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November 9th, 2006

Following the selection of Ban Ki Moon, I highlighted some remarks by some observers of the race and expectations for the UN under Ban’s leadership. Much more was written however and only a lack of time has prevented me from highlighting them. 

One particularly important topic which has been woefully under-examined was the economic aspects of the selection process. Scott Lyons looked at this in a thought-provoking comment on the aid-packages-of-interest from South Korea which were offered to several non-permanent members of the Security Council during Ban’s campaign trips. 

Further, Ban Ki-Moon had negotiated several trade agreements with countries that chose the next Secretary General, thus placing himself to be in a position to be rewarded for these financial connections that enrich nations. Ban Ki-Moon is without question highly qualified to be the next Secretary General. The question is whether this has ushered in an era where economic considerations play a role in choosing this position.

While most observers eventually dismissed the accusations as insubstantial (and meaningless), the Wall Street Journal caved to neo-conservative angst about the UN, suggesting there must be a “culture of corruption” (to borrow a phrase from recent U.S politics) and that Ban was joining in. 

…it is telling that the South Korean Foreign Minister helped secure his new post with blandishments and pledges of aid to some of the Security Council countries that voted on him. Judging from the record of U.N. scandal, he’s right to conclude that what really talks at Turtle Bay is money.

More thoughtful observers, however, will recognize Scott’s point as a much more tangible concern in the selection of the UNSG, particularly if reforms toward a more open, competitive selection process continues. The economic costs of campaigning may pose difficulties for the small or middle power countries from which the eventual nominee has traditionally been chosen. In fact, it may already have had an impact.

The high costs of running a global campaign have handicapped secretary general candidates from some of the United Nations’ least powerful countries, who previously fared well in races for the top U.N. post. Jayantha Dhanapala, a Sri Lankan diplomat and one of the candidates, said it has been “impossible to mount the high-cost, high-budget campaign” that a president, foreign minister or top official from a wealthier country can afford. “I can only assume that some of the candidates have been able to do more extensive travel than I’ve been engaged in.”

Bill Pace with the coalition suggested that this development makes a General Assembly review of the selection process more critical now, not less. Pace has reminded colleagues that South Korea is the 11th largest economy in the world. Even putting aside the issue of nukes in North Korea, this makes it far from a small power disinterested in global power politics.

As has been referred to before, one of Ban’s fellow candidates, Latvia’s Vaira Vike-Freiberga noted in an interview last April some concern over how economics could taint a competitive UNSG selection process.

“I would hate to see the selection of the secretary general being the sort of a process where candidates run around the world looking for financial supporters, where financial supporters affect the selection process and where votes are bought. It opens up a rather horrifying prospect.” 

Anonymous insider TopAppointmentsAdvisor suggests some guidelines might be in order, noting that “the elections for the top international posts have indeed transformed into a major business…”

Scott, Bill and TAA may be on to something here. But are governments and civil society still interested?


October 24th, 2006

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 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.

It’s Official.

October 13th, 2006

Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General-designate of the United NationsBan Ki Moon has now been officially appointed by acclamation of the General Assembly to be the eighth Secretary General of the United Nations.

Congratulations, Mr. Secretary General-designate.


October 12th, 2006

The General Assembly’s plenary on Friday to appoint Ban Ki Moon is expected to be a very smooth process. A colleague shared with me the agenda, and further details were provided by the Japanese mission.

Update: The plenary will be a public event, webcast at In addition to chairs of the five regional groups (below), John Bolton, as ambassador from the host country, will make remarks, as will Mr. Dumisani Shadrack Kumalo on behalf of the G-77 and China, and Ms. Kirsti Lintonen for the European Union.

The process will get underway at 3:00pm, with Security Council President Kenzo Oshima presenting the nomination to the General Assembly. The President of the Assembly will then read the text of the draft resolution to the assembled delegates. The succinct text will read simply that

The General Assembly,

Having considered the recommendation contained in Security Council resolution 1715 (2006) of 9 October 2006,

Appoints Mr. Ban Ki-moon Secretary-General of the United Nations for a term of office beginning on 1 January 2007 and ending on 31 December 2011.

Ban’s appointment is expected to be by acclamation immediately afterwards. Chairs of the five regional groups have consulted with the respective members over the past several days, and there is no indication that a formal vote will be requested.

After the vote, the usual congratulatory speeches will be made, first by President Sheikha Haya Al Khalifa. Current UNSG Kofi Annan will follow, and then the chairs of the five regional groups – Mr. Crispin Grey-Johnson (Africa), Mr. Kenzo Oshima (Asia), Mr. Miloš Prica (Eastern Europe), Mr. Diego Cordovez (Latin American and Caribbean) and Mr. Christian Wenaweser (Western European and Others) – will offer remarks.

