David Malone, a Canadian diplomat, prolific writer and most recently head of Canada’s leading think tank on development, has been named the next rector of the United Nations University. It is an institution little heard about in the international academic world. That could change with the appointment of Malone.
The university, based in Tokyo, was originally the brainchild of UN Secretary-General U Thant of Burma, who suggested in 1969 that the UN needed an international institute to focus on the organization’s two central issues, peace and progress. The idea won General Assembly approval in 1972 after a few years of debate and began to function in 1975. It is not an undergraduate institution but offers postgraduate degrees in master’s and doctorate programs to students from many countries.
With 15 research institutes scattered among 13 countries and branch administrative offices in Bonn, Kuala Lumpur, New York and Paris, the university concentrates on five broad subjects: population and health; development governance; peace, security and human rights; global change and sustainable development; and science, technology and society. The current rector is a Swiss, Konrad Osterwalder.
Malone, who has written many books and articles on such varied themes as Iraq, the UN’s tortured history in Haiti, unilateralism in American foreign policy and the workings of the UN Security Council, says that the United Nations University, called UNU, deserves a higher profile for its research on international issues.
“The UNU has a proud history, and its research institutes are doing important work, some of them at exceptional levels of quality and relevance,” he wrote in an e-mail interview when his appointment was announced recently. “But, in a curious way, because the UNU system is highly decentralized, it sometimes seems to add up to less than the sum of its (often excellent) parts.
“Our challenge is to make its research outputs better known, to achieve excellence in our graduate degree programs and to ensure that the UNU’s work is actively useful to the UN system,” he said. “Given the often siloed nature of the UN’s component organizations, this latter goal may be the hardest to attain, but, unless we do so, we fail in our central mission. Lastly, we need to make sure that we deliver value for money to those member states that have invested so heavily in UNU, Japan first among them.”
Malone, who will take up the new position March 1, has been president of the International Development Research Center in Ottawa since 2008. As a foreign service officer, he served from 1992 to 1994 as Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, where he chaired the negotiations of the UN special committee on peacekeeping operations. He has also been Canada’s high commissioner in India (with concurrent responsibility for Bhutan and Nepal) from 2006 to 2008. That assignment led to one of his most recent and very timely books, “Does the Elephant Dance? Contemporary Indian Foreign Policy.” He had earlier served as a diplomat in Egypt, Kuwait and Jordan.
From 1998 to 2004, he was president of the International Peace Academy (now the International Peace Institute) in New York. He has also been a visiting scholar or lecturer at several leading research organizations and universities in the United States and abroad – including Columbia, New York University and the Institut d’ Etudes Politiques in Paris — experiences that he brings with him to the UN University in Tokyo.
Malone, born in Canada in 1954 and fluently bilingual in French and English, is a graduate of the University of Montreal, the American University in Cairo, Harvard and Oxford.
In his spare time, Malone writes for the Literary Review of Canada, roaming the world from “Haiti’s Constant Sorrows” to “Our Man in Bhutan,” an account of the life of a legendary Canadian Jesuit, Father Bill Mackey, who found his calling in a remote Himalayan kingdom, where he helped build a modern education system and earned the respect of a royal family once distrustful of the outside world.