Francis Deng and the concern for internally displaced persons: intellectual leadership in the United Nations.

Author:Bode, Ingvild

Using the case of Francis Deng as representative of the Secretary-General for internally displaced persons as an example, this article considers how temporary civil servants may become intellectual leaders within the United Nations. During his 1992-2004 tenure, Deng managed to raise assistance and protection expectations for the internally displaced through framing their concerns in the concept of sovereignty as responsibility. He also contributed to legal change through formulating protection and assistance standards--the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. The article argues that a combination of three factors enabled him to exercise intellectual leadership. First, his insider-outsider position at the border between the UN Secretariat (the second UN) and the nongovernmental organizations, academic scholars, and independent experts who engage regularly with the UN (the third UN); second, his personal qualities; and third, his effective ways of framing at an opportune moment in time. Keywords: United Nations, agents of change, internally displaced persons.


"PEOPLE MATTER. IDEAS MATTER." (1) THIS IS HOW THE CONCLUDING VOLUME OF the UN Intellectual History Project summarizes its effort toward uncovering the intellectual contributions of the world organization. People appear as a crucial variable in many of the ideas that are the topics of the project's seventeen volumes. People matter--but how?

In this article, I look at the role that temporary international civil servants in insider-outsider positions may or can play in idea emergence or intellectual leadership. (2) This corresponds to a gap in leadership literature at the UN, which concentrates on the Secretaries-General and other executive heads. Moreover, existing research focuses on either one or two of the following analytical factors to explain leadership: (1) the legal-institutional context; (2) framing; and (3) personality. In contrast, I argue that a combination of their personality, their way of framing an innovative idea at a crucial moment in time, and their position as insider-outsider can enable these individuals to become intellectual leaders.

In the case of Francis Deng during his tenure as representative of the Secretary-General (RSG) on internally displaced persons (IDPs), his particular personality and social and career background in all three UNs (explained below in the section Temporary Civil Servants as Intellectual Leaders) made him a legitimate and effective actor for the cause of the internally displaced. His position as an insider-outsider gave him the necessary space to engage in intellectual leadership while remaining independent of UN bureaucracy, but offered him a position where he could still work from an official platform. Finally, in framing sovereignty as responsibility, Deng was able to raise international assistance and protection expectations for the internally displaced in a manner that was palatable and acceptable to member states.

This article is organized as follows. First, I critically review the existing research on leadership at the UN. Second, I suggest a framework for understanding individual leadership that combines the individuals' personality, their strategic and well-timed framing of an innovative idea, and their institutional position of temporary civil servants as insider-outsider. Third, I apply these arguments to the intellectual contributions of Deng during his tenure as RSG. (3)

Individual Leadership at the United Nations

Despite prominent instances of intellectual or operational leadership throughout the UN's intellectual history, such as Mahbub ul Haq and the creation of the Human Development Reports, (4) individuals at the lower echelons of the world organization have received limited analytical attention. Leadership literature in the UN context mostly focuses on the Secretaries-General, executive heads and, most recently, on the special representatives of the Secretaries-General. (5) Depending on the chosen analytical lens in explaining leadership potential, these studies generally fall into three categories: (1) the leader's position in the UN's legal-institutional setting; (2) strategic persuasive framing of an idea; or (3) personality types and associated leadership styles. (6) While many studies mix two of these aspects, to my knowledge none combines all three or refers substantially to the leadership potential of temporary civil servants, which is the objective of this article.

Most studies start off with evaluating the potential for individual leadership defined as their ability to pursue an independent organizational path. (7) In a first step, this potential is determined on the basis of the UN Charter's legal framework. In the case of the Secretary-General and other permanent Secretariat employees, Chapter XV (Articles 98-100) defines the legal boundaries for their political involvement, although the ambiguous formulation of the articles allows for interpretive discretion. Legal provisions are even less clear for temporary civil servants who are frequently employed in fixed-term, unsalaried advisor, or representative positions.

Studies in this first group also examine how UN Charter-based stipulations combine with the general structural context in which international civil servants find themselves. (8) In an early study, Robert Cox considers maintaining leadership to be dependent on how well executive heads were able to handle relationships with three UN constituencies: top officials within their own institution, member states, and the international system. (9) Scholars examining Secretaries-General often explain different space for leadership through how well they are able to balance representing the values and principles embodied in the Charter from which they draw their authority (10) with retaining member state support and confidence. (11)

Analyzing the confines of the UN's legal-institutional setting for leadership requires an understanding of how and why leaders use this potential space in different ways. The two remaining categories of literature provide different answers: scholars in the second category consider successful leadership as tied to how persuasively leaders frame the ideas or norms they promote. This persuasiveness is based almost entirely on the content of the arguments they put forward: they have to fit with "the accepted parameters of discourse"12 and construct issues in a way that draws attention to a problem and offers a viable solution. (13) Leaders' personal qualities are referred to only in passing without substantiating the argument, or they turn up in the studies' concluding thoughts. (14) For example, Simon Rushton's study of Boutros Boutros-Ghali as a norm entrepreneur elaborates on his persuasive framing of democracy promotion, but appears to conclude that his failure in this endeavor was ultimately due to his independent personality: "It is one thing to have access to the tools of norm entrepreneurship, another to use them effectively." (15)

As it appears, the content of leaders' arguments is therefore not sufficient to explain intellectual leadership potential--what also counts is their personality. Personality characteristics are what scholars in the third and final category refer to when explaining differences in leadership. Kent J. Kille, for example, refers to insights from psychological leadership studies in differentiating between particular personality and therefore leadership types of Secretaries-General. (16) Leaders exhibiting the so-called expansionist leadership style are more likely to make initiatives for increasing the independent and active role of the organization they are leading. (17) Unfortunately, these leadership styles initially tell us nothing about the success of the leaders' endeavors. (18)

However, the psychological concept of personality being composed of traits provides useful conceptual insights regarding which of these personality traits might best serve a leadership capacity. Leadership scholar Margaret G. Hermann identifies eight basic traits, among which are the need for power, self-confidence, and task focus. (19) Different values of these traits combine to create the different leadership styles. While my focus here is on understanding how temporary civil servants can be successful intellectual leaders and not so much on their overall leadership styles, I single out in the next section one particular personality trait--task focus--as crucial for leadership potential within the UN because it is the only trait that appears as important in both psychological literature and general reflections on leadership in the UN bureaucracy.

Based on this review, I conclude that a combination of all three factors--the legal-institutional setting, framing, and personality--should be taken into account in examining intellectual leadership at the UN in a comprehensive way. With this in mind, I now develop an alternative framework for examining the intellectual leadership of temporary civil servants.

Temporary Civil Servants as Intellectual Leaders

I argue in this section that a combination of three factors can help to account for the potential intellectual leadership of temporary civil servants in the UN: first, their position as insider-outsider in the UN system; second, their personality and the various threads to their career that may enable them to address the three UN audiences efficiently; and third, the strategic ways they frame their ideas at a specific moment in time.

All of these factors relate to the UN as being composed of three components: The first, second, and third UN build on a classic definition by Inis L. Claude (20) and its extension by Thomas G. Weiss, Tatiana Carayannis, and Richard Jolly. (21) The first UN refers to the intergovernmental arena with its state representatives; the second UN to the professional Secretariat and its international civil servants; and the third UN encompasses...

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