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Ban Ki-Moon's Role of UN Secretary General
[Part 1] Ronda Hauben asks if there is a guiding vision in the organization
Ronda Hauben (netizen2)     Print Article 
Published 2007-06-30 16:43 (KST)   
June 30, 2007 marks the first six months that Ban Ki-moon has held the position as Secretary-General of the United Nations. The following two-part article is an effort to look at the role of Secretary General and some of the challenges he faces.  <Editor's Note>

Ban Ki-moon's nomination by the Security Council to be the 8th Secretary General of the United Nations was sent to the General Assembly on Oct. 13, 2006. Ban succeeded in winning the nomination after a difficult and contested campaign.(1) But his trial by fire was only just beginning. Ban had succeeded in winning the votes of China and of the U.S. His achievement winning the votes of these two nations, who are permanent members of the Security Council, was seen by a number of commentators as the critical step needed to win the nomination for Secretary General.(2)

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Would this very achievement, especially the achievement of winning the vote of the U.S. government in the Security Council, become a handicap that would negatively affect Ban's ability to succeed in the position as the 8th Secretary General of the United Nations?

Goals Expressed in Hankyoreh Interview

An interview with Ban Ki-moon on Oct. 30, 2006, shortly after Ban won appointment by the General Assembly as the new Secretary General, and in the interval before he would assume the office in January 2007, offers a rare glimpse of how the soon-to-be-appointed Secretary General viewed his hopes and goals for his new position.

The interview was conducted in the offices of the Korean newspaper Hankyoreh, by Moon Chung-in, a Professor at Yonsei University and an Envoy for International Stability. (3) The interview was done in Korean, and translated and published in the English edition of Hankyoreh. The goals Ban outlined in this interview provide a yardstick to measure how successfully he is in fulfilling the obligations of his new position.

In the interview, Ban describes a recent visit to the White House shortly after he won the appointment as Secretary General. President Bush greeted him as "Mr Landslide" congratulating him on his victory. The plan had been for Ban to see Steve Hadley, the U.S. National Security Advisor and if time permitted, to briefly meet Bush. Instead he spoke with Bush for more than 20 minutes.

Ban recounts how he and Bush spoke about UN reform and the North Korean nuclear program. "Bush," Ban says, "requested that I drive forth with UN reforms, assuring me that the U.S. would actively lend its support." In the interview, Bush promised to work with the South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun to peacefully resolve the North Korean nuclear problem.

Ban also visited China. He describes his meeting with the Chinese President Hu Jintao on this visit. Hu told Ban that "the role of a newly appointed Secretary General is very important and that China would be of active assistance." Ban revealed that during his campaign for the nomination, China "could not make public its support," but that it had "actively helped out behind the scenes." Though it is not yet apparent how China's support for Ban's nomination affects Ban's actions as Secretary General, U.S. support for Ban's nomination appears to have a significant effect on his activity as Secretary General.

During the Hankyoreh interview Ban expressed a belief he has reiterated many times since, that the U.S. is "the UN's most important member." Ban proposed that the UN needed the "proactive participation" of the U.S. in order to function properly, just as he believed the U.S. needed the UN for its interests.

Also during the interview, Ban expressed his commitment as Secretary General to work to help resolve the problems with North Korea. "I will appoint a politician or diplomat," he asserted, "with the confidence of the international community, someone who has the trust of both North and South Korea to actively push the issue forward. This envoy," he explained, "must be one to impel the six-party talks to action when they stagnate, and must be prepared to play a direct role when necessary. I am ever ready to intervene directly when intervention is called for." Ban also proposed that the UN had to find a means to help with transforming the cease-fire that was signed by the U.S. and North Korea at the end of the Korean War into a more permanent peace agreement.

Ban promised to present a blueprint for what he hoped to accomplish in his first 100 days, in his first year, and in his five year term. His priority, he explained, would be in the appointments he would make for UN personnel and that these would "raise morale and cultivate professionalism."

Ban's goal at the end of his five year term or ten years if he were to win reappointment for a second term, would be "to create a UN reborn as an organization that enjoys much greater international confidence. I will make the UN into a body fit for the challenges and theme of the 21st century," he promised. To obtain this objective, he proposed to support "development", especially, "development in Africa and the Millennium Development Plan." His aim would be to "make certain that the UN has a role at the center of multilateral diplomacy."

In the interview, Ban also describes how Roh Moo-hyun and the South Korean press helped his candidacy to succeed by "campaigning for me at every opportunity while meeting with foreign heads of state." The South Korean media "also helped a great deal," Ban notes. Ban was aware, too, that it was a particular source of pride for Korea that the 8th Secretary General would be from Korea.

Comments on Ban's 100-day Anniversary

By Ban's 100 day anniversary, April 10, media commentary on his accomplishments documented the frustration he had experienced. Comments from several diplomats were testimony to the mistakes made as he and his advisors rushed to put their reform agenda into effect.

