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Despair at UN over selection of 'faceless' Ban Ki-moon as general secretary

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/korea/article/0,,1889800,00.html Despair at UN over selection of faceless Ban Ki-moon as general secretary · Officials glum over
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 7, 2006

      Despair at UN over selection of 'faceless' Ban Ki-moon
      as general secretary

      · Officials 'glum' over choice to succeed Kofi Annan
      · Staff believe US pushed for weakest candidate

      Ewen MacAskill and Ed Pilkington in New York, and Jon
      Watts in Beijing
      Saturday October 7, 2006
      The Guardian

      Senior officials at the United Nations expressed
      despair yesterday at the prospect of Kofi Annan being
      succeeded as secretary general by Ban Ki-moon, the
      South Korean foreign minister.

      "The mood among staff is glum," one of the officials
      said. "We are not very excited about the outcome."
      With morale low at the UN after five years dominated
      by divisions, deadlock and corruption, they are
      sceptical about Mr Ban's ability to turn the
      organisation round or provide the strong,
      inspirational leadership they had been hoping for.

      Another official, who has met Mr Ban several 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 experience."

      Officials, who requested anonymity on the grounds that
      they would be working for Mr Ban, portray him as more
      secretary than general, happier with the minutiae of
      administrative detail than broad strategy, and a man
      given to platitudes.

      But the South Korean foreign ministry claimed the
      perception of Mr Ban as weak is misleading. Park
      Soogil, a veteran diplomat put forward by the ministry
      for interview, said: "In the Oriental culture
      leadership is assessed in a different way. One can
      look very affable, very gentle, but inside his mind he
      has a strong conviction ... appearance is one thing,
      his firm beliefs and readiness to make tough decisions
      is another."

      Mr Park, who worked with Mr Ban, added: "He knows how
      to disagree without being disagreeable."

      The 15 members of the UN security council are
      scheduled to vote on Monday to confirm Mr Ban, aged
      62. He would take over on January 1, initially for a
      five-year term, although most secretary generals are
      offered the chance to serve a further five years.

      The vote is a formality, given that 14 out of the 15
      members of the security council backed Mr Ban in a
      straw poll last week. Crucially, all five permanent
      members of the security council, who each have a veto
      that could have ended his chances, supported him.
      After the security council his selection goes to the
      192-member general assembly for a further vote,
      expected about the middle of next week. The general
      assembly is expected to rubber-stamp the security
      council's choice, as it has done in the past.

      Mr Ban will confront a range of problems on taking
      office, ranging from conflicts worldwide to
      long-overdue UN internal reforms. "It is going to be a
      nightmare," an official said. "There is no time to

      Although Mr Ban was supported by Britain and France in
      the straw poll, they did so reluctantly, according to
      one UN insider. In private both countries wanted the
      selection process to run for another month or so in
      the hope that a more impressive candidate might come
      forward. In the end, they concluded it was not
      feasible to hold out against the enthusiastic backing
      of the US, China and Russia.

      A senior western diplomat said Mr Ban promised to be
      one of the hardest-working secretary generals the UN
      has ever had. "His commitment and effort level will be
      unsurpassed," he said.

      But the diplomat expressed concern that Mr Ban's lack
      of communication skills, in contrast with the easy
      fluency and charm of Mr Annan, will tell against him.
      "He may find that he is not instantly media-friendly
      to a US-based audience," the diplomat said.

      Of more pressing concern, the diplomat disclosed that
      Mr Ban, though he has been campaigning for the post
      since last year, did not have a programme for his
      first five years. "He's a bit opaque," the diplomat
      said. Western missions at the UN are busily offering
      policy suggestions.

      Mr Ban campaigned on a vague platform of support for
      UN reform, transparency and the free market.

      UN officials are convinced that the Bush
      administration, ideologically hostile to the UN and
      still smarting from Mr Annan's opposition to the Iraq
      war, wanted the weakest candidate possible.

      But Yasuhiko Yoshida, a Korea specialist at Saitama
      University in Japan, does not see weakness as
      necessarily a drawback: "Ban lacks the toughness
      needed to reform the UN. But that is why he has been
      chosen ... a weak man is an appropriate choice. The
      best role that Ban can play is not a leader, but a
      good coordinator and harmoniser of views."

      He described Mr Ban as "intelligent, polite, moderate
      and honest. In the past three years he has proved
      himself a very astute and sophisticated diplomat."

      Paul Kennedy, professor of international history at
      Yale and the author of a recent book on the UN, said
      it was to some extent inevitable that the next
      secretary general would be a blank sheet, if only
      because the selection system is geared that way.

      "It is one of the golden rules that the UN doesn't
      want someone who is controversial and who, in carrying
      through policies, has offended or got the back up of
      other countries. People may snort in indignation about
      faceless bureaucrats, but it was almost certain that
      the process would throw up someone who was not a
      household name."

      Prof Kennedy believes Mr Ban 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."

      The Times reported last week that South Korea, as part
      of a campaign to help Mr Ban, had pledged millions of
      dollars in aid to countries with seats on the security
      council, from an $18m (£9.6m) education grant to
      Tanzania to the gift of a grand piano to Peru.

      Mr Park described the accusations as unfounded and
      claimed it was based on a misunderstanding: South
      Korea has been gradually increasing its aid programme.

      But one UN official said sarcastically that it had
      just been "an accident of history" that South Korea's
      largesse to Africa coincided with the secretary
      general's selection.

      He added that two Asian ministers had been
      sufficiently concerned about it to have raised the
      issue with him earlier this year.

      Conflicts and climate change: the task ahead

      Iran and North Korea By the time the new secretary
      general takes over on January 1, UN officials fear
      North Korea will have conducted a nuclear test and he
      will have to oversee the imposition of sanctions
      against North Korea, as well as against Iran over its
      alleged nuclear weapons ambitions.

      Lebanon peacekeeping mission The UN force in Lebanon
      is vulnerable to a renewal of conflict involving
      either Hizbullah or Israel or both.

      Darfur The UN has failed over the past three years to
      resolve one of the biggest humanitarian crises in the

      Israel-Palestine He will have to be a mediator in the
      long-running conflict that poisons relations between
      the west and the Arab world.

      Climate change Potentially more dangerous than all the
      conflicts put together. He will need to persuade the
      US administration to change policy, as well as big
      polluting countries such as China.

      HIV/Aids The UN launched a global campaign last year
      with ambitious goals.

      Poverty The UN has equally ambitious goals for poverty
      reduction, with a deadline of 2015.

      UN reform The US sees reform primarily as rooting out
      corruption and tackling inefficiency. Other, poorer
      countries see it as changing the power balance to end
      the supremacy of the US, China, Russia, Britain and
      France as permanent members of the security council.


      Ban Ki-moon has been South Korea's foreign minister
      for almost three years. In that time he has reformed
      the ministry but at the same time the country's
      foreign policy has been been thrown into disarray,
      mainly because of divisions over how to tackle North
      Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions.

      Mr Ban, born in Chungju in 1944, won a US-sponsored
      English contest at school that allowed him to travel
      to America to meet President John F Kennedy, a
      encounter Mr Ban claims inspired him to enter public

      He has a wry sense of humour. 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."

      According to his colleagues, he decided to run for the
      secretary general's job last year after surveying the
      lacklustre field of candidates and calculating that
      his chances were good.

      A former colleague, Park Soogil, said Mr Ban liked
      reading and golf, but "his main hobby is work".

      He is married with three children.
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