I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet on numerous occasions with Ban Ki-moon when he was the Republic of Korea’s minister of foreign affairs and trade.
During those meetings, it was apparent to me and others responsible for negotiations with North Korea that Minister Ban Ki-moon was seized with finding a peaceful resolution of the North Korea nuclear issue. He believed strongly that peaceful resolution of this issue would bring peace and prosperity to the region. Minister Ban Ki-moon’s focus always was the people in North Korea and the need to ensure that food assistance reached the people in a timely manner.
Not surprisingly, Minister Ban Ki-moon played a key role when the Six-Party Talks with North Korea succeeded in securing the joint statement on Sept. 19, 2005. It committed Pyongyang to comprehensive and verifiable denuclearization in return for security assurances, economic development aid, and eventually the provision of light-water reactors for civilian nuclear energy — once the North returned to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear-weapons state.
This focus on North Korea did not change when Ban Ki-moon became the eighth secretary-general of the United Nations on Jan. 1, 2007.
What did happen, however, was that Ban Ki-moon could now dedicate his energies to other security and humanitarian issues, in addition to those in North Korea.
Thus, during Ban Ki-moon’s 10 years as secretary-general, we’ve witnessed an activist Ban Ki-moon making his priorities in a myriad of issues: climate change, pandemics, economic upheaval, nuclear disarmament, women’s issues, pro-democracy movements in the Middle East and North Africa, and bringing more attention to global food, energy and water issues.
In Ban Ki-moon’s first year as secretary-general, he attended the 2007 Climate Change Summit and launched the Caring for Climate initiative. At the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil in 2012, he got member states to agree on clear and practical measures for implementing sustainable economic development, tackling climate change by improving energy efficiencies, addressing ocean acidification, and taking other concrete steps to end worldwide poverty. Indeed, bringing attention to the food, energy and economic crises that peaked in 2008, Ban Ki-moon appealed to the G20 for a $1 trillion financing package for developing countries.
Ban Ki-moon’s advocacy for women’s rights led to the creation of UN Women, which is the United Nations’ entity for gender equality and empowerment for women. Internally at the U.N., he has increased the number of women holding senior management positions by more than 40 percent, the highest level in U.N. history.
Strengthening U.N. peace efforts in conflict zones was another one of Ban Ki-moon’s major priorities: There are now over 120,000 United Nations “Blue Helmets” serving in conflict zones over the world.
Not surprisingly, Ban Ki-moon’s focus has also been on weapons of mass destruction (WMD). On Oct. 24, 2009, he presented a five-point plan for nuclear-weapons states to become nuclear-free. And this issue of nuclear weapons brings me back to my first encounter with Ban Ki-moon, when he eloquently spoke of the need to peacefully resolve the North Korea nuclear issue.
In a recent Associated Press interview regarding North Korea, he said the impact of North Korea starting a conflict would have much deadlier consequences than what we’re seeing in Syria because this would be a worldwide issue. Indeed, during Ban Ki-moon’s two terms as secretary-general, he has worked tirelessly to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula.
These efforts have failed, mainly because North Korea refused to engage directly with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. For Ban Ki-moon, reducing tension with North Korea and eventually resolving the North Korea nuclear issue are key issues that will continue to require priority attention from the U.N. and the new secretary-general.
Personally, I hope that Ban Ki-moon will continue to work for peace on the Korean Peninsula once he leaves the U.N. and returns to the Republic of Korea. I know his involvement with this important issue will have significant positive impact.
Ambassador Joseph R. DeTrani was the Special Envoy for Talks with North Korea from 2003-2006. He is currently president of Daniel Morgan Academy.