Outgoing United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s journey to the world’s largest international body started in a war-torn country that received emergency assistance from the same institution.
“When I was 6, the Korean War broke out, and all the classrooms were destroyed by war. We studied under the trees or in whatever buildings were left,” Mr. Ban once said.
As he grew up “in war,” he noted, he “saw the United Nations help my country to recover and rebuild. That experience was a big part of what led me to pursue a career in public service.”
“As Secretary-General, I am determined to see this Organization deliver tangible, meaningful results that advance peace, development and human rights,” he said at the beginning of his tenure in 2007.
Mr. Ban was later unanimously re-elected by the General Assembly to a second five-year term, which ends Dec. 31.
His public service on a global stage may not be over — Mr. Ban is viewed as a likely candidate for the South Korean presidency, a post that has been battered by scandal connected to President Geun-hye Park.
Mr. Ban, 72, told a final U.N. press conference on Dec. 16 that he will ponder his future plans after he returns home in early January.
“I will really consider seriously how best and what I should and I could do for my country,” he said, according to an Associated Press report.
“I can understand and share the anxiety of people about the future of their country,” he told the press conference. “And this is one of the biggest challenges the Korean people are encountering.”
Mr. Ban, who was born June 13, 1944, in Eumseong County in North Chungcheong Province in the Republic of Korea, has been in foreign service almost five decades, having passed his South Korean Foreign Service exam in 1970,
He earned his undergraduate degree in 1970 from Seoul National University and a master’s degree from Harvard University in 1985. He married Yoo Soon-taek in 1971, and has three children and several grandchildren.
Mr. Ban’s foreign service has included postings in India; Washington, D.C.; and Austria, and prominent appointments, including foreign policy adviser to South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun in 2003.
He declared his candidacy for the U.N. leadership position in 2006 while serving as South Korean minister of foreign affairs and trade. He was appointed as secretary-general on Oct. 13, 2006, and became the eighth person to hold that post on Jan. 1, 2007.
Major initiatives under Mr. Ban’s leadership included the 2007 Climate Change Summit and anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals.
He urged the creation of UN Women, a major new agency to consolidate the global institution’s work on these issues. Within the U.N., Mr. Ban increased the number of women in senior management positions by 40 percent, according to the U.N.
Mr. Ban worked to strengthen humanitarian efforts to Myanmar (2008), Haiti (2010) and Pakistan (2010), as well as peacekeeping efforts in world conflict zones; some 120,000 U.N. “blue helmets” are dispatched around the world.
He further worked to enhance the disarmament agenda and bring renewed attention to nuclear safety and security after a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami shook the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
Mr. Ban further made strong efforts to make the U.N. bureaucracy more transparent, effective and efficient.
This broad history — plus his recognition of the urgent need to defuse the North Korean threat — have made him an attractive candidate to lead South Korea.
For the time being, though, Mr. Ban is looking forward to some family time.
His public service has stretched 46 years, without a break, Mr. Ban told a recent edition of Beijing Review. “So I may need some rest first of all. And have some more time with my grandchildren.”