Ban Ki Moon, now Secretary-General-designate, will speak last.

According to the GA spokesperson, Ban will not take the oath of office on Friday, but rather some time in December, at a date to be determined. This will allow him to wrap up his ministerial obligations in South Korea.

Next steps for Ban

October 11th, 2006

General Assembly President Haya Rashed Al Khalifa and Ban Ki-moon UN Photo #126952The General Assembly is expected will take up the nomination of Ban Ki Moon this Friday, 13 October. The tentative decision was announced following initial consultations by General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Al Khalifa with the chairs of the UN regional groups. 

Ban’s appointment will offer a longer transition than previous Secretaries General enjoyed, coming over 2 months prior to his assuming office. It has not yet been determined when he will step down on South Korea’s foreign minister, according to a government official.

“We have to review the whole (situation), whether it would be more desirable (for Ban) to resign right after his confirmation or maintain his foreign ministerial post, and review precedent cases.”  

Ban may continue in his post as international discussions continue on the purported North Korean nuclear test.

Today’s Vote

October 9th, 2006

Amid the concerns over North Korea’s nuclear tests this morning, Security Council President Kenzo Oshima announced the Security Council’s formal nomination of Ban Ki Moon for a five-year term as UNSG, to run from 1 January 2007 until 31 December 2011. The nominee has been approved by all 15 members by acclamation, the Ambassador noted.

Since early this year, the Council has pledged itself to conclude the selection process by October. The Council members are pleased that by completing the process today, the Council met this goal. We believe that this will ensure that ample time will be secured for transition between the present and incoming Secretaries General. The Council expresses its appreciation to all the Member states which have recommended candidates in the selection process.

The Council decided to proceed with the scheduled formal vote prior to discussions on the North Korean crisis. Though avoiding specifics, Ambassador Oshima suggested that “the fact that the candidate, [who] is the current Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea, is an asset in dealing with the situation in the Korean Penisula that we are now facing.”

The next step is the appointment process in the General Assembly. It is the wish of the Council that the General Assembly will take necessary steps accordingly. I have asked the President of the General Assembly for prompt steering of the appointment process.

Ban responded to his nomination taking place on the same day as North Korea claimed to conduct a nuclear test.

In a news conference in Seoul, Mr. Ban said the decision was an honor for him and his country. But he added, “This should be a moment of joy, but instead I stand here with a very heavy heart. Despite the concerted warning from the international community, North Korea has gone ahead with a nuclear test.”

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton noted the irony as well.

Bolton told reporters that today’s nomination and yesterday’s test were “quite an appropriate juxtaposition . . . that we’re electing a foreign minister of South Korea secretary general of this organization and meeting, as well, to consider the testing by the North Koreans of a nuclear device.” 

The General Assembly will now consider a draft resolution on the nomination, likely from Japan as current chair of the Asian regional group. In most cases, such resolutions must be circulated to all delegation and not taken up until at least one day later (Rule 78). However, with the approval of the General Assembly, the President can waive this rule and the Assembly could take up the nomination the same day. Most past Secretaries General have been appointed through a consensus vote, although a recorded or secret balloting can be used if requested by a member state. 

UPDATE: It is being reported that the General Assembly will take up the nomination on Friday, October 13th.

Ban is also scheduled to be in New York this week to meet with members of the Asian Regional Group.

Vike-Freiberga withdraws, Ban now sole candidate

October 5th, 2006

Joining Thailand’s Surakiart Sathirathai, Latvia’s President Vaira Vike-Frieberga withdrew her candidacy for UNSG today.

In a statement released moments ago,Vike-Freiberga at Opening of 61st GA - UN Photo 125677

…Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga wishes to thank all those who have supported her candidacy. She thanks particularly warmly Estonia and Lithuania for placing exceptional trust in her candidacy. Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga expresses her appreciation to all the countries represented at the Security Council that have supported her candidature in two indicative votes. [The] President of Latvia warmly thanks the leaders of the Eastern and Central European states that expressed their support for her candidature at the UN General Assembly debates last month. Finally, Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga wishes to thank all the representatives of civil society, in particular organizations promoting gender equality, for their heartfelt encouragement.

The statement described Vike-Freiberga’s campaign as challenging the “restrictive regional or gender criteria” which she felt characterizes the current selection process and the continuing need for reform.