The Chinese Ambassador to the UN, Wong Guangya commented on how Ban tried to impose changes in the structure of the UN Secretariat, only to meet opposition from a number of countries, observes, "His intentions are good. He is trying to make the Secretariat work more effectively. But personally I feel he's a new comer and he does not understand the culture and the environment in this house. You have to identify who are the stakeholders and how to test the temperature before jumping in. He hasn't done that and he has felt the heat."(4)

Similarly, South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo is quoted as being frustrated by Ban's 'decide first, consult afterward' behavior."(5)

Even the American Ambassador, Alejandro D. Wolff, who originally replaced John Bolton, said that there were those "convinced that Ban was 'essentially responding to American demands."(6) This impression, Wolff explained, helped to generate distrust in the reforms Ban is trying to implement.

Role of Secretary General

The role of Secretary General has a number of constraints. It also is a role that carries certain obligations. During his inauguration, Ban took an oath that he would uphold the interests of the United Nations above any national interests and "not to seek or accept instructions in regard to the performance of my duties from any government or other authority external to the Organization."(7)

In a 쏳eport to the Preparatory Commission of the UN 23 Dec 1945, a set of duties and responsibilities are elaborated as a means of stating what is explicit and implicit in the Secretary General's role as provided for by the UN charter.

While the Report specifies administrative and executive functions for the Secretary General, it also states that "He is the channel of all communication with the United Nations in any of its organs. He must endeavor, within the scope of his functions, to integrate the activity of the whole complex of United Nations organs and see that the machine runs smoothly and effectively."(8)

Along with the obligation for internal smooth functioning of the UN, the report proposes an external function. It says, "the Secretary General, more than anyone else, will stand for the United Nations as a whole. In the eyes of the world, no less than the eyes of his own staff, he must embody the principles and ideals of the charter to which the organization seeks to give effect."(9)

Elements for Creating a Vision

Shashi Tharoor, one of the other candidates for the nomination by the Security Council for the position of Secretary General maintained that emanating from the job description for the Secretary General that each Secretary General wrote for himself, "must shine the vision of the incumbent of the office," a vision which transcends the more practical aspects of the job.(10)

Describing the nature of the job, Tharoor proposed that what was needed was a person with the ability and talent to respond to a wide range of issues "and to know where to go for expert judgment when he or she feels unqualified or uninformed on specific issues. Somebody who recognizes he does not have all the answers but trusts himself to ask the right questions."(11)

Tharoor, who had worked at the UN for almost 28 years, said that for him the UN was more than a job. "It has always been a cause ... For me the UN is far more than an institution....It represents the vision and foresight of the leaders of the world who wanted to make the second half of the twentieth century better than the first."(12) He described how the UN was formed in response to a world that had experienced two world wars, a number of civil wars, several instances of mass population displacements, genocide, the holocaust, and Hiroshima. "The UN was part of an attempt to genuinely make a better world and I believe for all its limitations and failures, it did succeed in doing so," he noted.(13)

When Ban outlined the beginning elements for the new role he was to assume in the Hankyoreh interview, he planned for the UN to play a constructive role in helping to facilitate the six-party talks between North Korea, South Korea, China, the U.S., Japan, and Russia. He had expressed his determination to appoint an envoy to help overcome obstacles that might impede the six-party process. This provided an example of a goal he was bringing to his new role at the UN. How he would be able to carry out this goal would be a concrete sign of whether he could be guided by a vision for his role as Secretary General.

[To be continued]
(1) See for example: Ayca Arlyoruk, "Korean Minister Likely Candidate to Replace Kofi Annan, but Will the General Assembly Approve?", UNA-USA

Ban was chosen as Secretary General in a process that is basically secret with voting by the members of the Security Council that is not public. The five Permanent members hold the ability to veto a candidate at a certain stage in the process. Questions have been raised about what criteria are used and what is traded with whom is left as an open question.

Also there were allegations that the South Korean government used grants and various financial rewards to gain support for its candidate from several of the nonpermanent nations that were on the Security Council at the time of the voting for the next Secretary General. See for example:

Richard Beeston, Richard Lloyd Parry, and James Bone,"Millions of dollars and a piano may put Korean in UN's top job", Times Online, September 29, 2006

Tran Van Loi, "ROK Buying U.N. Post: Times Millions of dollars have been spent in lobbying for Ban ki-moon, says British newspaper", OhmyNews International. October 1, 2006

(2) See for example, "Restoring the Vitality of the United Nations"

(3) [Interview] Next U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. in conversation with Moon Chung-in, translated by Daniel Rakove, The Hankyoreh. November 3, 2006.

(4) Maggie Farley, "New Secretary General Is Still Finding His Footing at the UN", LA Times, April 9, 2007

(5) Ibid.

(6) Ibid.

(7) Ronda Hauben, "Ban Ki-moon Inaugurated, Pledges to uphold the interests of the United Nations above all else", OhmyNews International, December 15, 2006.

(8) 쏳eport to the Preparatory Commission of the UN 23 Dec 1945, in Secretary or General: The UN Secretary-General in World Politics?, edited by Simon Chesterman, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007, p. 243-244

(9) Ibid., p. 245

(10) Shashi Tharoor, in "Secretary or General: The UN Secretary-General in World Politics?", edited by Simon Chesterman, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007, p. 46.

(11) Lydia Swart, "Shashi Tharoor Sees his 28 Years at the United Nations as an Asset", Center for UN Reform Education, interview done 12 July 2006.

(12) Ibid,

(13) Ibid.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ronda Hauben

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