Friday, August 21, 2009

At UN, Norway's Trashing of Ban Stirs Rumors of Endgame: Full Text

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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moons fruitless visit to Burma at the beginning of July was emblematic of a Secretary-General and an organization that is struggling to show leadership. At a time where the UN and the need for multilateral solutions to global crises is more necessary than ever, Ban and the UN are conspicuous by their absence. In the last half-year, follow-up to the many crises that dominated last fall’s General Assembly should have brought the Secretary-General and the UN fully into the fray, but the opposite seems to have occurred.

In relation to the financial crisis, neither the Secretary-General nor the General Assembly – despite the major meeting on the financial crisis at the end of June – have distinguished themselves as the most important arena for discussion, and the vacuum has been filled by the G-20 and other actors. Ban's voice on behalf of the G-192 and the poor has hardly [there’s a misspelling in the original; “kapt” is not a word but “knapt” means “hardly”] registered. An at times invisible Secretary-General in combination with a rather special President of the General Assembly has gone far to sideline the UN, and the organization hasn’t realized its limits. On the environment/energy area the UN is also struggling to be relevant, despite the planned high-level meeting on climate change at the opening of the General Assembly this fall. Even though the Secretary-General to the point of boredom repeats that Copenhagen is supposed to “seal the deal,” there is widespread worry that the UN-high-level meeting won’t contribute notably to the process leading up to Copenhagen.

In the many political/security crises around the world, the Secretary-General’s leadership and ability to deliver on behalf of the UN is still being sought. Burma is a shining example of this. There was no lack of warning that the Secretary-General shouldn’t go at this time. The Americans were among the most doubtful to his trip, but the British thought he should go. Special Representative Gambari was initially also doubtful, but Ban insisted. Gambari pointed to the fact that recent negative press coverage (headlines like “Whereabouts unknown in The Times and “Nowwhere Man [sic]” in Foreign Policy) had made Ban even more set on visiting Burma. After an apparently fruitless visit by the Secretary-General, the UN’s “good offices” will become even more problematic. Special Representative Gambari will have big problems continuing after “the top man” has failed and the generals in Yangoon [sic] no longer want to meet him.

Another example of weak handling from the Secretary-General’s side is the war in Sri Lanka. The Secretary-General was a powerless observer to civilians in their thousands losing their lives and being driven from their homes. The authorities in Colombo refused to receive the Secretary-General while the war was going on, but he was an honored guest -- and he accepted the invitation -- once the war had been “won.” Even though the UN’s humanitarian effort had been active and honorable enough, the Secretary-General’s moral voice and authority have been absent.

Also in other “crisis areas,” for example Darfur, Somalia, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and not least Congo, the Secretary-General’s passive and not very committed appeals seem to fall on deaf ears. Many would also claim that the handling of the inquiry commission after the war in Gaza ended up with an unsteady and too-careful follow-up.

More surprisingly, and therefore more disappointingly, Ban Ki-moon has been almost absent on the disarmament and non-proliferation area. This was a field he himself presented as one of his priority areas before he started his post. The reorganization of the department of disarmament to an office directly answerable to the Secretary-General, led by a High Representative indicated a big stake in this area, also given the Secretary-General’s own background on the Korean peninsula. With a new nonproliferation treaty review in 2010 and an American administration which has put the team much higher on the agenda, it’s cause for concern that the Secretary-General isn’t more committed.

The common thread in all these cases is that an unclear Secretary-General with a lack of charisma is not compensated for by high-profile and visible colleagues. Ban has consistently chosen special representatives and leaders in the Secretariat who don’t distinguish themselves, except for the case of Afghanistan. Furthermore, he seems to prefer to be in the center himself, without competition from his colleagues, and lets it shine through pretty clearly that commenting to the media is a privilege belonging to himself. The result is that the UN becomes a less visible and relevant player in areas where it would have been natural and necessary for an active UN-engagement. A notable exception is the selection of Helen Clark as the new leader for UNDP. She has in her short time on the job shown promise. It will be interesting to follow if she is given room to distinguish the UN’s development side. As a woman from that part of the world, Clark could quickly become a competitor for Ban’s second period.

It was common knowledge that it was a conscious choice [NB! The Norwegian word “bevist” which is written here means “proven,” but in this context it appears to be a misspelling of the word “bevisst” meaning “conscious.”] from the then-current American administration that an activist Secretary-General was not wanted. The new American administration hasn’t yet signaled any change in their attitude to Ban, even though there are rumors that some people in Washington are now referring to Ban as “a one-term SG”. It’s said that the people around both Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton are very negative to Ban, but the two are yet to speak on the matter. China is probably pretty happy with him and it’s primarily China which holds the key to whether Ban will be renewed for a second term. Russia has for a long time been dissatisfied with the Secretary-General both in terms of his handling of Kosovo and Georgia, but also because of a lack of recruitment of Russians to important positions. At the same time, Russia is well served by a Secretary-General who isn’t too interventionist.

Among the remainder of the member states one notices that the perception of Ban at the midway point is growing steadily more negative. Among the many who thought he should be given some more time, that everything would get better once he warmed up, and that the comparison to his predecessor’s charisma was unfair, the tune is now that the beginner’s goodwill [direct translation: “learning potential”] appears to be spent and that a lack of charisma is actually a problem. The Secretary-General seems to function well enough when he sticks to the script, and shows up to a lot of meetings and other events. The problem arises when he’s “on his own” where he can’t manage to set the agenda, create enthusiasm and show leadership – not internally either. Ban’s lack of engagement and lack of interest in mastering the issues means that he doesn’t become an effective player or negotiator in the many conflict situations he is expected to handle.

The mood at “the house” is still characterized as not very motivated, with a culture of decision-making which is marked by information both up and down the system being filtered by the omnipresent assistant chief of cabinet Kim. After recent negative media stories about the Secretary-General, the mood on the 38th floor is said to be pretty tense. Ban has constant temper tantrums [direct translation: outbreaks of rage] which even levelheaded [the Norwegian word “sindig” is untranslatable and describes a quality of being capable and calm as well as having common sense] and experienced colleagues have trouble handling. The relationship with next-in-command Migiro is as strained and her sphere of action appears to have shrunk even further. There are constant rumors of replacements and switch-overs. In addition to rumors that Migiro is on her way out, it’s rumored that OCHA-boss Holms [sic], who is roundly praised, is taking over as Chef de Cabinet, and that Nambiar is quitting. The same is said about the head of the political department, Pascoe, and that Holms [sic] is also a candidate to taking over his job. The British are probably still very concerned about getting that post back. These are, however, only rumors and most probably, Ban will continue with the same crew – at least ‘till the end of this year. If that’s good enough for a second term only time will tell.

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