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José Ramos-Horta on the Complexities of Nation-Building in East Timor

Jose Ramos Horta (

Jose Ramos Horta ("Migufu"/Flickr)

So in your view, in fact, the most important change before reforming or empowering the General Assembly, or altering the structure of the Security Council, the most important thing is to change the administrative structure of the UN, which is to say the UN Secretariat?

I would say so. It is a bit like in my own little country, in my own foreign ministry: I spend a lot of time trying again and again to improve our internal performance, even in details like punctuality, in terms of the way we deliver services to our people, in the way we examine promotions to ensure they are fair, at the way I insist again and again that more women should be brought into the ministry at senior leadership levels. If I don't do that and I think only of the grander, exterior aspects of my ministry, like opening more embassies, having more diplomatic activities, well, I don't have a solid house, a foundation behind me to sustain it. It could collapse. So the UN, on a bigger scale, is the same.

I would not rush too much in reforming the Security Council. I would go first to the General Assembly, because we have an endless agenda with repetitive debates, truckloads of documentation that are compiled each year that are mostly meaningless. We have to be serious, and be rational, and therefore be more effective and credible.

As far as the Security Council is concerned, well, it was not me who invented the veto in 1945. And I didn't create the five superpowers. They are there, and what does it mean? If I want to reform the Security Council -- and rightly so, it should be reformed to include countries like India that have a population of a billion today -- well, I'm sorry, but I have to talk to the P5 first. I have to use my persuasive skills, I have to use common sense, charm maybe, to persuade the five that they have to make room for others in this day and age, rather than me making grand plans, and then being unable to persuade the Security Council, the P5, to go along with the plans. I would start by engaging them in dialogue. This might take months, it might take years, but I have to deal with the P5, and don't blame me for that, because I didn't create this structure in 1945; I wasn't even born in 1945!

Of the regions that are up for filling the slot of Secretary-General, or of the names that have been put forward, could you comment on whether East Timor has a preference for whether, regionally, it is time for Asia to replace Africa, or whether it makes a difference if there's an eastern European, an African, or an Asian?

Well, absolutely, East Timor supports the notion that it is Asia's turn, although I also agree with US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, when he says that they should be able to look all over the world for the best possible candidate. That makes sense. But I am persuaded that in a region of the world with more than two billion people we have more than enough possible candidates that could meet the requirements for the job of Secretary-General.

My government's policy is that whenever there is an ASEAN candidate for any position in the UN, whether an individual candidate, or a country's candidacy for a position in the UN system, we always support the ASEAN candidate. That is a fixed policy. So there is no point in any country coming to me to seek my support against an ASEAN candidate. We will support an ASEAN candidate.

So I have been among the very first to endorse the candidacy of my good friend, former foreign minister, current deputy prime minister of Thailand, Dr. Surakiart Sathirathai. We remain committed to supporting his candidacy. Obviously, you know as well as I do, that my support, or East Timor's support, does not count much! In the end, the P5 and the other members of the Council make the decision. But if my verbal endorsement is a consolation, well, I am re-stating it.