Afterthoughts

The suspense being over and other issues being more immediately newsworthy, commentary on Ban and his appointment has dwindled since the GA decision. It is nonetheless worth noting how observers are discussing the more open selection process and what we might expect from Secretary General Ban post-January 1.

Following the GA’s acclamation of Ban, current UNSG Kofi Annan remarked on the “early and orderly” selection, adding “…this is the way we would wish all Secretaries-General to be elected.”

I would say that the process worked well because Member States were determined to achieve an early outcome, and because the winning candidate had exceptional qualifications.

Mr. Ban, your early election will give us a head start in ensuring the smoothest possible transition. I recall, at the beginning of the process, I said “I wish the General Assembly and the [Security] Council do not do to my successor what they did to me.” I was elected on Friday the 13th of December.

Bill Pace with UNSGselection.org campaign, noted that the transparency and early knowledge of the candidates allowed “governments, media and civil society…two to three months to delve into their backgrounds, qualifications, campaigns and positions.” Pace added that the transparency which characterized this year’s process may “have not insured the best candidate, [it has] helped prevent unqualified candidates from emerging or being seriously considered” 

The last-minute allegations of South Korean aid packages offered to elected Security Council members found little traction, mostly as it disregarded the more important votes of the Council’s permanent members, as this commenter eloquently pointed out. Mark Goldberg, blogging over at UN Dispatch, suggested accusations by one conservative U.S. group was simply an ideological smear-job, “an excuse to tar and feather the new Secretary General, just as they did the last one.”

What to expect?

Ban’s selection on the heels of North Korea’s nuclear test only highlighted the need for the lengthy transition. Though he will remain South Korea’s foreign minister until he takes the UNSG oath in December, Ban has already stated his intentions to visit North Korea as UNSG. Ban will return to New York on November 15th to take up the necessary preparations for his new job.

Ban himself has alluded to management reform as his top priority. Ruth Wedgwood at John Hopkins SAIS takes a hard look at the adminstrative choices that Ban should make in his first 100 days in this regard. There will also be the political challenges – mostly in the Middle East – but Ban should use his honeymoon to focus on in-house reforms, suggests Wedgwood.

“Ban needs to seize the opportunity to choose his own team in a clean sweep and set a new, performance-based measure of U.N. work. He must sidestep insiders who would reduce him to a political dauphin and derail his stewardship.”

Of course, most speculation is on how Ban will be involved as UNSG on the question of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Many has rasied Ban’s nationality as an important factor in the international community’s response to the crisis.

…some officials are already suggesting that a Korean secretary-general will make a difference – and could even be helpful – as the world deals with the Korean peninsula’s nuclear crisis.

Others point out that Ban’s nationality will

…little impact, mainly because the power to influence the next developments in the crisis rests largely with North Korea and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Of course, others suggest it is Ban’s leadership in the six-party talks and awareness of the players that gives him unique insight into the North Korean negotiations. 

“My sense is that Ban knows the whole case quite well: He knows his counterparts,” says Li Junhua, counselor to China’s mission to the UN. “All of this will contribute and be positive for finding a way out.” 

Ed Luck at Columbia University, however, points out that

…the [secretary- general] is not expected to be too close to dealing with his homeland or a country hostile to his homeland,” he adds. “When the secretary-general does try to get too involved in an area where he has a track record, it’s very awkward.”

North Korea aside, how might – or should – Ban approach human rights, UN reform or other issues? 

Scott Paul, with Citizens for Global Solutions, suggests that Ban “is in an ideal position to bridge the divides between industrialized and developing countries on these and other contentious issues; he should follow Mr. Annan’s bold example and use his platform to bring the world’s most pressing problems into sharp focus.”

Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, wants more. He hopes that Ban doesn’t “just follow in Annan’s footsteps on human rights. He should advance an ambitious human rights agenda, including on issues where the UN continues to lag, such as women’s rights.”

While Suzanne DiMaggio with UNA-USA, wants Ban to “…focus his energy on bringing together the member states to implement the reform agenda already underway,” she also encourages him to “…utilize his position to be the ‘world’s conscience’—as Kofi Annan has done so well—in an effort to bring attention to the many global problems that would otherwise go unnoticed.” 

In contrast however, James Traub, whose book The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan And the UN in the Era of American World Power will be published at the end of this month, suggests that Ban earned Washington and Beijing’s support

…precisely because it seemed he would not seek to be the moral leader or secular pope who Kofi Annan so insistently sought to be…. Perhaps, Ban will herald a new moment in which the job becomes smaller and more modest.  

Having followed the campaigns closely, my impression is that the modest demeanor exhibited by Ban during the campaign will continue once he takes office (at least for his first term). In this regard, I share Traub’s view more than my civil society colleagues. Not to disregard these quite important issues, let’s consider that Ban may nonetheless take a different tack – and that’s okay.

During Kofi Annan’s two terms, the international community has made significant advancements and adopted new norms in human rights, development commitments and international justice. With Ban at the helm, we are more likely to see the United Nations return to a more traditional “intergovernmental” role, working to consolidate the “supranational” gains achieved in the last decade.

And, for the United Nations and our global community more broadly, such reflection and confidence-building could be a very good thing.

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