Issue 106 - August 24 - Ban Ki-moon’s Second Term Up for Discussion, Norway Visit Confirmed

New York, August 24, 2009 - Prospects of a second term for Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon are discussed increasingly now that the mid-point of his term - June 30, 2009 - has passed. A "highly confidential" memo by the Permanent Mission of Norway to the UN strongly criticizes Ban's leadership and describes a growing view that he may not be appointed for a second term. The memo's contents have been reported widely in the press, including in The Independent, Reuters, Associated Press, Herald Sun, Norway Post, Spiegel, Financial Times, Jamaica Observer, and LankaWeb.   

Ban Ki-Moon of South Korea took office on January 1, 2007. His first term of five years ends on December 31, 2011, and the term of the Secretary-General can be renewed one time. In October 2011, Member States will either extend Ban's tenure or appoint someone new.

Below is an overview of recent analyses of Ban's performance and the prospects of a reappointment.

Click here for a description of the selection and appointment of the Secretary-General.

Reviews of Ban's Tenure: Norway's Mission to the UN

On Wednesday, August 19, the Aftenposten newspaper of Norway printed a confidential critique of Ban Ki-moon from Norway's UN mission. The opinions of the Deputy Permanent Representative, Mona Juul, were leaked from an internal report to the Foreign Ministry in Oslo, which was stamped as "Highly Confidential." (See English translation from Foreign Policy.)

Juul described the Secretary-General as "spineless and charmless" as well as "invisible" at times, and Miguel d'Escoto as a "rather special president" of the General Assembly.

She called his appeals on political crises "irresolute and lacking in dedication." His July 2009 visit to Burma was "fruitless;" she wrote, "the ‘top man' has failed." On Sri Lanka, his "moral voice and authority" have been missing.

He is "almost absent" on disarmament and non-proliferation, one of the areas in which he promised to invest great focus before he took office.

In terms of management style, Juul reports that all information going to or coming from Ban is filtered through his deputy Chief of Staff, Kim Won-soo. The Secretary-General has "constant outbreaks of rage," and moreover is "incapable of setting the agenda, inspiring enthusiasm, and showing leadership."

Juul observes that "the member states are increasingly negative towards Ban." On the part of the U.S., in particular, she writes of references to Ban as a one-term SG and reports that "people in the circles of [Permanent Representative to the UN] Susan Rice and [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton are very negative to Ban."

In more detail, the memo critiques Ban's leadership at the UN on the following points:

  • Burma: Ban's visit to Burma in July was "fruitless," and his handling of the situation there is a "shining example" of his inability "to deliver." "There was no shortage of warnings that the Secretary-General should not go at this time.... Special Envoy Gambari was also sceptical at the outset, but Ban insisted.... Special Envoy Gambari will have major problems during the aftermath, after ‘the top man' has failed and the generals in Yangon no longer want to meet with him."
  • Sri Lanka: "The Secretary-General was a powerless observer to thousands of civilians losing their lives and becoming displaced from their homes. The authorities in Colombo refused to see the Secretary-General while the war was ongoing, but he was heartily invited - and accepted an invitation - as soon as the war was ‘won'. The UN's humanitarian effort has been active and honest enough, [but] the moral voice and authority of the Secretary-General has been missing."
  • Other areas in crisis (Darfur, Somalia, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Congo, Gaza): "The Secretary-General's appeals, often irresolute and lacking in dedication, seem to fall on deaf ears. Many would also claim that the handling of the investigative committee, following the war in Gaza, ended with an unstable and overly careful follow up."
  • Financial crisis: "Ban's voice on behalf of the G-172 and the poor is barely being registered. And at times an invisible Secretary-General, in combination with a rather special president of the General Assembly, has to a large extent placed the UN on the sidelines."
  • Environment and climate change: "Even though the Secretary-General repeats ad nauseam that Copenhagen must "seal the deal", there is widespread concern that the UN summit will not contribute anything worth mentioning in the process towards Copenhagen."
  • Disarmament and non-proliferation: "More surprising, and all the more disappointing, is that Ban Ki-moon has been almost absent on the issue of disarmament and non-proliferation. This was an issue he himself held forward as a principal area of focus before he took over his post.... With discussions of a new non-proliferation agreement in 2010 and a U.S. administration that have put the theme much higher on the agenda, it is discouraging that the Secretary-General is not to a larger degree involved."
  • Style and management:
    • Common to all of these examples is a "spineless and charmless Secretary-General" surrounded by mediocre representatives. Decision-making is hampered by the omnipresence of Kim Won-soo (Deputy Chef de Cabinet), through whom all information is filtered, whether it is coming form the Secretary-General or going to him. "The relations with the Deputy-Secretary-General Migiro are also tense and her marge de manouvre seems - if possible - to have decreased. There are constant rumours of replacements and reshuffling." (She refers to rumors including departure of Deputy Secretary-General Asha Rose Migiro, replacement of Chef de Cabinet Vijay Nambiar with USG for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, and replacement of USG for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe with John Holmes.)
    • "Ban has constant outbreaks of rage which even the most cautious and experienced staff find hard to tackle."
    • "The Secretary-General seems to function quite well when he sticks to a script and performs at larger meetings and arrangements. The problem arises when he is ‘on his own' and is incapable of setting the agenda, inspiring enthusiasm and showing leadership - not even internally. The consequence of Ban's lack of engagement and interest in studying well enough the problems, is that he fails to be an effective actor or negotiator in the many negotiation processes he is supposed to handle."
    • Ban "seems to prefer to be in the center without competition from his coworkers and has implied quite clearly that press statements are for him exclusively. The result is that the UN is a less visible and relevant actor in various areas where it would have been natural and necessary for the UN to be engaged."
    • The mood at his Office is unmotivated.
  • Appointments: Ban has not "compensated" for his style "by appointing high profile and visible coworkers. Ban has systematically appointed Special Representatives and top officials in the Secretariat who have not been visibly outstanding - with the exception of Afghanistan.... An honorable exception is the appointment of Helen Clark as the new leader of UNDP. She has in a short time, done good things."
  • Possibility of re-appointment:
    • US: "There are rumours that in certain quarters in Washington, Ban is referred to as a ‘one-term SG.' It is understood that people in the circles of Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton are very negative to Ban, but neither of them has given any declarations."
    • China: "China is also quite positive to him and it is primarily China who holds the key to Ban's second mandate."
    • Russia: "Russia has for a long time been dissatisfied with the Secretary-General's handling of both Kosovo and Georgia but also the lack of appointments of Russians to leading position at the UN. At the same time the Russians, however, have no problems with a not too-interventionist Secretary-General."
    • Member States generally: "Half way through his term, one feels that the member states are increasingly negative towards Ban. Many considered that Ban should be given time and he would improve as he gained experience and any comparison with his charismatic predecessor was unfair. Among those, however, the tone has changed, and now the argument of his learning-potential has expired and the lack of charisma has become a burden." "As a woman from this side of the world, [Helen] Clark could soon turn into a candidate for Ban's second term."

