De­part­ing UN chief has al­most 5 decades of public ser­vice


Out­go­ing United Na­tions Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon’s jour­ney to the world’s largest in­ter­na­tional body started in a war-torn coun­try that re­ceived emer­gency as­sis­tance from the same in­sti­tu­tion. “When I was 6, the Korean War broke out, and all the class­rooms were de­stroyed by war. We stud­ied un­der the trees or in what­ever build­ings were left,” Mr. Ban once said.

As he grew up “in war,” he noted, he “saw the United Na­tions help my coun­try to re­cover and re­build. That ex­pe­ri­ence was a big part of what led me to pur­sue a ca­reer in public ser­vice.”

“As Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral, I am de­ter­mined to see this Or­ga­ni­za­tion de­liver tan­gi­ble, mean­ing­ful re­sults that ad­vance peace, de­vel­op­ment and hu­man rights,” he said at the be­gin­ning of his ten­ure in 2007.

Mr. Ban was later unan­i­mously re­elected by the Gen­eral Assem­bly to a sec­ond five-year term, which ends Dec. 31.

His public ser­vice on a global stage may not be over — Mr. Ban is viewed as a likely can­di­date for the South Korean pres­i­dency, a post that has been bat­tered by scan­dal con­nected to Pres­i­dent Geun-hye Park.

Mr. Ban, 72, told a fi­nal U.N. press con­fer­ence on Dec. 16 that he will pon­der his fu­ture plans af­ter he re­turns home in early Jan­uary.

“I will re­ally con­sider se­ri­ously how best and what I should and I could do for my coun­try,” he said, ac­cord­ing to an As­so­ci­ated Press re­port.

“I can un­der­stand and share the anx­i­ety of peo­ple about the fu­ture of their coun­try,” he told the press con­fer­ence. “And this is one of the big­gest chal­lenges the Korean peo­ple are en­coun­ter­ing.”

Mr. Ban, who was born June 13, 1944, in Eum­seong County in North Chungcheong Prov­ince in the Repub­lic of Korea, has been in for­eign ser­vice al­most five decades, hav­ing passed his South Korean For­eign Ser­vice exam in 1970,

He earned his un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree in 1970 from Seoul Na­tional Uni­ver­sity and a master’s de­gree from Har­vard Uni­ver­sity in 1985. He mar­ried Yoo Soon-taek in 1971, and has three chil­dren and sev­eral grand­chil­dren.

Mr. Ban’s for­eign ser­vice has in­cluded post­ings in In­dia; Washington, D.C.; and Aus­tria, and prom­i­nent ap­point­ments, in­clud­ing for­eign pol­icy ad­viser to South Korean Pres­i­dent Roh Moo-hyun in 2003.

He de­clared his can­di­dacy for the U.N. lead­er­ship po­si­tion in 2006 while serv­ing as South Korean min­is­ter of for­eign af­fairs and trade. He was ap­pointed as sec­re­tarygen­eral on Oct. 13, 2006, and be­came the eighth per­son to hold that post on Jan. 1, 2007.

Ma­jor ini­tia­tives un­der Mr. Ban’s lead­er­ship in­cluded the 2007 Cli­mate Change Sum­mit and anti-poverty Mil­len­nium De­vel­op­ment Goals.

He urged the cre­ation of UN Women, a ma­jor new agency to con­sol­i­date the global in­sti­tu­tion’s work on these is­sues. Within the U.N., Mr. Ban in­creased the num­ber of women in se­nior man­age­ment po­si­tions by 40 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the U.N.

Mr. Ban worked to strengthen hu­man­i­tar­ian ef­forts to Myan­mar (2008), Haiti (2010) and Pak­istan (2010), as well as peace­keep­ing ef­forts in world con­flict zones; some 120,000 U.N. “blue hel­mets” are dis­patched around the world.

He fur­ther worked to en­hance the dis­ar­ma­ment agenda and bring re­newed at­ten­tion to nuclear safety and se­cu­rity af­ter a March 2011 earth­quake and tsunami shook the Fukushima Dai­ichi Nuclear Power Plant.

Mr. Ban fur­ther made strong ef­forts to make the U.N. bu­reau­cracy more trans­par­ent, ef­fec­tive and ef­fi­cient.

This broad his­tory — plus his recog­ni­tion of the ur­gent need to defuse the North Korean threat — have made him an at­trac­tive can­di­date to lead South Korea.

For the time be­ing, though, Mr. Ban is look­ing for­ward to some fam­ily time.

His public ser­vice has stretched 46 years, with­out a break, Mr. Ban told a re­cent edi­tion of Bei­jing Re­view. “So I may need some rest first of all. And have some more time with my grand­chil­dren.”

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