U.N.'s Ban Ki Moon emerges as dogged reformer
In his 15 months as UN secretary-general, he has insisted that the UN come to embody two qualities not always associated with it: efficiency and responsiveness.
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Ban trusts that persistence – a quality that took him to the top of South Korea's diplomatic pyramid – will deliver dividends on tough global issues as well. As one who grew up within the security of a UN-backed armistice and rose in his profession as his country blossomed into a stable democracy and an economic power, Ban came to see South Korea's transformation as the ideal of the UN's purpose.Skip to next paragraph
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As a way of building up pressure for action at Bali, Ban held a summit just before the General Assembly in New York last September, drawing 80 heads of state – the largest number ever to attend a meeting on climate change. That set the stage for Ban's aggressive cajoling at the Bali conference in December, a role many experts say was pivotal in preventing a collapse of the international effort to reduce greenhouse gases. Now his sights are set on hammering out commitments to action at the conference in Copenhagen, Denmark set for next year.
"The climate-change issue has really brought out the nuts-and-bolts nature of this secretary-general," says Robert Orr, an assistant secretary-general for policy planning. "It's his signature the way he's been pushing at the strategic level with the leaders, but has also done very much in the boiler room here at the UN to ensure that the organization is up to the challenge of advancing and implementing these very complex negotiations."
This year, Ban has added water to his list of priority issues – an addition that aides say he made largely as a result of his immersion in the climate-change issue. He has talked, for example, of the role water – or rather the lack of it – has played in the Darfur conflict.
But as Mr. Orr says, the deeper explanation for Ban's emphasis on water is a broad interest in preventive action – the conviction that acting on issues like water distribution before they become open conflicts or calamities is much less costly to the world.
Still, some conflicts have already advanced beyond the preventive stage – such as Darfur, which has reached a level of violence that President Bush has termed "genocide."
Ban is "frustrated" and "impatient" with the slow political progress, aides say, but they add that he prefers to call on his trademark persistence rather than throw in the towel. He worked doggedly on agreements between the government of Sudan and the African Union that led to a UN Security Council resolution last summer authorizing a hybrid UN force made up largely of African Union soldiers.
He's now pressing other countries to provide necessary equipment and logistical support for the force, and he's pushing Sudan to accept soldiers on its territory from countries like Thailand and Nepal, which have offered to take part.
Last week he met with Bush's special envoy to Sudan, Richard Williamson, to discuss Ambassador Williamson's recent trip to Sudan. And on Tuesday, Ban was to brief the Security Council on advancing the deployment of the hybrid force to Darfur.
Progress is neither fast nor easy on any of this, but Ban persists – as those who know him say they'd expect.
"There are people who, when they are trying to do something and they run into a block or a brick wall, they try to divert attention to another subject, but that's not Ban Ki Moon," says Undersecretary Pascoe. "He just keeps going back and pushing it."