Reactions to the memo, as reported by various media, include the following:

United Nations: Ban will travel to Norway on a climate change-related trip this month. According to Inner City Press on August 20 and Reuters on August 21, the trip was supposed to be announced officially on August 19, the day Juul's memo was reported in Aftenposten. His spokespersons were told to postpone confirming the trip "in the face of news of and questions about the Juul memo."

Asked on August 19 if the leaked memo would affect plans for the trip, a spokesperson said, "...we have not announced the Secretary-General's next travel plans.... the Secretary-General has been considering a visit to the Arctic Rim for some time as part of his, ... his efforts. One of his top priorities is to seal the deal in Copenhagen this December, and so preparations are still ongoing for that trip." A similar conversation took place on Friday, August 21.

Inner City Press reported speaking with "two senior Ban administration officials, both of whom acknowledge that Juul's critique is devastating, even debilitating," especially coming from as large a donor as Norway.

Today, August 24, the UN announced that he will indeed make the trip, beginning this Thursday (August 27), including an official visit to Norway. Ban will meet with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister on August 31. Asked whether Ban would address Juul's memo in the meeting, the spokesperson "said that the memo was an internal matter, and she noted that the Norwegian Foreign Minister had come out with his own statement in response [see "Government of Norway" below]. She said that the Secretary-General would have no comment."

Government of Norway: Jonas Gahr Store, Norway's foreign minister, indicated on 19 August that Juul's report was part of her job, telling Aftenposten in an interview that the role of diplomats is to report the mood and events from the UN. He added that Norway must be a critical friend to the UN to make it better. He also said that the Secretary-General is hard-working and a good listener, and that his job is "the hardest job in the world," echoing former Secretary-General Trygvie Lie.

On August 23 he expressed "regret that it happened" and emphasized "that this is a report to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, it was not a statement by the Norwegian government." He affirmed that Norway was a strong supporter of the UN and the Secretary-General and said, "This is not the time to waste resources on commenting on job performance, this is a time of renewing our support to the U.N. and thereby the support to the current Secretary-General, whom I have experienced as very hard-working and dedicated." The meeting with Ban next week is "heartily welcome."

Norwegian civil society: The general secretary of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Elisabeth Rasmusson, said Juul's assessment is correct, and that the views conveyed in the memo should "become a political issue" in order to prevent Ban from being reappointed.

Reviews of Ban's Tenure: Other Analysis

The Economist, June 11

  • Gives very low marks on management skills - he is "an isolated figure, cut off by an inner circle of mostly Korean advisers. Communication with senior staff is poor, and since Mr Ban is not a good listener, it is hard to harness their expertise. What is needed is some leadership from Mr Ban and some clear goals to aim at.
  • On "truth to power," "there is a sense that he ducks too easily, too often." Partly because he hopes for a second term, "he tries not to offend China over the conflict in Darfur, and over efforts by the International Criminal Court to arrest Sudan's president, an ally of China's, on war-crimes charges. Not wanting to annoy America, Israel's chief ally, Mr Ban also largely kept his head down over the fighting in Gaza. After Sri Lanka's war ended, Mr Ban denied that the UN had leaked grim civilian casualty figures (indeed, some UN officials reportedly sought to suppress the toll)."

