A ten­ure marked by earnest ded­i­ca­tion and criticism, fair and un­fair

The Washington Times Daily - - DECADE OF LEADERSHIP: UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY - G - By Ed Feul­ner Ed Feul­ner is the founder of The Her­itage Foun­da­tion (her­itage.org).

an Ki-moon, the eighth sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the United

is wrap­ping up his sec­ond and fi­nal five-year term with the global body at the end of this year. His ded­i­ca­tion to the U.N. is strong and per­sonal — he was a re­cip­i­ent of U.N. as­sis­tance dur­ing and af­ter the Korean War. How­ever, U.N. sup­port­ers have crit­i­cized him as be­ing, in the words of The Econ­o­mist, “the dullest — and among the worst” of the in­di­vid­u­als serv­ing in that ca­pac­ity.

Although Ban has had his prob­lems, this char­ac­ter­i­za­tion is un­fair.

I first met him when he was South Korea’s deputy for­eign min­is­ter, years be­fore he be­came the U.N. chief. Ban was a sharp and en­gag­ing diplo­mat, with a keen in­ter­est and knowl­edge in global af­fairs. It didn’t sur­prise me that he even­tu­ally moved up to be for­eign min­is­ter in 2004.

I was one of the early sup­port­ers of Ban’s can­di­dacy for the top post at the U.N. Although he was not con­sid­ered a se­ri­ous con­tender at the be­gin­ning of the 2006 sec­re­tary-gen­eral se­lec­tion process, he ran a good cam­paign and ul­ti­mately pre­vailed.

The past nine years have been chal­leng­ing for the U.N. Ban has re­ceived criticism — some fair, some un­de­served — for fail­ing to re­solve prob­lems and crises con­fronting the world body dur­ing his ten­ure. In­deed, my own or­ga­ni­za­tion, The Her­itage Foun­da­tion, has been a fre­quent critic of the U.N. dur­ing his ten­ure.

But it seems that Ban has been held up for spe­cial scorn by those who tra­di­tion­ally cham­pion the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Look­ing back, U.N. devo­tees have been quick to ex­cuse the fail­ings of pre­vi­ous sec­re­taries-gen­eral. Fre­quently, they quote Trygve Lie, the first sec­re­tarygen­eral, who de­scribed the of­fice as “the most im­pos­si­ble job on this earth.”

In­deed, it is a dif­fi­cult job. The sec­re­tary-gen­eral has lim­ited author­ity and must con­stantly nav­i­gate be­tween the com­pet­ing in­ter­ests of the U.N.’s 193 mem­ber states.

But the job is made even more dif­fi­cult by the un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions of its strong­est ad­vo­cates.

Con­sider the per­spec­tive of James Traub of the Cen­ter on In­ter­na­tional Co­op­er­a­tion: “The U.N. sec­re­tary-gen­eral is of­ten called ‘the sec­u­lar pope’ be­cause his po­si­tion per­mits him, in­deed com­pels him, to speak on be­half of all men and women. The world is his flock. Like the pope, he has none of the usual in­stru­ments of power, but he does have great moral author­ity — if he pos­sesses the gift of ex­er­cis­ing it.”

What per­son could meet this stan­dard? The bot­tom line is that the sec­re­tary-gen­eral can climb the bully pul­pit, but has very lit­tle real power at his dis­posal.

The de­mands for the sec­re­tary-gen­eral to take up the flag on var­i­ous moral causes are end­less: de­vel­op­ment, hu­man rights, gen­der equal­ity, cli­mate, sus­tain­abil­ity, re­solv­ing con­flicts, and on and on. Re­peat­edly sound­ing the alarm on so many is­sues de­pre­ci­ates the cur­rency of the sec­re­tary-gen­eral’s lim­ited power. Af­ter a while, the clar­ity of the bully pul­pit fades into in­dis­tinct clamor and din.

Ban’s pre­de­ces­sor, Kofi An­nan, is of­ten praised for his record. He used his charm to great ef­fect in putting him­self in the spot­light and high­light­ing var­i­ous is­sues. But let us not forget, the U.N. also ex­pe­ri­enced sig­nif­i­cant fail­ings un­der An­nan, in­clud­ing the big­gest fi­nan­cial scan­dal in its his­tory.

Ban took up this chal­lenge, but far less ap­pre­ci­ated by the press and the broader oc­cupy the time of the sec­re­tary-gen­eral. The United Na­tions has ma­jor re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, in­clud­ing thou­sands of spe­cific tasks and man­dates as­signed it by the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil and the Gen­eral Assem­bly.

For 2016-2017, the United Na­tions’ reg­u­lar bud­get was $5.4 bil­lion. It has more than 10,000 pro­fes­sional and gen­eral ser­vice em­ploy­ees. The U.N. also de­ployed, as of July 31, more than 118,000 uni­formed and civil­ian per­son­nel in 16 peace­keep­ing op­er­a­tions around the world, with a bud­get of $7.9 bil­lion.

The sec­re­tary-gen­eral is ex­pected to over­see all of this while lack­ing the author­ity to shift re­sources and per­son­nel to meet wax­ing and wan­ing pri­or­i­ties. He is bur­dened, in the mean­time, by an­ti­quated man­dates, reg­u­la­tions and hu­man re­source prac­tices, all while work­ing un­der the con­straints of mem­ber states that have re­sisted ef­forts to ad­dress these prob­lems or to im­prove over­sight, trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity. Ban has worked closely with the U.S. and other ma­jor con­trib­u­tors to con­strain bud­get growth over the past few bi­en­nial bud­gets and im­prove fis­cal trans­parency.

Any fair eval­u­a­tion of his ten­ure has to ac­knowl­edge his fail­ings. But Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban has served the in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion with a high de­gree of ded­i­ca­tion and an earnest at­tempt to im­prove it. That may not de­serve a ticker tape pa­rade, but it mer­its our re­spect.

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