A Job for Mr. Ban

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

With the candidacy of the South Korean foreign minister, Ban Ki-moon, to be the next secretary general of the United Nations increasingly looking all but guaranteed of victory, talk is already turning to what Mr. Ban will be able to accomplish once he assumes that lofty post. The U.N. is such a discredited and unpredictable institution it’s impossible to imagine what his achievements, if there are any, will turn out to be, but by our lights the best thing he could possibly do for New York – and, we don’t mind saying, for the United Nations — would be to move the United Nations elsewhere. New Yorkers don’t want it here, and our enterprises could put the land it currently occupies to uses that are far, far better for the city’s economy.

We have nothing personal against Mr. Ban. He could turn out to make a respectable secretary general, and he will inevitably be an improvement on his predecessor, whose name will be linked, for all time, to Sbrenica, Rwanda, the Oil-for-Food scandal, and his decision to pause, enroute to Yad Vashem, to place a wreath on the grave of Yasser Arafat. Unlike Mr. Annan at the time of his election, Mr. Ban has actually had a professional life outside the United Nations system. Even better, a significant portion of Mr. Ban’s career as a diplomat has been spent working with America, either as his country’s ambassador to Washington or as the head of the foreign ministry office responsible for American relations.

Mr. Ban’s much-touted experience with economic development, gleaned both at home and during a posting in India, doesn’t appear to be code for statist economic sympathies. He’s said to be a great believer in the power of democracy and free markets. Yet beyond even the normal suspicion that clouds anyone who has nothing better to do than pursue the top job at Turtle Bay, Mr. Ban’s candidacy highlights much of what’s wrong with the U.N. Most noticeably, there’s the way he, with support from the South Korean government, has campaigned for the job, a sausage-making endeavor described by our Benny Avni in his Turtle Bay column yesterday.

To gain this post for Mr. Ban, South Korea has been spreading its largesse far and wide — or at least to current members of the security council that will decide Mr. Ban’s fate. Mr. Avni quotes a report in the London Times that it has slathered $18 million in education grants on Tanzania and a $1 billion new Kia factory on Slovakia. The fact that other countries on the security council appear to be falling for this gambit is all too typical of the way the world body operates. It is a sign of just how far into disrepute the United Nations has plummeted.

Fresh off an oil-for-food scandal that has sullied the upper reaches of the United Nations secretariat with charges of nepotism and influence peddling, the institution is picking its next leader via a process that is not markedly more honest or transparent than anything that has gone before. There’s been much discussion of whether Mr. Ban’s quiet demeanor would be well suited to the hard work of reforming the U.N., but that’s beside the point. The way Mr. Ban is being elected underscores the lack of interest in reform on the part of anyone else in Turtle Bay, save Ambassadors Bolton and Oshima, whose governments in Washington and Tokyo, not coincidentally, supply something like a third of the United Nations’ funding.

The finagling surrounding the selection of a new secretary general comes as bizarre coda to the recently concluded session of the general assembly, in which delegates applauded an Iranian dictator and burst into merriment as a tin pot despot from Venezuela waved a book by an America- and Israel-hating professor, Noam Chomsky, and called President Bush “the devil,” complete with adolescent joke about a lingering sulfurous odor at the podium where the leader of the free world had stood the previous evening.

Our Mr. Avni speculated that Mr. Ban could prove to be the last secretary general before the United Nations itself slides onto the ash heap of history. But two five-year terms are a long time to wait for the demise of the United Nations. It is certainly enough time for Mr. Ban to take the hint that New York has been giving in its refusal to give up a park so the United Nations could build “swing space” while its headquarters is rebuilt, not to mention the hint that has been given in the reluctance of the Congress to underwrite the renovation.Mr. Ban could go down in history if he led an effort to find a city that wanted the United Nations and a host country that was prepared to underwrite a headquarters there. It would be an important step in the right direction.

The New York Sun

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