UN Secretary-General Ki Moon Sets Out to Reform World Body
By: Rita M. Gerona-Adkins
Ki-Moon, the new United Nations Secretary-General, is
perhaps one of the most watched and scrutinized personality these days. Can he
implement much-needed reforms at the UN?
Is he savvy enough as a world statesman to be persuasive in times of war
and in peace? Does he have the guts for
resolving conflict? Is he inspiring and
charismatic enough to move the world to positive directions with his own vision
as a world leader? Is he the best choice for a time like this, in a world
perceived to be facing known and unknown threats to human safety and
well-being, as well as to the environment?
These, and many more questions have not been all exactly
raised, but are clearly implied, in various published remarks about this
diplomat who was born 62 years ago in Chungju, South
Korea, rose through the ranks to become his country’s foreign minister, and,
from a not-so-visible corner in the world’s diplomatic infrastructure, won the
tight race for the top post at the UN?
Ki-Moon first came to the U.S.
when he won a US-sponsored English contest at school that allowed him to travel
to America to
meet President John F Kennedy, an encounter he claims inspired him to enter
public service. Other than mastering the English language, he is also said to
be fluent in French. He’s also said to
possess a wry sense of humor. As one anecdote goes, when he enrolled at the
John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard in 1983, he introduced himself
as JFK. When eyebrows were raised, he said: "Just From Korea."
Now this other JFK has a message to
the world. "I am very much
committed to changing the culture of the United Nations," he told reporters
at the U.S. Capitol after meeting with members of the House Foreign Affairs
Committee in January, shortly after he was sworn into office.
no sooner had he taken office than issues of urgent international concern hit
his desk with remarkable speed and precision. At press time, for instance, Ki-Moon had just ordered a broad inquiry resulting from
allegations [by the United States]
that some top UN agenciesâ€™ officials had broken UN
rules in channeling foreign assistance to North
Because of the oil-for-food scandal involving top U.N.
officials, including allegations implicating former UN Secretary General Kofi Annanâ€™s son, the thrust of
UN reform is seen as a priority in primarily rooting out corruption and
tackling inefficiency, according to geopolitical pundits, and of course, the
And if that’s not enough for his
main plate, there’s also the issue of poorer countries wanting a change in the
power balance to end the supremacy of the US, China, Russia, Britain and France
as permanent members of the Security Council, the body that makes the ultimate
decisions on issues of conflict among member nations.
And don’t forget the hors d’ oeuvres, spicy hot enough to
merit crying attention, such as:
peacekeeping mission that is seen as vulnerable to a renewal of conflict
involving either Hizbollah or Israel
Darfur, and the UN’s failure over the past years to resolve one of
the saddest tragedies of genocide, and the desperate need of millions for conflict
resolution and humanitarian assistance;
Climate change and how to persuade the U.S.
administration to change its environmental and energy policies, as well as big
polluting countries like China;
how the U.N. can push ambitious goals for poverty reduction,
with a deadline eight years from now, in 2015;
And lastly, but not the least, how a UN global campaign can
be persuasive and effective in protecting especially poor and less developed
countries in Africa and elsewhere, against the threat and onslaught of
Even before he took office in Jan. 1st, Ki-Moon
had elicited at the most bland compliments and outright gloom-and-doom
anticipation. As reported in mainstream media, he was viewed with “glum”by even top UN officials.
"The mood among staff is glum," one of the
officials said. "We are not very excited about the outcome."
Others who also requested anonymity, according to Beijing
and New York-based correspondents of The Guardian, portrayed him “as more
secretary than general, happier with the minutiae of administrative detail than
broad strategy, and a man given to platitudes.”
Going a little more personal, another official who has met
the Asian diplomat a dozen times, said, “He is pretty faceless and does not
have much charisma. Kofi, for all his problems, is a
man of considerable dignity, political insight and wide international
Well! The so-called faceless and
boring Asian diplomat must have floored them when, on his on-the-job
opening-day valedictory address, instead of delivering an expected bland
speech, he performed a gig worthy of a YouTube moment.
A gig? He sang! Borrowing Santa’s
lyrics from a Yuletide song, he warbled, “Ban Ki-Moon
is coming to town!”
This feat was apparently enough not
only to impress, but also reassure, the U.S.
former UN representative, Ambassador John R. Bolton [who resigned when the
Democrats won and is now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute].
Bolton: Let There Be Ban?
an editorial Jan. 17 titled “Let Ban Be Ban,” Bolton wrote
cautiously: “The former South Korean foreign minister has already made it clear
that he intends to be a different kind of “SG” from his predecessor. The United
States backed Ban for his new post, largely
with such a change in mind. Nonetheless, his first few days in office have
already raised some questions. The struggle is under way to determine what sort
of leader Ban will be: Will the status quo of the U.N. system overwhelm him, or
will he follow his instincts and those of his supporters, including Washington?
