iraq during the height of Saddam’s aggressions, a choice he freely undertook, sharing with his confidants that he was not certain of returning.

Rev. Brian Muzás, Assistant Professor, ​Director, Center for UN and Global Governance Studies​, School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Seton Hall University

I would like to draw attention to part of his legacy which, although at first apparently part of a string of failures, may ultimate pay great dividends in the future.

Mr. Annan was serving as the head of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in the early 1990s during the collapse of UN peacekeeping during the battle of Somalia as well as during the Rwandan Genodice. These tragedies prompted Mr. Annan to ask whether the international community was obliged to intervene to protect civilian populations. Ultimately, the doctrine of the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) was developed and endorsed by all UN Member States when, during his service as Secretary General, Mr. Annan’s report In Larger Freedom was endorsed by the General Assembly. R2P is an important part of Mr. Annan’s legacy which I believe will prove more and more important in the future.

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