Ban Ki-moon lunches with the FT

Gillian Tett, US managing editor of the Financial Times, interviews Ban Ki-moon, the South Korean national who, more than eight years ago, replaced Kofi Annan as Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Sixty-five years ago, as a [six-year-old] child in Korea, he [Ban] was forced to leave home when his village was sucked into the country’s brutal war. Ever since, he has felt a particularly strong affinity with victims of violence. ….

As a child, Ban idealised the United Nations — set up after the devastation of the second world war — as “a beacon!” But today, as it prepares to host its 70th General Assembly, pulling together representatives from all of its 193 countries, the organisation seems less beacon and more behemoth, and Ban, its secretary-general since 2007, has learnt the cruel limits of political power. ….

[The UN] has become a sprawling mess: it has 15 specialised agencies, 12 different funds, and a secretariat that employs more than 40,000 people, costing $5.5bn in 2014-15. To complicate matters, all members have an equal vote on issues — and the five members of the “security council” that serves as the UN’s inner sanctum (US, China, Russia, France and Britain) have a veto over decisions. That leaves the institution mired in gridlock.

The question that hovers over the UN as it faces its big birthday is whether it has now outlived its purpose. Does Ban have an utterly hopeless job?

Gillian Tett, “Lunch with the FT: Ban Ki-moon“, Financial Times, 19 September 2015 (gated paywall).

Ban, diplomatically, does not directly answer Ms Tett’s question. This is the closest he comes:

“If everything goes wrong, I become an easy scapegoat — we joke that ‘SG’, or secretary-general, is now standing for scapegoat,” he continues. “I don’t complain about this. But when there is a unity of purpose and solidarity among security council members, particularly the five permanent members, you can make real things.”

When did that unity last appear? “Two years ago,” he sighs. That was when the security council briefly agreed to monitor chemical weapons in Syria. Ban is now imploring the group to take wider action in that country. But, to his disappointment, Russia and China have vetoed this.

I interpret that to mean that Ban has a hopeless job.


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