At the end of December, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s tenure is finished. No need to review here his two terms in office for Americans to accept the widespread conclusion that the world’s premier international organization, plagued by repeated corruption, scandals, mismanagement and a dysfunctional political chasm between developed and developing member nations, needs major reform.
The key question is what willing person is best qualified to lead the U.N. and its some 56,600 employees worldwide in these times of rapid international transition? There appears to be a growing worldwide consensus the person should be Asian. Several Asians have announced their candidacy. No doubt, there will be other high-profile candidates as the selection begins in the Security Council next month.
Naturally, politics will play a heavy role, but serious attention should be given the personal qualifications of the individual chosen for this important position. He or she should be both a distinguished leader and a proven manager.
“Leadership” is notoriously difficult to define. One of the world’s most distinguished business leaders, Norman R. Augustine, former president, chief executive officer and chairman of Lockheed Martin Corp. and professor at Princeton, tells us the qualities of leadership include, first and foremost, character (trustworthiness), followed by vision, competence, courage, perseverance, ability to motivate, teamwork and selflessness, judgment, decisiveness and ability to communicate.
Management, in most textbooks, includes the ability to plan, organize, direct, coordinate and control. Where is there a person with these attributes who wants to serve as U.N. secretary-general?
I am honored to know an Asian leader with such qualifications who has announced his candidacy. His name is Ban (pronounced Bahn) Ki-moon who, at age 62, is the Republic of Korea’s foreign affairs and trade minister.
I was introduced to him on one of my many trips to Seoul in the early 1980s by some of his Korean government colleagues who were my close friends. They had told me he was on a promotion “fast track” in government for all the right reasons.
I got to know him well during his tours as a counselor and consul general at the Korean Embassy in Washington in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. We at the Center for Strategic and International Studies sought his wise counsel and involvement in our research on U.S. policy toward the two Koreas. Mr. Ban knows U.N. organization and operations in detail having served with distinction three times at the United Nations in New York, most notably as South Korea’s ambassador to the U.N. in 2001-02, and earlier in Foreign Ministry positions focused on the U.N.
This man has a deserved reputation for depth of character, high personal values and solid professional competence accompanied by sincere consideration for the welfare of others. He leads by personal example and by the power of his ideas supported by logic, reason and evidence. It is no wonder to those of us who know him that he has been promoted to government positions of increasingly high public trust and responsibility over his 40 years of service to both his nation and the United Nations.
On the private side, Mr. Ban has a reputation as a solid family man married with three fine children and as a person who cares about others more than himself. His personal reputation is enhanced through anecdote.
For example, as a high school student in the early 1960s, he was winner of a U.S.-sponsored English speech contest which included travel to the United States. While here he met President John F. Kennedy whom he reportedly grew to idealize as a world leader of freedom. Little wonder he chose years later to earn a master’s degree in public administration at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
Another anecdote springs from Mr. Ban’s first trip to America where he spent a month in San Francisco in the home of a Ms. Patterson. They corresponded for more than 40 years. Last year, he had the grace to invite the 88-year-old lady to the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Seoul.
It did not surprise me to hear recently yet another story highlighting Mr. Ban’s personal integrity circulated among my friends in the Korean Foreign Service. There is an old Korean custom that groups of family friends or colleagues at work help each other with monetary gifts at such occasions as weddings and funerals. As recounted to me, Minister Ban did not announce in his ministry the wedding of his older daughter last December to forestall receiving gifts from his subordinates, which might appear to lack propriety.
With Minister Ban Ki-moon “what you see is what you get.” At this time of disarray in the United Nations, we could not do better than to have this person of high trust and competence as what some call “the CEO of the world”: secretary- general of the United Nations. Let’s hope members of the Security Council agree.
William Taylor is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.