Decision-making in the UN not up to the mark: Ban ki-Moon speaks exclusively with WION
In an exclusive interview with WION's Mandy Clark, former UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon talks about growing up during the Korean War, his tenure in India, his most satisfying moments as UN secretary general, the lacunae in the UN's system of decision-making and more.
The entire transcript of the interview follows:
Today on the show we have a man who grew up during the Korean War to become one of the most powerful international diplomats, His Excellency Mr Ban Ki-Moon. Well, thank you for joining us.
Q. Now everyone knows you as the former UN Secretary-General but tell us a little bit about growing up during the Korean War. How did it shape you?
A: As you know I have been calling myself a child of war. I was born before the end of Second World War. But when I was six years old, the Korean War broke out.
That war changed my life. Not only me but the whole Korean people including my parents and grand parents. So we had to flee our hometown, we have seen our hometown bombed and in flames and we lost all schools. United Nations came, in fact India also sent very important life saving humanitarian support teams. We are deeply grateful to Indian people. At a time when many Korean people including myself needed life saving support, that's why I am calling myself a child
of war. A child of war who was assisted and helped by the United Nations later became the secretary general of the United Nations, that's quite a privelige and very moving, and I'm very much honoured. I have been exerting all my efforts and time during the last 10 years as the Secretary-General to do what I have been receiving.
When I was meeting many refugee children, United Nations was with me at that time, now it's time that the United Nations be with you, don't despair, that has been my continuing message of hope.
Q: What would you describe as the high point of your career as the UN Secretary-General?
A: It's very hard to depict one or two but if I may say maybe three. The first one the moment when the whole international community and 195 state parties adopted unanimously the Paris Climate Agreement in December 2015 here in Paris. I still cannot forget the excitement and proud moment of whole delegations who were cheering and encouraging themselves, embracing themselves. Second moment would be September 2015 when all member states of United Nations adopted and presented their very ambitious far reaching vision called Sustainable Development Goals with 17 goals covering the whole spectrum of human beings and also of planet Earth, including climate change. That was quite a moment when everybody was proud. Pope Francis was also there. More than 150 heads of state in government at the time. The third moment which has not been much known but is very important. In 2010, I established what is known as UN Women. This is a super agency dealing with gender equality. Until that moment there was no such department or agency dealing with promoting gender empowerment. I have been working very hard to make sure that men and women can equally share Planet Earth and women's rights and dignity should be fully protected and promoted.
Q: Wonderful. On your high points in getting the Paris agreement adopted, Donald Trump has decided to pull out of it. What is your reaction to that?
A: It was with the deepest disappointment and concern when I heard this message this news on June 1 when US President Donald Trump announced that US would be pulling out of this Paris Agreement. It's just one and a half year ago when the whole international community was united with a strong solidarity to save human beings and also the planet Earth from deteriorating environmental degradation. I have two observations - first of all, this decision is shortsighted, misguided and it does not stand on any scientific evidence or economic assessment. The other is why the United States is now pulling back from this global pact agreement. It has galvanised a strong march forward. It has galvanised not only government but also business groups and civil societies, they are marching on regardless of what may happen. Of course, the US which accounts for 14% of greenhouse gas emissions is the number two country next only to China. It has also the largest resources, financial resources and they have to pay and help many developing countries. It will be a huge blow politically, and psychologically to the international community. At the same time I am very much encouraged to be in Paris now, working with many world leaders, particularly European leaders - including President Macron of France - who have unequivocally stated that this is a wrong decision. I think it's a global pact for the environment which we adopted in Paris. It will be a great sign of solidarity and unity in terms of our commitment to make sure that our generations and our planet earth will be able to live harmoniously and sustainably with our environment.
Q: As the former secretary general, I am sure you met many many world leaders. Have you met Prime Minister Narendra Modi?
A: I have met him so many times. I even visited his hometown Gujarat and when he hosted a very important summit meeting on environment and I really wanted to be with him and support his leadership. In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not only been popular in his own country but he has also been spearheading this campaign to save planet earth and human beings from environmental degradation by initiating many important domestic and global initiatives. He spearheaded what we call the International Solar Alliance where 122 countries are participating with the help of the European Union particularly United States and also France. It is hugely ambitious and they are now making sure that their greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced through their nationally targeted, determined contribution reducing at least to 33-35%, against the level of 2005. I hope despite what is happening now in some parts of the world, particularly the United States, the Indian government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will really lead this campaign, global campaign to make sure that the Paris Agreement will be fully implemented.
Q: When you were the UN secretary general did you ever come under pressure by powerful members?
A: That's quite a sensitive question. The fact of our reality, our real world. There were some occasions when certain number of countries, those member states brought some national interests, perspectives to the United Nations. The UN is the place where we discuss all national issues and make it a global perspective. This is the beauty and importance of the United Nations. Sometimes certain countries have been insisting that only their national interest should be reflected in a global perspective, that is not a fair and constructive one but I have been standing tall and firm, whenever I have faced that kind of political pressure. First of all it was unfair, it was unethical in accordance with the UN principles of the Charter. Finally sometimes they would withdraw or their perspectives have been sometimes reflected as overall comprehensive global framework. I think that is okay but I sincerely hope that leaders of member states should have global perspectives.
Q: And because of pressures from powerful members, do you think that UN needs reforms? It's 70 years old and it's changed and now the world has changed in 70 years?
