Sunday, October 08, 2006


The next Secretary General of the United Nations has now been chosen. It will be Ban Ki-Moon of South Korea. An informal vote on Monday October 2nd of the key members of the Security Council confirmed that he would be their choice.

Ban Ki Moon (62) has been Foreign and Trade Minister of South Korea and a diplomatic politician. Mr. Ban sees himself as a 'harmonizer, balancer, mediator'. A quiet, careful and deliberate man, he has shown courage in a number of small ways. He was the first South Korean foreign minister to visit Israel and took the initiative to find new ways of connecting with the regime in North Korea. He has also played a leading role in the six-nation talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions. He is a backroom diplomat with little charisma. This concerns some, who see him as too low profile and not ambitious for the UN.

He faces major challenges. The UN is in need of significant and urgent reform – it needs to focus, do what it says it is going to do and reduce the rhetoric and increase performance. For example, the current Secretary General has talked eloquently and often about the need for intervention in Darfur - but the UN has done nothing. While Kofi Annan started a reform process, it was too timid, too little and took longer than anyone anticipated.

There are also concerns about corruption and sexual exploitation – UN troops exploiting their position for sex and corrupt UN officials in the food for oil scams which plagued the UN during 2005. Many have also expressed concerns about the growing complexity of the UN’s structure and the inability of many of its “parts” to deliver against their objectives.

The UN’s finances are also very problematic. As of May 2006, unpaid membership fees amounted to over US$1.2b, with the US being the largest single debtor.

The US continues to express serious reservations about the ability of the UN to act in a decisive, informed and effective way. They cite not just Darfur, but also the UN response to natural disasters, the growing concerns over the UN Human Rights Council’s membership (which has as members Cuba, China, Pakistan, Russia and Saudi Arabia), and the financial state of the UN. Other key security council members are concerned about the reluctance of member states to back their vocal commitments to peace with troop commitments – the US bearing the brunt of this work.

A more fundamental problem is that the UN has clearly failed in several key situations. It failed to prevent a coalition of its members from invading Iraq; failed to secure middle east peace – as was most clearly seen in the recent Hezbolla-Isreal war in Lebanon; failed in Rwanda – the list goes on. The UN is an institution with great ambitions, but may not be an institution capable of delivering to these expectations. The US sees the UN as an ineffective talking shop. It is convenient for them to do so – it gives them license to act as a world police force independently of the UN. Their support of Nam Ki-Moon (known by journalists in his own country as “slippery eel”) is seen by some as cynical – they don’t think he will change the UN, and so they continue to behave independently.

Then there is a problem of some of the UN members violating the UN charter and their obligations of membership, but continuing to be members – Zimbabwe comes to mind. No UN Secretary General has had the courage to ask the organization to expel a member.

Canada supports the nomination of Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, and we should all wish him good luck in the position he will assume on January 1st 2007. It will not be an easy task and the world will be watching his every move.

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