The President emphasized the need for a higher degree of democracy, openness and transparency during the selection process of the Secretary General. It is her firm belief that other qualified candidates representing half of humanity and one of the most dynamic regions of the world will eventually succeed in being elected to this august post.

Perhaps in 2016?

Surakiart bows out

October 5th, 2006

Thai candidate Dr. Surakiart Sathirathai has decided to end his 2-year campaign for UNSG.

The announcement was made by Thailand’s new interim prime minister, Surayud Chulanont, after meeting with Surakiart.

“He said he would not continue to be in the race,” Surayud told reporters after a brief meeting with Surakiart Sathirathai, a deputy prime minister in the government of Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a September 19 military coup.

Surakiart announced his candidacy in 2004, and was the only candidate to secure the backing of a intergovernmental group until the last weeks of the campaign when Jordan’s Prince Zeid was backed by the Arab League. Despite this, his campaign never attracted the necessary support outside the region. His campaign was frequently dismissed by media, non-governmental groups, and close observers of the race.  

Last month’s coup in Thailand further weakened the campaign, despite the interim military government continuing to back him. But it was the results of the latest straw poll that prompted Surakiart’s decision to withdraw.

‘We have to accept the defeat,’ Surayud told reporters.

Rumors that he would be appointed to the interim Cabinet are currently being denied by Prime Minister Surayud.

Zeid, Ghani leave the field; Jordan recalls envoy over vote

October 4th, 2006

Jordan’s Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein and Afghanistan’s Ashraf Ghani formally ended their campaigns for UNSG today.

In a letter to the president of the UN Security Council, Zeid offered warmest congratulations to Ban Ki-Moon, the candidate of South Korea who ranked first in the latest straw poll and is likely to be endorsed as the next secretary-general. 

… Ghani congratulated the council, in a letter to the president, on reaching consensus on the next secretary-general.

Zeid’s departure comes after Jordan’s ambassador to Qatar was recalled after that government supported Ban Ki Moon over Zeid, who was the Arab consensus candidate.

“What concerns more in Jordan is not the offensive act against us, but [Qatar’s] lack of commitment to a unanimous Arab League decision to nominate Prince Zeid for the post,” Government Spokesperson Nasser Judeh told reporters yesterday…

According to Judeh, Qatar spoke at the meeting of a “moral commitment” to another candidate.

“But this candidate was not the South Korean [Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon],” Judeh said. He did not elaborate. 

Qatari media accused the move of being “unjustifiable and deliberately aimed at instigating a crisis between the two countries.”

…Shaikh Hamad Bin Jasem Bin Jabr Al Thani, Qatar’s First Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister, said in an interview to Al Jazeera channel on Tuesday evening that Qatar was “surprised and regretful” but would respect Jordan’s decision. “We are really surprised that Jordan is blaming Qatar for the failure of its candidate when 13 other members of the UN Security Council also voted for the South Korean candidate,” he said.

He said Qatar had already shifted its backing to South Korea’s Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon. “We said that at the Arab League meeting and the Jordanian foreign minister knows that well.”

Vike-Frieberga and Surakiart remain in the race leading up to Monday’s formal vote.

Ban Ki Moon Wins

October 2nd, 2006

Following today’s straw poll, China’s Permanent Representative Wang informed the media that Ban will be the Security Council’s nominee. 

“…it is quite clear that from today’s straw poll that Ban Ki Moon is the candidate that the Security Council will recommend to the General Assembly.”

The vote was 14 encouraging and 1 “no opinion,” Wang reported. The result indicates that Ban was not opposed by any of the permanent members. All five remaining candidates received at least one discouraging vote from permanent member(s).

  Encourage Discourage No Opinion
Ban 14 0 1
Tharoor 10 3 (1 P) 2
Vike-Freiberga 5 6 (2 P) 4
Surakiart 4 7 (2 P) 4
Ghani 4 11 (3 P) 0
Zeid 2 8 (1 P) 5

Shashi Tharoor, who again came in second, gave his concession speech shortly after Wang’s statement. He was upbeat and friendly in answering questions about his own candidacy, the openness of this year’s process and Ban Ki Moon’s strong showing. He note that he had already faxed his congratulations to Mr. Ban via the Korean permanent mission.

“I entered the race because of my devotion to the United Nations, and for the same reason, I will strongly support [Mr. Ban] as the next Secretary General. The United Nations and the world have a stake in his success.”

U.S. Ambassador Bolton reported that the Security Council will move to a formal vote on Monday morning, October 9th. Bolton noted that new candidates could still come forward but he would be surprised if any did before Monday. The first formal vote was delayed to allow candidates to withdraw, Bolton said.