The position of United Nations Secretary-General is the toughest job any human being could be given. No joke. The first man to hold this position, Trygve Lie, described it as ‘the most impossible job on earth’, and it has clearly grown even more impossible and more influential over the years.
The demands put on the UN chief depend largely on the challenges and opportunities of a particular time in office. However, in addition to sound managerial skills, the UN Charter states that every Secretary-General must possess excellent diplomatic skills.
One of the most vital roles played by the Secretary-General is the use of his “good offices” – steps taken publicly and in private, drawing upon his independence, impartiality and integrity, to prevent international disputes from arising, escalating or spreading.
Ban Ki-moon: challenges, accomplishments and criticism
The 8th and current UN Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon of the Republic of Korea, first took office on 1 January 2007. And like all his predecessors, during his first term Ban faced a number of challenges, including the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programmes, troubles in the Middle East, as well as the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. He also had to deal with a number of issues within the Organisation itself, especially the attempt of reformation.
During his first term, Ban has shown that he is undoubtedly one of the most hard-working of UN Secretaries-General. You have got to give the man this credit. Under his leadership the secretariat clearly witnessed continued accomplishments in areas from conflict prevention and peacekeeping, to humanitarian aid and economic development. And among some of his notable successes, were his overcoming humanitarian crises in Haiti, Myanmar and Pakistan, his push to get climate change on the top of the world’s agenda and, of course, his support for the world’s poor.
In spite of his successes, Ban was not immune to criticism during his first term. He was usually criticised by various entities and organisations, and oftentimes received strong criticism from within the Organisation. The UN Office of Internal Oversight Services, which assist the Secretary-General in fulfilling his responsibilities, criticised Ban for failing to communicate the vision of where the Organisation was heading under his leadership, and for drifting with secretariat into ‘irrelevance’. Regardless, Ban was nominated for a second term. He simply had no competition and virtually no opposition.
Western Sahara conflict
The challenges Ban had to deal with thus far in his second term as chief of the world body are no less complicated than those of the first term, arguably way more complicated given the nature of the dynamics and the parties involved in some of these issues. From the aftermath of the Arab spring and the forever Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to the pro-Russian unrest in Ukraine and the Syrian Civil war, Ban’s job during the second terms seems clearly gigantic and very improbable, to say the least. Having said that, the Western Sahara conflict received hardly any attention form Ban during his first term and during most of his second term. It is up until recently when it was revealed that he would make sure that the issue will be one of his focuses during his final year as chief of the UN, and man, did he focus on it.
The Western Sahara conflict has always been a true can of worms on its own, before Ban decided to go down there, give one of his not so diplomatic speeches and bring the whole thing to a head. Mr. Ban’s ‘occupation’ remark to describe Morocco’s presence in the southern regions caused a havoc on many levels of the dispute, and have clearly set back all efforts to broker any potential resolution. Mind you that this the second time this year that Ban caused controversy with his use of the word ‘occupation’. Early this year on the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, Mr. Ban told the Security Council that ‘It is human nature to react to occupation, which often serves as a potent incubator of hate and extremism’. His statements caused a war of words between Israel and the UN.
Now, if one person has to carry the can for what the situation has come to in the Western Sahara conflict it is clearly Mr. Ban Ki-moon himself. His sole concern at the moment should be restoring things back to where they were before his comments against Morocco. Given his second term ends by the end of this year, the man is in a race against time to do so. Having said that, the chances of the secretariat under his leadership achieving any progress in the conflict (something his visit to Tindouf was meant to do), or putting an end to the dispute are those of a snowball’s chance in hell.