Admitting to Ki-Moon’s
odd moves during his first few days, Bolton acknowledged that while they raised
many an eyebrow, his instincts are in the right direction “giving Ki-Moon an unarguable vote of confidence based on the
following four points:
1. On the execution of Saddam Hussein, he was right when he
invoked the death penalty as a matter for each UN member state to decide for
itself, even if it provoked howls of outrage from adherers of his predecessor’s
anti-death penalty policy.
According to the U.N. Charter, the
secretary-general is the institution's “chief administrative officer - not its
chief moralizer,” Bolton wrote.
2. On conflicts between Israel
and Palestine, Ki-Moon
had argued that if they go “well, other issues, such as Iran
and Lebanon are
likely to follow suit.”
Bolton speculated that Ki-Moon may have been reflecting his predecessor’s view or
simply following talking points provided by the UN secretariat, but if it is
his, then it should be “brought into line” as the “idea that Hezbollah's
efforts to destabilize and overthrow the democratically elected government of
Lebanon might be curtailed or eliminated by progress on the Israeli-Palestinian
front is hard to take seriously.”
3. On the disclosure of his
finances, Bolton gives Ki-Moon
high marks, with implied criticism of his predecessor, Kofi
Annan, who repeatedly refused to do so.
“Much to his credit, Ban has already
made history early in his tenure,” Bolton wrote, calling
the disclosure his “good first step.” “Ban has stressed that he wants to
restore trust and confidence in the United Nations, which it sorely needs. “Accountability
begins with transparency, and within the U.N. system, the secretary-general is
especially well-placed to lead by example.”
4. Finally, Bolton
praises Ki-Moon for his courageous decision to call
for the resignation of all senior secretariat officials, about 60 altogether,
except those chosen with the concurrence of other U.N. bodies. This was a
change, he wrote, that Washington had urged, one that can make clear that
high-level U.N. jobs are not entitlements, either for the individuals involved
or their countries of origin.
“The key is to shake up the
secretariat's entrenched baronies, and to let them know that new management is
in charge,” he added.
Bolton concluded: “No one of these
four incidents, nor all of them together, tell the
complete story of Ban Ki-moon. Where he has followed
his instincts - deferring to member governments, supporting U.N. reform and
demonstrating personal integrity - he has done well. When he has followed the
conventional wisdom inside the U.N. bubble on First
Avenue in New York
- on matters of U.N. theology such as the death penalty and the Middle
East - he has not. In Washington
this week, the president and others will again have the chance to take his
“Based on what we have seen so far,
I hope they encourage him to let Ban be Ban.”
Paul Kennedy, professor of international history at Yale and
the author of a recent book on the UN, believes Ki-Moon
has the benefit in his new job of enjoying the backing of both the US,
with its tendency to push for intervention, and China,
which is reluctant to interfere in the internal affairs of member states.
"If anyone is going to try to
bridge the gap between them then it would be somebody like this guy whom they
both trust partly because he is not dramatic," he was quoted.
Praise from fellow Koreans
is said or thought of about this Korea-born world diplomat, there is,
definitely, a lot of sincere optimism and pride going for him from his fellow
“It’s a very good news for all of
us, for both Korea and the United States,” Lee Tae-Sik,
Ambassador of South Korea to the U.S, said after expressing complete confidence
in Ki-Moon’s capabilities and experience to about 300
members of the Korean American community and the Asian Fortune last October 8,
on the eve of Ki-Moon’ being unanimously chosen by
the UN Security Council as its nominee, ensuring certainty for his appointment
by the 192-member General Assembly.
ambassador referred to Ki-Moon when he delivered his
keynote address at a gala dinner held in Falls Church,
VA by the Korean Community Service Center
of Greater Washington in celebration of its 32nd anniversary.]
Fellow Koreans in the metropolitan Washington
area-based Korean American community, also gave Asian
Fortune the same tone of confidence and pride.
Ilsang Yoon, PhD, curator/associate librarian at Howard
University, noted with approval Ki-Moon’s strong support for dialog [as expressed in his
interviews with mainstream media].
I think that augurs well for North
and South Korea,
as he could be a good mediator for world peace,” Yoon told Asian Fortune during
the dinner. He was referring to the two Koreas
separated by the Demilitarized Zone after the Korean War in the 50s.
Yoon also noted the future UN
secretary general’s familiarity with the local metropolitan D.C.-based Korean
American community as he was posted twice to the Republic
of Korea [ROK] embassy here in Washington.
“We invited him so many times to events such as this dinner, and got to know
him as an exemplary diplomat. He has a wide experience, including grassroots,
for almost 40 years that should make him a good UN secretary general.”
An Arlington, VA dry cleaning shop
owner also told Asian Fortune about Ki-Moon’s fabled
amiability in the local Korean community, â€œI know
him as he had been to Korean gatherings; my brother was also his classmate in
primary school in Korea. Nice man, and very talented.”
an active community leader in the APA community, also approves of Ki-Moon’s stated preference for dialog while expressing
pride in his achievements. Mindful of the current attempt of the so-called
Six-Party Talks [involving six countries China,
the United States,
and the two North and South Koreas]
to convince North Korea
not to produce nuclear weapon, he told Asian Fortune, “It’s good that he is
from South Korea
and that he is for a strong policy for dialog.”