Feel­ing ‘un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated’: Ban tired of U.N. bash­ing

The Washington Times Weekly - - International Perspective - BY BETSY PISIK AND BAR­BARA SLAVIN

UNITED NA­TIONS | On the eve of the an­nual meet­ing here of world leaders, U.N. Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon com­plained that he is per­ceived as “in­vis­i­ble” and that nei­ther he nor his or­ga­ni­za­tion gets enough credit for ef­forts to re­form and to al­le­vi­ate global ills.

The United Na­tions is “un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated” by gov­ern­ments and of­ten the press, Mr. Ban said, in part be­cause the world body doesn’t trum­pet its suc­cesses. Mem­ber states, he added, are of­ten the root causes of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s all-too-fre­quent dead­locks.

“There is un­fair crit­i­cism,” Mr. Ban told The Wash­ing­ton Times in an in­ter­view. “We are de­pen­dent on the re­sources given by mem­ber states. There is a huge lack of po­lit­i­cal will to sup­port the United Na­tions. It’s easy to crit­i­cize.”

But Mr. Ban, the first Asian sec­re­tary-gen­eral since U-Thant of Burma served from 1961 to 1971, ac­knowl­edged that his own ret­i­cent style con­trib­utes to the im­pres­sion that he and the or­ga­ni­za­tion he heads are not par­tic­u­larly ef­fec­tive.

“My prob­lem is that I do not talk too much,” he told The Times two weeks ago. “I’m just seen as in­vis­i­ble. [. . . ] We have [had] many dis­tin­guished sec­re­tary-gen­er­als. [. . . ] They have done their best, and I’m do­ing my best. I’m sure I’m do­ing even more in terms of time and en­ergy, but I do not make it known. I just do what I need to do.”

Through­out the U.N. sys­tem — a vast bu­reau­cracy with offices on ev­ery con­ti­nent and 192 cap­i­tals to an­swer to — there are con­cerns that Mr. Ban is too iso­lated in his de­ci­sion-mak­ing, fall­ing back on a man­age­ment style bet­ter suited to the South Korean For­eign Min­istry he used to run rather than a rau­cous global en­ter­prise.

He has sought to sat­isfy the United States — which con­trib­utes 22 per­cent of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s $3.8 bil­lion an­nual bud­get — by press­ing for re­form and stricter eth­i­cal stan­dards. But his ef­forts to bring trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity of­ten have been thwarted.

For ex­am­ple, the U.N. De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram re­jected his re­quest to pay repa­ra­tions to a whistle­blower as re­quired by a U.N. ethics com­mit­tee; top man­agers have filed fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sure forms, but none save Mr. Ban has made them pub­lic; and ef­forts to im­prove co­op­er­a­tion be­tween de­part­ments have been ham­pered by fa­mil­iar turf wars.

In Turin, Italy, this sum­mer, dur­ing an an­nual meet­ing of se­nior U.N. of­fi­cials, Mr. Ban ripped into his team for fail­ing to make progress on re­form.

“We of­ten com­plain that mem­ber states mi­cro­man­age us. But I have found over the past 20 months that it is more us, rather than mem­ber states, who are the mi­cro­man­agers,” he said in re­marks that were quickly leaked to the press. “We must change our U.N. cul­ture. We must move faster. Sim- plify. Dereg­u­late. De­cen­tral­ize.”

In the in­ter­view in his wood­pan­eled of­fice over­look­ing the East River and the Queens sky­line, Mr. Ban vented his frus­tra­tion that the or­ga­ni­za­tion has been so dif­fi­cult to re­shape.

“Last year when I led by ex­am­ple, no­body fol­lowed,” he said sadly, re­fer­ring to fill­ing out fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sure forms. But he as­serted that progress had been made. “Now al­most all se­nior ad­vis­ers above the di­rec­tor level have done so” even though the doc­u­ments have not been made pub­lic.

Mr. Ban won his po­si­tion in large part be­cause of strong sup­port from the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, which was an­gered by pre­de­ces­sor Kofi An­nan’s vo­cal op­po­si­tion to the U.S. in­va­sion of Iraq and by a scan­dal over cor­rup­tion in a U.N. pro­gram that sold Iraqi oil os­ten­si­bly to ben­e­fit the Iraqi peo­ple.

“We think he’s do­ing a fine job,” said State Depart­ment spokesman Sean McCormack. “We are work­ing very well with him on a num­ber of is­sues. He has a hard job. [. . .] He has a num­ber of dif­fer­ent con­stituen­cies be­yond the United States.”

How­ever, Nile Gar­diner, a U.N. spe­cial­ist at the con­ser­va­tive Her­itage Foun­da­tion, said Mr. Ban was a “mixed bag” from the U.S. per­spec­tive: “less hos­tile” than Mr. An­nan but not nec­es­sar­ily “more suc­cess­ful.”

“We don’t see open at­tacks on U.S. or Bri­tish for­eign pol­icy, but he’s not an out­stand­ing fig­ure in terms of stand­ing up to dic­ta­tors,” Mr. Gar­diner said.

Mr. Ban replies that he is pri­vately crit­i­cal and points to “heated and emo­tional” ex­changes he says he has had with the au­to­cratic rulers of Su­dan, Zim­babwe and Burma.

Mr. Ban also has made global warm­ing a ma­jor pri­or­ity. He has con­vened re­gional meet­ings on the mat­ter, and will chair a global con­fer­ence on cli­mate change in Copen­hagen next year.

“It was me who re­ally raised the aware­ness of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity,” he said. “Even two years ago, there was not much de­bate about cli­mate change. Now cli­mate change has be­come one of the most se­ri­ous is­sues in the world in the mind of world leaders.”

He is seek­ing ex­plicit bench­marks and tar­gets. “A global uni­ver­sal agree­ment, very ef­fec­tive, bal­anced, in­clu­sive and rat­i­fi­able treaty” is the goal, he said. “In­clu­sive means all the coun­tries of the world must get on board, in­clud­ing the United States.”


Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon says gov­ern­ments un­der­ap­pre­ci­ate the be­hind-thescenes work of the U.N.

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