'Asia's turn' to lead UN: Ban Ki-Moon's pitch to CFR

See the John Metzler archive

By John Metzler

Friday, June 2, 2006

UNITED NATIONS — Predicting who will replace Kofi Annan as the United Nations Secretary General later this year makes picking the winner of the upcoming World Soccer Cup seem exceedingly simple. While diplomats generally agree that it’s again “Asia’s Turn” the swathe of candidates from that vast continent could confound the most intrepid sports bookie. And political junkies roaming the halls in search of diplomatic divination are often as confounded as trying to decipher tea leaves.

The last time Asia was represented on the 38th floor of the UN was back in the 1960’s; but the quite unremarkable tenure of Burma’s U Thant ended in 1971, more than a generation ago. Now the top announced Asian contenders include Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister, a Sri Lankan disarmament expert, and South Korea’s Foreign Minister.

Warning that the “Organization is overstretched and fatigued,” Ban Ki-Moon, Seoul’s Foreign Minister and candidate for the UN Secretary General post outlined his position. In a wide-ranging address to New York’s prestigious Council on Foreign Relations, Ban stressed that “The UN family must stay the course of reform …bold leadership should be taken. Measures should must be promptly introduced for enhancing the integrity, professionalism and morale of the Secretariat.”

Indeed so. Staff morale is terrible in the twilight of the scandal-clouded Annan era. “The staff needs a clear sense of mission. Reassurances should be given that their work matters and their professionalism is valued,” Ban emphasized.

Speaking in the aftermath of a series of demoralizing UN fiascos such as the Iraq Oil for Food Program, Minister Ban advised, “Early action should also be taken to strengthen transparency and accountability in the procurement system.”

Addressing other urgent areas Ban Ki-Moon stressed, “Terrorism continues to be the gravest security challenge of our times. The possibility of linkage with WMD’s amplifies the potential danger many times.” He asserted, “The UN can lose no more time in presenting to the world a comprehensive convention against terrorism.”

“We should muster the same resolve and solidarity that enabled the General Assembly to promptly adopt a resolution condemning the terrorist attacks of September 11th”, and added on a personal note that he was frustrated that UN member states have even failed to define terrorism.

The crucial role of peace-keeping and humanitarian emergencies was analyzed too. Just having visited Rwanda the site of an atrocious genocide twelve years ago, Ban recalled, “It was a solemn reminder of what we failed to do for Africa, for humanity.” Addressing the ongoing crisis in Sudan’s Darfur region he said, “The enormity of the human tragedy demands effective and expeditious UN intervention.”

Viewing global economic development, he challenged, “The Korean experience shows that development goes hand in hand with security and democratization. Political will must be mobilized to increase developmental assistance including the capacity for building good governance.” Convincing the majority of the UN’s 191 member states to follow the post-war Korean path to prosperity would be asking for yet another miracle.

Reflecting the real rifts among the UN membership over a host of reforms, management and spending issues, Minister Ban implored “Each and every player must stop blaming others and start taking responsibility. We must all share the blame. We must all be accountable, to ourselves, to each other and to future generations.”

Indeed Ban’s bid for the UN post could reflect the cloudy political future of the left-leaning government in Seoul of which he is a member.

Still any candidate must pass through the star chamber of the fifteen member UN Security Council, with its five permanent veto holding members (France, People’s China, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States). UN insiders assert that what really remains absolutely crucial are the positions of Washington and Beijing (just don’t tell anyone that in London, Moscow or Paris).

In what appears a genuine sentiment to bridge the deep political fault lines which he says have hardened over the years, Minister Ban concedes the Secretary General must “be a harmonizer…a person who coordinates and reconciles divisive opinions.”

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for World