Financial Times, June 17

  • "Pervasive criticism of Ban Ki-moon's performance as United Nations secretary-general, from within the organisation and among envoys assigned to it, is raising doubts about his prospects of a second term, according to senior officials and diplomats.... The questioning of Mr Ban's record has become a staple of conversation among staff at the UN's New York headquarters and of diplomatic chatter among the foreign missions."
  • Carne Ross, former UK diplomat: "While there have clearly been some disappointments, a lot rests on Ban's ability to deliver on his self-proclaimed number one priority: ‘selling the deal' on a new climate agreement in Copenhagen [in December]."

Foreign Policy, June 22

  • In a column titled, “Nowhere Man: Why Ban Ki-moon is the world’s most dangerous Korean,” writes, “At a time when global leadership is urgently needed, when climate change and international terrorism and the biggest financial crisis in 60 years might seem to require some ― any ― response, the former South Korean foreign minister has instead been trotting the globe collecting honorary degrees, issuing utterly forgettable statements, and generally frittering away any influence he might command.”

Yonhap, June 27

  • Ban Ki-moon has faced some cutting criticism about his low-profile leadership.... Some view criticism of Ban as a result of opposition to his reform drive or an attempt to block him being re-elected to a second term.

Huffington Post, June 28 (Stephen Schlesinger)

  • "Ban, who has just marked the half-way point in his five-year term in office, has so far been unable to attract a large worldwide audience for his activities. This is due, in part, to stylistic reasons, but also to the vagaries of UN diplomacy. Still in his quiet way, Ban is spending more than a third of his time on the road, and has accomplished much over the past 30 months." For example:
    • Got African Union peacekeepers into Darfur through intensive behind-the-scenes diplomacy. Pushed for more peacekeepers and helicopters.
    • Calmed down the Kosovo independence issue, persuading EU and US to allow UN oversight to continue along with gradually increasing self-governance.
    • In Burma, convinced generals to allow humanitarian aid after cyclone, which he says may have saved a half-million lives.
    • Held donor's conference for Haiti and appointed former US President Bill Clinton as his Special Representative to help with the country
    • Active role in Gaza - defended Palestinians' rights but condemned Hamas's rocket attacks, publicly demanded a halt to the warfare and requested that Israel open Gaza's borders to relief aid.
    • Made global warming a central part of his agenda.
    • Named a special adviser on malaria, set up campaign that has helped to reduce the incidence of malaria.
  • "[T]hroughout his tenure, Ban has consistently displayed progressive instincts on issues."
  • "Nonetheless Ban is sometimes criticized for not doing more, not listening enough, or deferring too much to the Big Five countries on the Security Council. One of the main complaints is that communicating with him can be difficult. Ban invariably nods his head in polite agreement without giving clear guidance. Others say he has yet to prove he is a good manager and must push harder for internal management reforms at the UN."

Korea Times, June 28

  • "At the halfway point of his tenure" Ban "will find his name is on the lips of critics for reasons he would perhaps rather avoid."
  •  "Those who are in favor of Ban gave the U.N. chief credit for what he did for Myanmar after the cyclone, Nargis hit the country.
  • "One of his first initiatives was to make public his financial statements in an effort to upgrade transparency in the secretariat and senior offices. However, his efforts met with cold negligence among senior officers, and none followed him."

UN News, June 29

  • "Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is one of the world's most confidence-inspiring political leaders, according to a new survey made public today" - a poll by the WorldPublicOpinion.org project. He was rated second-highest out of eight leaders (following U.S. President Barack Obama), with an evaluation of "favorable" from 45% of respondents and "unfavorable" from 35%.

The Century Foundation, June 30 (Jeffrey Laurenti)

  • Ban "has tirelessly plugged away at thankless tasks like trying to coax the hardline leaders of Sudan and Myanmar into unclenching their fists a bit to allow relief aid to populations they control but do not trust. In many ways, he recalls Javier Perez de Cuellar, the much underestimated secretary-general in the 1980s whom the Reagan administration treated as an occasionally useful doormat. Perez de Cuellar's mumbling inarticulateness masked a cunning skill at forging solutions to conflicts, enlarging U.N. authority, and herding great-power cats without their ever feeling threatened."
  • Ban has kept the UN "low-key inside the ‘Quartet' that has fiddled silently and fruitlessly for an Arab-Israeli peace agreement, and he drew criticism from U.N. mediators in the region for towing Washington's line in barring (as did Annan) any U.N. staffer from contacts, however informal, with Hamas officials. The Israeli attack on Gaza at the end of 2008, in which U.N. facilities were hit, forced Ban into an unaccustomed confrontation with the Israeli military, in which he has tenaciously held the U.N.'s ground."
  • "...Ban embraced climate change as an issue he would espouse, and he has been dogged in underscoring the urgency of action to halt it."
  • He has "beaten the drum, even during the 2008 economic meltdown, for increased investment by governments in achieving the development goals endorsed by national leaders at U.N. summits in 2000 and 2005."

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