With the U.N. Security Council’s unanimous approval of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s second term Friday, the General Assembly is expected to confirm his appointment with a vote this week, probably on Tuesday. Thus, for the next five-and-a-half years, the world will see a South Korean preside over the United Nations as it deals with major global issues ranging from wars and disarmament to poverty, human rights and climate change. Koreans will be proud, even if world citizens do not pay much attention to his nationality.
U.N. secretary-generals have mostly served two full terms ― exceptions were Trygve Lie of Norway who resigned during his second term in friction with the Soviets and Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt who was vetoed by the U.S. on his bid for reappointment. Still, we are amply pleased at Ban’s reelection and hope he will help gear up international endeavors to resolve the problems of the Korean Peninsula, especially the denuclearization of the North.
The role and mission of the United Nations have grown remarkably in recent years, compared to the days of the Cold War, with world issues becoming more and more globally intertwined in the realms of the economy, security and the environment, so is the function of the U.N. secretary-general, and his stature for that matter. Being from a G20 nation and from one of the world’s major trouble spots could also give a little more meaning to what the U.N. secretary-general says and does.
We understand that each of the major powers, including the five permanent members of the Security Council, might have some reservations, but they did not object to Ban’s second term because they believed he could best accommodate their differing interests in the global arena. First of all, they and the regional groups must have recognized that Ban has performed his tasks under the U.N. charter with devotion and sincerity, if not with shining charisma.
Koreans know him well; he is not a political type but is a man of faith and diligence who in the bureaucratic hierarchy at home was liked by his seniors and subordinates. Yet, even such a character made friends and enemies at the U.N. He faced criticisms from some U.N. insiders and the media that had found Ban ― the first secretary-general neither from the West nor a former Western colony ― culturally uncomfortable. They even ridiculed Ban’s English accent and his insufficient fluency of French.
Some papers made much of a critical memo from a senior official who was retiring at the age of 72 and a leaked secret report from the deputy chief of a U.N. mission to its head office. Coincidentally, both critics were women from Scandinavia and they exercised personal judgments tinged with racism in defining the Korean U.N. head as lacking vision and leadership. Foreign Policy magazine, for example, ran virulent criticisms between 2009 and 2010 with headlines: “Why Ban Ki-moon is the world’s most dangerous Korean,” “Still going nowhere man,” and “Good night, Ban Ki-moon. The U.N. secretary-general must go.”
Ban survived the malicious media campaign and emerged as the uncontested candidate for the job. Now he has the mandate to work for world peace with greater resolve and confidence. Internally, he has to tackle the problems of mismanagement, inefficiency, and corruption in the U.N. and ensure the fair distribution of U.N. positions to nations in accordance with their respective contributions to the world body.
In world affairs, Ban will continue to trot “from Somalia to Sudan, Ivory Coast to Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East and far beyond” as he puts it. In this side of the world, there are greater calls for his involvement in the six-party talks, the central mechanism tackling the problems on the Korean Peninsula which have remained in the doldrums for three years.
If China, Japan and even the United States have not invited the U.N. secretary-general to play a role in the disarmament process here, he could now engage himself in a more spontaneous arbitration mission with U.N. authority. We may expect Ban Ki-moon in Pyongyang in the foreseeable future.