Academic journal article Global Governance

Floating Down the River of History Ban Ki-Moon and Peacekeeping 2007-2011

Academic journal article Global Governance

Floating Down the River of History Ban Ki-Moon and Peacekeeping 2007-2011

Article excerpt

WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO PEACEKEEPING UNDER BAN KJ-MOON? WHEN BAN bid for a second term as Secretary-General of the United Nations in June 2011, the performance of peace operations on his watch was an important part of the public case for his reelection. In the previous six months, UN missions had overseen an unexpectedly smooth independence referendum in South Sudan, guided Haiti through controversial elections, and weathered four months of postelectoral violence in Cote d'lvoire. (1) Ban had taken a tough stance against defeated Ivorian incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, whose supporters menaced UN personnel. In April, UN helicopters attacked Gbagbo's forces, acting on directions from the Security Council to protect civilians from heavy-weapons fire.

Gbagbo was taken into custody by his opponents, and Ban described the events in Cote d'lvoire as a "milestone" for the international community's commitment to democracy. (2) He avoided triumphalism, recognizing that thousands of civilian lives had been lost in the crisis. Nonetheless, the Secretary-General clearly perceived the Ivorian episode as an important moment in defining his leadership. So too did his staff. Since taking office in 2007, Ban had often been lambasted inside and outside the UN Secretariat as an inept leader, but officials now declared a new respect for his political judgment and courage. (3)

Having made his pitch for another term, Ban won the support of the Security Council and General Assembly within weeks. Asked by a South Korean news agency to comment, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy praised Ban's "in-depth knowledge of peacekeeping coupled with his outstanding negotiation skills," adding that "the Secretary-General's personal dedication to peacekeeping has been invaluable in assisting to maintain peace and security in so many countries and giving people a fighting chance in some of the world's most dangerous and inhospitable places." (4)

Under the circumstances, Le Roy could be forgiven for offering Ban Ki-moon particularly fulsome praise. But were his words justified by the Secretary-General's performance? Ban's leadership of UN peace operations had received relatively little attention prior to the Ivorian crisis. While there are a number of widely read accounts of how Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Kofi Annan shaped peacekeeping, there is as yet no equivalent account of Ban's stewardship. (5) While he has been the subject of much press coverage since 2007, it has tended to focus on his climate change diplomacy (usually treated as a good thing) and managerial style (frequently described as a bad thing). (6)

This inattention to Ban's oversight of peace operations is striking because the number of military and police personnel involved has hit record highs during his tenure, approaching 100,000. (7) The cost of peace operations has hovered between $7 billion and $8 billion. In May 2011, Le Roy warned that the UN faced "an unprecedented number of demands which have dramatically increased." (8) There is a need for a more rigorous reckoning of how Ban has dealt with these challenges, looking beyond specific episodes such as the success in Cote d'Ivoire to explore his attitude toward peacekeeping as a whole.

In this article, I do not aim to offer a final verdict on Ban's guidance of peacekeeping throughout his first term. Instead, I offer an initial assessment of whether the Secretary-General has demonstrated a consistent vision of peacekeeping during his time in office, and how this has manifested itself in terms of both reforms to the UN bureaucracy and the organization's reaction to individual crises. This is not to claim that Ban could shape peacekeeping to his will. To focus on any Secretary-General's vision of peacekeeping is problematic insomuch as UN operations are shaped by the Security Council, troop contributors, and power brokers in the field. Clarifying the division of labor between these actors--and carving out an autonomous role for the Secretary-General amid them--has been a long-standing headache within the UN. …

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