Magazine article UN Chronicle

A Quiet Diplomat for Challenging Times

Magazine article UN Chronicle

A Quiet Diplomat for Challenging Times

Article excerpt

Ban Ki-moon was appointed to a second five-year term as Secretary-al of the United Nations in his typical style: quietly. In a time of divisive power plays in the Security Council, all 15 members supported him and, a week later, the General Assembly its unanimous consent. No other candidate had been put forward and no fuss was raised among Member States. This was an impressive achieve ment for Ban Ki-moonone that should be saluted as a major political victory.

Yet, Ban Ki-moon's first term did not get off to an easy start. His first six months in office received poor reviews from the Western press. Halfway through his first term, these did not show much improvement. "He ducks too easily", wrote The Economist, criticizing in particular his management style and low-profile diplomacy. Leaked internal memos from the Norwegian Mission to the United Nations and an end-of assignment report by an outgoing senior staff member gave an unflattering picture of the Secretary-General.

The year 2011 marked a turning point in Ban Ki-moon's political career. Richard Gowan of New York University's Center on International Cooperation argued that the recent track record of the United Nations in peace operations was an important factor in Ban-moon's reappointment. In fact, the Secretary-General took a strong stance against Laurent Gbagbo, the defeated incumbent President of Cote d'Ivoire, demanding that he cede power. Mr. Ban was also closely involved in the United Nations oversight of the successful referendum on the self-determination of South Sudan and in Haiti's controversial elections. His conduct during the volatile situation in the Arab world has been praised by the international community. According to Gowan, United Nations officials now have "a new respect for his political judgment and courage". (1)

Which Ban Ki-moon--the criticized early version, or the latest, emboldened edition--will be seen during his second term leading the world body in pursuit of international peace and security? Although an in-depth treatment is beyond the scope oi this article, in the hope of stimulating further analysis a few words can be said on the pivotal functions of the Secretary-General. In the area of peace and security, the Secretary-General wears several hats: he is the general of peacekeeping, the political prince of world diplomacy, the secular pope of the values of the Charter, and the global CEO of a complex, international bureaucracy. All of these roles are intertwined and complementary, but for the sake of analytical clarity, this article addresses each one separately.

After five years in this post, it seems clear that Ban Ki-moon most prefers the hat of the world diplomat, and he wears it in discreet style. Since taking office, Mr. Ban's statements and actions suggest a purposeful shift from peacekeeping to peacemaking. He spent most of his first year in office hammering out the intricacies of a peacekeeping mission in Darfur. Ban Ki-moon's style was a break from that of his predecessor. He advised against new sanctions on Sudan and relentlessly lobbied China, a key ally of Khartoum. His efforts were rewarded, as an African Union/United Nations hybrid operation was deployed in Darfur. However, his tocus on diplomacy produced only marginal success: the mission was on the ground, but it suffered from a lack of military assets and a host of managerial and coordination shortcomings. No one has spoken of new hybrid missions since then.


In subsequent crises, Mr. Ban continued to show his preference for gradual engagement and quiet diplomacy. In Kosovo, he chose to create a neutral framework within which "countries could decide, over time, whether or not to recognize Kosovo's independence". (2) During the 2008 humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), he sent a special envoy, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, to mediate. Obasanjo was credited for securing a rapprochement between the DRC and Rwanda--a fact that further strengthened the argument in favour of diplomatic engagement over other more costly peacekeeping options. …

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