- The Washington Times - Monday, October 9, 2006

Count me among the few not to be surprised that South Korea’s foreign minister, Ban Ki-Moon, was chosen to succeed Kofi Annan as United Nations secretary-general.

Given the critical missions the U.N. has taken on across the world — from providing humanitarian aid to maintaining the rule of law to dealing with a seemingly endless string of global crises — the selection of Mr. Annan’s replacement was vitally important to both the United States and every member of the international community. The world body needs a leader of the highest quality, one who understands and appreciates the value of the U.N. and the noble ideals upon which it was originally conceived.

Mr. Ban fits that description to a T. A widely respected veteran of the international diplomatic corps, the Harvard-educated Mr. Ban happens to possess one quality offered by no other candidate for the job: He comes from a nation that almost certainly wouldn’t exist without the intervention of the U.N. Just two days after North Korea invaded its southern neighbor in 1950, the U.N. approved deployment of a U.S.-led international force to drive North Korea back across the 38th Parallel (The Soviets were boycotting the Security Council to protest the exclusion of the People’s Republic of China from the U.N., and so couldn’t veto the measure).

As an army officer serving in the Korean War and as a businessman establishing operations there in the decades thereafter, I witnessed the immense good the U.N. is capable of producing. In many respects, South Korea is a child of the U.N., which saved the fledgling nation from extinction, then helped raise it from the rubble of war and, ultimately, transformed it into a stable democracy with a vibrant, free-market economy that is now the world’s 10th-largest.

As for the greater international community, these are no doubt trying times. The world does not sit easy on its axis, what with war, terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Based on a lifetime spent opening markets in the developing world, I have seen firsthand how instability on this scale impedes economic growth, particularly in the poorest countries. All the more reason why we need strong, enlightened leadership at the top of the U.N.

Mr. Ban, who was 6 years old when North Korea invaded his homeland, understands in his bones the U.N.’s importance, and what it can achieve when it fulfills its highest ideals. His illustrious career has included high-level assignments at the U.N. as well as a leading role in the Six-Party Talks aimed at resolving North Korea’s nuclear threat — meaning he’ll be well-positioned to bring that dangerous standoff to a safe conclusion.

Another reason to support Mr. Ban is that this year an Asian candidate is expected to fill the post (the last secretary-general from Asia was Burma’s U Thant, who retired 35 years ago). While there are other impressive candidates in the race, only Mr. Ban has had the benefit of seeing his country survive and thrive by virtue of the U.N.’s intervention. Today, just over a half-century since that decisive intervention, the symbolism of electing a South Korean — one of great accomplishment — to lead the U.N. would be both powerful and profound. That’s why Minister Ban is manifestly the right man for the job.

Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, former chairman of the U.S.-Korea Business Council and retired Chairman of AIG, is chief executive officer of C.V. Starr & Co.

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