Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Ban Ki-Moon is new UN boss

Ban Ki-Moon from Korea has been elected UN General Secretary. He will take up the role when Kofi Annan’s second five year term expires on 1 January, 2007. The 62 year old Ban is currently South Korea’s foreign minister and speaks fluent English and French. He was appointed by acclamation on Friday by the 192-member General Assembly. He is the first Asian appointee to the role since U Thant of Burma whose term expired in 1971. In his acceptance speech to the assembly, Ban said “My tenure will be marked by ceaseless efforts to build bridges and close divides. Leadership of harmony not division, by example not instruction has served me well so far. I intend to stay the course as Secretary-General”.

Ban Ki-Moon was born in Eumseong, in the central province of North Chungcheong in 1944. He was educated in Seoul and graduated from the National University in 1970 with a degree in International Relations. He wanted a diplomatic career and passed the foreign service examination. He gained a Masters in Public Administration from the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard which is regarded as one of the best public policy schools in the US. During a nearly 40 year diplomatic career, he was posted in India, Austria, Washington and at the United Nations. His affiliation with the UN dates back to 1975 when he was appointed a staff member of the UN division of the South Korean Home Office.

While he was South Korean ambassador to Austria in 1999, he was appointed chairman of the preparatory commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation. He came to international prominence after 9/11 when Korea had presidency of the UN General Assembly. The first sitting day was 12 September and it was Ban’s role as chef-de-cabinet to the president to see through the prompt adoption of the assembly's condemnation of the attacks. Ban returned home in 1996 to became national security adviser to the president in 1996 and took the office of vice minister in 2000. He was appointed Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade in January 2004.

Ban declared his candidacy of UN secretary general in February and ran a skilful campaign claiming he would turn the UN into an effective, accountable and transparent global organisation. He promised to reform the "culture of the organization, increase accountability and toughen ethics." He called on member states to allow the Secretariat "greater flexibility matched by greater accountability." He described the US troubled relationship with the thus: "Global challenges call for global responses. The United States cannot do it alone. The United States needs the United Nations, and vice versa." U.S. Ambassador John Bolton endorsed Ban saying, "we believe he is the right person to lead the United Nations at this decisive movement in its history, particularly as the UN struggles to fulfil the terms of the reform agenda that world leaders agreed to last fall."

The office of Secretary General is defined prosaically in the UN Charter as the organization's "chief administrative officer" (Article 97) but holds much “soft power”. Traditionally the post rotates around the world’s regions and this was Asia’s turn. Ban will be the eighth Secretary General in the UN’s 60 year history. He was one of seven candidates vying for the role and topped all four informal polls in the UN Security Council. He will head an organization that has 92,000 peacekeepers around the world and a $5 billion annual budget. The reputation of the UN has been tarnished by recent corruption scandals. The incumbent Secretary-General Annan believes Ban has the credentials for the job saying he was "a future secretary-general who is exceptionally attuned to the sensitivities of countries and constituencies in every continent" and he would be "a man with a truly global mind at the helm of the world's only universal organisation."

Ban has three months to effect a transition. Korean Prime Minister Cheong Wa Dae has not yet nominated a replacement foreign minister so Ban will need to play both roles for at least another month. Korean media have pointed out there may be a conflict of interest between the roles. They have pointed out that his criticism of North Korea failing to comply with a UN Security Council resolution is at odds with his Korean role in an administration that is clinging to its engagement policy with the North.

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