Helen Clark: 'I know I've got the skills to do the job'

Helen Clark (Getty)
Helen Clark (Getty)

United Nations Secretary-General hopeful Helen Clark says there's a long road ahead of her, but she's "up for it".

The former Prime Minister yesterday confirmed long-running speculation that she would be going for the UN's top job, which becomes vacant at the end of the year.

Despite the general consensus it's the turn of someone from eastern Europe to take the role (the former Communist bloc having supplied no Secretary-Generals previously), Ms Clark believes she has a good chance.

"The candidacy is seen as a very serious one. No one's saying 'how ridiculous'," she told Paul Henry this morning.

"They're saying 'this is a very serious candidate'. That doesn't mean you get it, but it means you're very much in the play."

Ms Clark has run the UN Development Programme for the past seven years, and New Zealand will be on the Security Council until the end of 2016 -- potentially giving her a leg-up on the opposition.

Even so, she says it wasn't a straightforward decision to run for Secretary-General.

"I have to think how many years I want to be in New York, what I want to do in my life. But I got to the point where I thought, you know, I've been all the way in New Zealand, I've had an incredible seven years at UNDP, the eighth year and second term runs out next year.

"I'm always of the view that when one door closes another opens. I see this one and well, I owe it to myself and I owe it to Kiwis who have backed me all the way to really give this a good go. I know I've got the skills to do the job, I know I can do it. It's now in the hands of the member states."

So begins the schmoozing phase, where she not only has to win the favour of countries who might agree on very little else, but the Security Council's permanent five members -- any of whom could veto her candidacy.

Next week Ms Clark will have two hours to present her case to the General Assembly. She'll give a 10-minute speech, present a 2000-word vision statement and then take questions from member states.

She will pitch herself as a "very considered person" who doesn't "rush to judgement".

"I do listen and I do reflect. I am decisive, but I like to have all the reasoning at my disposal before I make actually [make a decision]… I do like evidence-based decisions."

The UN is often criticised for taking too long to do too little, a current example perhaps the six-year civil war in Syria. Ms Clark says it's easy to do with the benefit of hindsight.

"We saw how Somalia drifted in a state of anarchy for many, many years, and no one wants that for the people of Syria. Right now the focus has to be on getting the current process to work.

"But if we replay the record, could more have been done earlier? I'm not just thinking the start of the uprising, but going back a number of years. I think that if there had been any comprehension that it might be running into its sixth year and beyond, perhaps the approach would have been different."

"It's easy to be wise with hindsight, but that's what we need to reflect on. We need to learn from each of these serious crises which have become protracted and think, how could it have been done better? What could have been done better? I'm not producing instant answers to that -- I have my own views -- but surely there could have been ways to prevent this from happening."

Part of the difficulty the UN faces is adapting to modern warfare, which rarely takes place between states anymore.

"The UN was set up with a strong peace and security mandate, and that was on the ashes of World War II," says Ms Clark.

"By and large, it's been successful. But is there less conflict? No, there's horrible conflicts -- civil wars, these vile extremists, the militias. I spoke to one of our staff in Libya in recent weeks, she said 41 different militias control Tripoli, the capital city."

The New Zealand Government has offered Ms Clark anything she needs to get elected, but in case that's not enough, she also wants ordinary Kiwis' help.

"I need your tweets, your Instagram, your Facebook, your voice."