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  Global Views
S. Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon Sure to Succeed Kofi Annan as UN Secretary-General
By Charles Mercieca
Professor Emeritus, Alabama A&M University
S. Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon

Although over the past several months there were many speculations as to who may succeed Kofi Annan as UN Secretary-General, the name of South Korea's Foreign Minister Ban Ki Moon seemed to become dominant. This diplomat has been known for his hard work and good luck in the sense that he tended to do the right things at the right time and to be in the right places at the right time as well. His sense of adaptability in dealing with all kinds of people has been one of his great assets in his diplomatic career.

Great Character and Personality

In his approach to people from every walk of life and profession he always tended to be cordial. He adheres faithfully to principles that he views of vital importance. This has enabled those around to know always where they stand with him. In part it may explain the reason for his popularity wherever he finds himself. Mr. Ban is in his early sixties and he speaks fluently English and French in addition to Korean. His vacations usually consist of change of work or routine but he rarely ceases to work day in and day out.

In his political career, Mr. Ban came across some crucial incidents. One was when a Korean worker was kidnapped and killed in Iraq in June 2006. The other was when several Koreans died during the deadly tsunami of December 2005. In addition to his positive public image, he has had the full support of South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun. All of this has helped to boost up his image in being taken very seriously for the position of UN Secretary-General.

In his favor relative to the taking helm at the United Nations lies in the unwritten rule of rotation by regional areas when taking the role of UN Secretary-General. This time the turn seemed to be Asia. China could not file a candidate because the permanent member of the UN Security Council cannot have anyone proposed to become the UN Secretary-General. Also, Japan's position at the United Nations is still controversial in a number of ways.

Mr. Ban was born in Chungju, Chungcheog Province, which is a very quiet city in southwest Seoul. He established a reputation of being a nice and intelligent person. Among a few stories he liked to say was the one that relates to how he decided to purse a diplomatic career. As a high school student in 1962, Ban won an English speaking contest, winning a trip to Washington to meet then President John F. Kennedy. He says it was at that time he decided to become a diplomat.

Academic and Diplomatic Qualifications

Following this experience, he returned to South Korea and entered the prestigious Seoul National University in 1970. There he secured a Master's degree in international relations, which enhanced his credibility in what he was trying to do with his life. Soon after he joined the Foreign Ministry in 1970s, Ban served in many important posts, including a stint as Ambassador to the United States. However, his first overseas job after passing the High Diplomatic Service Examination was to work as Vice Consul in New Delhi, India, in 1972. Later, he became the second secretary at the Korean Embassy in India followed by becoming first secretary at Korea's permanent observer mission to the United Nations.

In the 1980s Ban continued his work related to the United Nations as the director of the United Nation's Division of the International Organizations and Treaties Bureau at their headquarters in Seoul. Later, he served as a senior protocol secretary to the prime minister and as a counselor and consul general at the embassy in the United States. In 1990, he became the director-general of the American Affairs bureau and two years later worked as a special assistant to the foreign minister. He was also the vice chairman of the South-North Joint Nuclear Commission. He became minister at the Korean Embassy in the United States and later deputy minister of Foreign Affairs for Policy Planning and Political Affairs respectively in 1995 and 1996.

His career entered a new phase in 1996 when he became the chief protocol officer to then-President Kim Young Sam. He was also a senior secretary to the president for foreign policy and national security the same year. He became more directly involved in international affairs by becoming the ambassador extraordinary to Austria and the International Organizations in Vienna in 1998. A year later, Ban became the chairman of the preparatory commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization. In 2000, Ban was named vice minister and later became chef-de-cabinet for the president of the United Nations General Assembly in 2001 for a year.

Besides, Ban assisted President Roh Moo Hyun as an adviser on foreign policy in 2003 and was eventually named foreign minister in January 2004. In his academic qualifications, Ban also secured a Master's degree in public administration from the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. He has been recognized throughout his career and was awarded the Van Fleet Award by the Korea Society in September 2004, the Grand Cross of Rio Branco Order from Brazil in February 2002, and the Grand Decoration of Honor from Austria in November 2001. He is married to his high school sweetheart Yoo Soon Taek and has one son and two daughters

Qualifications for the U.N. Post

With this kind of background, in addition to his well accepted character and personality, there seems to be no wonder as to why Ban have been viewed as the most likely successor to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. This office is often called the most impossible job in the world. On paper, it is the highest post in the world's largest organization, but the UN secretary-general holds no decision-making authority, rather he is in charge of encouraging every member to tackle the right issue at the right time.

Although the job is responsible for nearly 16,000 staff in the headquarters, it cannot let its nationality influence its personnel decisions. To describe it without further embellishment, the UN secretary-general basically has to be the most unbiased person in the world. With such an impossible task comes great honor but little glamour. The secretary-general's salary, which has not been raised since 1997, is set at $227,253 per annum by the UN General Assembly.

"Nobody would do this job for the money," is what Secretary-General's spokesman Fred Eckhard was quoted as saying. The secretary-general does, however, get a little slack by receiving a budget for personal entertainment, free housing and security protection. The UN owned residence is on Sutton Place, in an exclusive Manhattan neighborhood on the East Side. It is in walking distance to UN headquarters.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan from Ghana, who has lived in the house for the past 10 years, has been scheduled to finish his term in December. He was the seventh secretary general since the birth of the United Nations in 1945. The first secretary-general of the United Nations was Trygve Halvdan Lie of Norway between 1946 and 1952. Sweden's Dag Hammarskjold succeeded from 1953 to 1961 followed by U-Thant of Myanmar between 1961 and 1971. Fourth was Kurt Waldheim of Austria between 1972 and 1981. Between 1982 and 1991 was Javier Perez de Cuellar from Peru, before Boutros Boutros-Ghali from Egypt who served in the post between 1992 and 1996.

