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Ban's UN blues

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15 July 2009 09:54

Global Dashboard blogger Richard Gowan detects pessimism in UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon's lengthy interview with the Wall St Journal. Asked about the UN becoming 'less important', Ban replies:

Mr. Ban: There should be a clear understanding what kind of a role do you expect, and what kind of a role the United Nations should play at this time, in the 21st century. Your philosophical views of the United Nations may be still like in the 1960s, ’70s or ’80s at the latest. Your view of the United Nations is not 21st century. During the Cold War era, the United Nations might have been the only and most universal organization in the international community. But you are still looking at the early stage of that time of the United Nations. Now you have the European Union, African Union and League of Arab States and many regional and sub-regional and quite big organizations. There are many actors now. It used to be the United States and the Soviet Union until lately. Now you have all the European leaders, Germans, French, the European Commission. Many other European powers with quite high economic development. The European Union has now emerged as a political player, a global player.

It used to be only the United States. Now the United States is still the global power, but still one of the global powers. The United Nations has become one of the global players, it’s not the only one. Therefore you cannot expect all from the Secretary General. Those days are over.

I agree with Gowan that the nostalgia in that last sentence is misplaced. There never were any UN halcyon days, and I doubt anyone ever 'expected all' from the Secretary General. But maybe there's more optimism in that longer para than Gowan allows. Ban seems to be saying that the UN was sidelined in the bipolar world, but in an emerging multipolar age, it could have more influence.

It is a strange interview, though. Right after the answer quoted above, Ban's aide intervenes to list all the work the UN is doing around the world. What other world leader would allow an adviser such latitude in a media interview? It rather belittles Ban.

The Secretary General's description of his decision-making technique is also...interesting:

When it comes to principles, then I speak out.  When out of 10 people 7 people agree, then that is the one that I take as a policy. I don't decide by myself a lot. Sometimes if I decide by myself, I may take a wrong choice.  I always ask for the views of my senior advisors. And when out of 10, seven agree, that's what I believe.

Finally, and without making fun of Ban's English, I note he inadvertently creates a small piece of poetry early in the interview:

I am known as "Invisible Man." I am troubled. How much visible is invisible and how much invisible is visible? You have not seen me closely, closely.

Rather pretty, don't you think?

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