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Last Updated: Monday, 9 October 2006, 09:11 GMT 10:11 UK
No honeymoon for new UN Secretary General
By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

The likely secretary general-elect of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon seems to have already decided to concentrate more on being a good administrator and less on cutting a dash as a high-profile international diplomat.

Ban Ki-moon
Ban Ki-moon is likely to concentrate on being a good administrator
The mild-mannered public servant and politician from South Korea - he is currently its foreign minister - will, therefore, differ from the present secretary general Kofi Annan, who retires at the end of the year.

Mr Annan has sought to make the UN more interventionist in world crises but his neglect of the UN organisation landed him in trouble when corruption and maladministration was revealed in the oil-for-food programme for Iraq.

"Ban Ki-moon is low-key and consensual. These are not bad qualities and one cannot judge a secretary general in advance," said Lord (David) Hannay, formerly Britain's UN ambassador and a member of a high-level panel that called for UN reform.

"He was the best in a thin field which was restricted because of the requirement to have the candidates from Asia this time.

"But in any event, the secretary general of the UN does not get a honeymoon. He gets a baptism of fire."

Influence of major powers

The choice of Ban Ki-moon seems to reflect a desire among the leading powers for the UN to take a back seat. The United States, which almost came to blows with Kofi Annan over Iraq, has emphasised the secretary general's role as the UN's chief administrator.

The Chinese are still themselves playing a quiet role at the UN and have spoken warmly of their South Korean colleague, so presumably they favour his similarly quiet approach.

The other permanent security council members, Russia, Britain and France, also seem happy to have someone who is unlikely to cause too many waves.

Broadly, Ban Ki-moon has two main challenges.

The first is internal and the second external.

Internal UN reform

Internally, he has to take UN reforms further. His problem here is that it is not only the powerful nations that might not want too active a secretary general.

Efforts to give the office more power over the bureaucracy had only limited success last year when the General Assembly, where the bulk of countries are represented, objected to major changes. This means that the secretary general will still have his hands somewhat tied on the appointment and removal of many UN diplomats.

Iran's Bushehr plant
The new UN chief will have to deal with possible sanctions over Iran
Getting that aspect of reform through will test Mr Ban's manners to the full.

But he also needs to decide what priorities to set for the organisation, for example, how hard to push the millennium development goals and how to direct the peace-building commission that the reform panel called for as a way of trying to avoid crises in the future.

He is expected to appoint a deputy who might play a more forceful role than deputies have in the past.

Thorsten Benner, of the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin and author of a forthcoming book about the UN, wrote in the International Herald Tribune:

"Ban ran a skilful campaign in which he advocated the right approach for turning the UN into an effective, accountable and transparent global organization.

"Ban is right on target when he asserts that the 'strategic focus should be more on achieving the goals already set rather than identifying new frontiers to conquer.'"

External UN role

Externally, he faces an immediate crisis over North Korea which announced its nuclear test on the day that Mr Ban's name was due to come before the Security Council.

Obviously his South Korean background gives him special insights into the issue but equally he will have to show an even-handed approach.

There are also crises over the UN's potential intervention in Darfur, over possible sanctions against Iran and as always the Middle East.

The consensus-building skills that go with his kind of profile might eventually put him a position to do some heavy lifting
Francois Heisbourg, Foundation for Strategic Research
It is likely that he will seek to work behind the scenes more than on the television sets.

Francois Heisbourg, of the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris, said: "The consensus-building skills that go with his kind of profile might eventually put him a position to do some heavy lifting.

"Don't mistake Asian mild manners for a lack of steel."

The reform on which Lord Hannay sat recommended that the UN adopt the principle of the "responsibility to protect". This was agreed in a statement from the UN as a whole but its implementation has yet to be tested.

"If the people of Darfur cannot be protected," said Lord Hannay, "then the responsibility to protect will look pretty sick.

"The secretary general has to play a key role. China and Russia are dragging their feet, China perhaps because it has not really made its mind up about what place it wants in the world. Ban is close to China and that might help."

Paul.Reynolds-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk


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