As mutual as the post is, the selection process is still highly political. Despite calls within non-alliance members to make the process more transparent, the decision as to who will be picked is still up to the five permanent members of the UNSC Based on the designation customarily conducted in regional rotation, the 15-member UNSC carries out repetitive straw polls until they reach a unanimous consensus. After several straw polls, they conduct another ballot with colors this time - the permanent members voting on red papers and non permanent members voting on white papers.

Process of Selection in General Assembly

This ballot will determine which candidates have the support of the key permanent voters. Following the colored ballots which will narrow down the contenders into a single recommendation, the UNSC will hold an official vote for the person to be relayed to the UN General Assembly for a final approval. So far all candidates referred to the General Assembly were approved with a signal of applause.

But the future process is likely to undergo change in terms of the regional rotation as well as the omnipotent selection power of the UNSC. Such countries as Canada are calling for the voting process to adopt more transparency and objectivity with reduced power of the permanent members. By regulation, five permanent member countries to the Security Council cannot run for the secretary-general seat and usually a candidate from a middle-sized country gets the job. Once elected, secretary-general of the United Nations is considered an equal to chief administrative office of the UN headquarters and an international civil servant that is liberal from influence from any government or organization.

The secretary-general enjoys the courtesy equal to a nation's leader. He is entitled to discuss with all affiliated councils and organizations and adjust and mediate for the prevention of inter-border conflicts by using "good offices" and executing "quiet diplomacy." The United Nations is currently undergoing major challenges and works ahead including inter-state and internal conflicts such as in the Middle East, Southwest Africa and Northeast Asia as well as rising criticism against the effectiveness of peacekeeping operations.

There is famine, epidemics and environment issues, as well as the proliferation activities of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and non-state actors' organized crimes. Korea joined the United Nations in 1991. It is the 11th largest financial supporter and 10th largest Peacekeeping operation financer of the UN member states.

Korea supports an expansion of participation by middle-sized countries and more balanced power in the decision-making processes of the United Nations. It also steadily backs the efforts achieve the Millennium Development Goals to fight famine, poverty, and alleviation of information gap but is more cautious on human rights issue due to the sensitive relations with North Korea.

Other Available Candidates

Vying for the post this time is Korea's Foreign Minister Ban Ki Moon; India's Shashi Tharoor, Annan's under secretary general for communications; Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga; Surakiart Sathirathai, a deputy prime minister of the ousted Thai regime; Jordan's U.N. Ambassador Prince Zeid Al-Hussein; and former Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani. (as of early October, 2006 all the other candidates but Mr. Ban resigned from their candidacy, pledging their support for Mr. Ban for the selection of UN secretary general.)

Ban Ki Moon, who has almost secured his position to become the next UN secretary-general with a convincing win in Monday's straw poll, said in Seoul on Tuesday that he is happy to reconfirm the Security Council's support for him, but he also said he has a "strong sense of responsibility." With a broad smile on his face, Ban, 62, told reporters that he will continue to try to get support from all UN member states. He still has two more stages to go through before being officially nominated as the next chief of the global body: a formal vote in the Security Council presumably on October 9, 2006 and the following approval process of the General Assembly within the next 10 days.

Mr. Ban, who currently heads the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry, is expected to visit New York next week to meet leaders of the five regional groups in the General Assembly, ministry officials said. In a telephone conversation, President Roh Moo Hyun congratulated Ban on the good result in the fourth indicative poll, saying it demonstrates the capacity of South Korean diplomacy. All political parties in Seoul echoed the president's remarks by describing it an "auspicious" occasion and the most "heart-stirring" achievement in South Korea's history of diplomacy.

A public service expert in New York also praised Seoul's prominence on the world stage after such a short period of time; the country joined the United Nations in 1991. "The really remarkable fact is the prominence of this candidacy given South Korea's relatively recent arrival at the United Nations," Dennis C. Smith, professor of the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University, told a Korean newspaper. "It is a tribute to the rapid rise of both the country and the candidate in world stature, whatever happens now." Foreign ministry officials in Seoul looked tired as most of them stayed up until they got the voting result at around 6 a.m.

They modestly told reporters that Ban has now "turned the corner."

"A formal voting session will take place at the Security Council next week," an official said, asking not to be named. "We also need to get him to pass the General Assembly's confirmation process with an acclamation, following the United Nations' tradition." The ministry has been worried about the possibility that the nonaligned group in the United Nations could stonewall the candidate approval session, demanding the Security Council give a greater say to the General Assembly in the process of selecting the next secretary-general.

Exerted Influence by U.N. Security Council

"For instance, some developing nations like India have suggested that the Security Council present the General Assembly with three nominees rather than the one candidate normally submitted for consideration," Brett D. Schaefer, a Jay Kingham fellow in international regulatory affairs at the Heritage Foundation, said in an e-mail interview.

However, the concern has apparently dwindled as India's candidate, Shashi Tharoor, pulled out of the UN race right after the Monday poll, a Seoul official who is familiar with the election process said. The five permanent members of the Security Council: the USA, China, Russia, the United Kingdom and France have also opposed the nonaligned group's request.

They worry that such a process could split the membership and weaken the next secretary-general, who would be viewed as lacking the support of all the membership, Schaefer said. Article 97 of the UN Charter states that the secretary-general is to be appointed by the General Assembly upon nomination from the Security Council.

But an exception was made by the General Assembly in 1953 when Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden was elected by 57 to 1. The South Korean government plans to choose Ban's successor for the Cabinet when the UN General Assembly officially names him the world's top diplomat, government officials said. If elected, Ban will take office on January 1, 2007, succeeding Kofi Annan.






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