Few analysts have lost money betting on a United Nations debate to be dull. There are exceptions. Fans of U.N. diplomacy cite the time in 1960 that Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev banged his shoe on the table during a heated General Assembly session. Harold Macmillan, the patrician then-British prime minister whose speech Khrushchev interrupted, paused to ask for a translation from the Russian.
Such moments of multilateral hilarity are sadly rare, however. So I felt all too comfortable last week when I predicted that a series of General Assembly hearings with candidates for the post of U.N. secretary-general would fall flat. I had, after all, read their vision statements in advance. They were all awfully wooden.
But I must admit that I was, at least in part, wrong. The hearings turned out to be a surprising success. This does not mean that they were the international equivalent of a U.S. presidential debate. Long stretches of the meetings, which added up to a combined 18 hours, were just as stolid as I had feared. One journalist friend, who watched pretty much all of it, feels that “agonizing” is the best summary of the experience.