A: I think I should agree to your question that UN should have changed much, much more during my term as Secretary-General of 10 years. I have been exerting all my efforts to make UN more transparent, accountable and more workable and more forward looking so that it can be the symbol of hope working for many defenceless and voiceless people. But the fact of life is that despite the transformative development of technology, communication and information, UN agencies have not been able to cope in terms of speed of adapting itself to the changing world that's why the UN reform has always been the No 1 priority including my seven predecessors, my successor and me. I'm sure that this will have to be the priority issue to make sure that the UN is more representative. UN is more accountable and transparent and can deliver much more to many people who are really hoping that it will be the voice of the voiceless people and defender of the defenceless people.
Q: What would you say the biggest weaknesses in the UN are?
A: I would say the rest of weaknesses in points but the decision making process is not upto the standard or upto what we see in the changing world. For example we have a charter provision of veto power in the Security Council. The Security Council is the most responsible organisation for the peace of the world. They have to be able to immediately, efficiently and effectively address all these issues but this is a very unique way of decision making. Then away from this Security Council when it is a charter provision, I am not able to say anything about the amendment of the charter provision but when it comes to general assembly the normal proceedings of United Nations they sort of favour or tried to agree on anything on a consensus basis. And literally speaking the consensus does not, should not block decision making and there should not always be unanimity but sometimes some countries will insist on unanimity, then when we have 193 member states, it's very difficult to take a decision. So that means when the UN takes time in making decisions, it will be the people around the world who urgently need our support may not get such a support.
Q: You brought up the Security Council now. Is Security Council reform feasible or practical?
A: I think there is a widely shared feeling and almost a consensus feeling that the Security Council should be changed, adapting to a changing situation in a more representative, democratic, more transparent and more accountable way. That's all that I want to see happen. In practical terms whether it is viable or not, I think it should be viable. If the five permanent members of the Security Council are united that they are for the change of the United Nations Security Council, I think it is possible, but unfortunately this has been discussed during the last 25 years without making any progress.
Q: India has for long wanted to be a part of the Security Council. Do you think that would be in all likelihood ever happen?
A: I am fully aware of the aspirations shared between the Indian government and people that India would like to contribute more as one of the very important member states of the United Nations for maintaining peace and security not only in the region but globally as well. And that's where India has been playing a very important role by providing many soldiers in conflict areas and sending humanitarian support to people who need it. There are widely shared views among the member states that countries like India should be able to contribute better and more but again that is part of Security Council reform.
Q: Do you think we can include India on the Security Council anytime soon?
A: I think since member states are seriously engaged in negotiations on this matter, I sincerely hope that the time will come soon rather than late when UN should be ready and better prepared institutionally to cope with many challenges.
Q: Speaking of challenges, the UN was heavily criticised about not taking action on the war in Syria. Do you feel that the UN in this case failed the people of Syria?
A: Whenever there are some crises and conflicts, long standing conflicts, the UN has been blamed and criticised. I don't think it is fair but at the same time one should also look into it carefully and more deeply why it has been so. Well in case of the Syrian war, it has continued for longer than six years. During that time, while fighting was going on more than five million people have become refugees and more than half a million people have been killed and most of the infrastructure has been destroyed.This is a terrible and tragic situation because of disunity, division of political issues.
There are at least three divisions. The Syrian people - they are divided into pro-Assad and anti-Assad and secondly, the regional powers in the Middle East are divided, you know what is now happening - their conflicts among themselves. This has not helped the Syrian crisis and then the Security Council. In a broader sense, the United Nations has not been united, it has been divided. Even for humanitarian support, we have seen several veto powers exercised and this has really made significant deteriorating situations in terms of the UN's ability to address this issue.
I have nominated three most distinguished and able diplomats. First my predecessor Kofi Annan as a special envoy. Then one of the most capable diplomats Lakhdar Brahimi and now Steffan de Mistura, these three envoys have been fully extensively and deeply engaged in the negotiations. Now these negotiations are still going on I hope that now their regional powers who are involved in this process should really address this issue with a sense of unity and solidarity not only for Syrians but for their region. We have to show an example that UN can resolve this span of longstanding conflicts.
Q: Now do you believe the UN should play a more peace keeping role in other countries like Afghanistan?
A: When you are talking about peace keeping forces in Afghanistan, the peace keeping missions are mandated by the Security Council. Wherever there is peace to keep, there is a peacekeeping mission, keeping two conflicting sides at bay through the UN peacekeeping mission. It's not a peace-imposing mission when it comes through enforced peace like we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have been creating a sort of a coalition force. Those countries who are willing to contribute their forces should help enforce peace. Now is not the right environment, I mean politically sustainable, to think about UN peacekeeping. Peacekeeping in Afghanistan is largely done by coalition forces led by the US and some of the European countries. It requires a huge amount of resources including assets. We have seen a lot ofsacrifices in Iraq and in Afghanistan. So UN has been very cautious about this kind of a situation.
Q: Before you were a secretary general, you were a diplomat and were posted in New Delhi. Can you tell me how did you find your posting?
A: New Delhi was my first diplomatic posting. I was a young, very hopeful, ambitious, young diplomat. Looking back 45 years when I was just a young Korean diplomat working in India learning more about the regional situations and learning more about Indian way of diplomacy. India has produced many distinguished diplomats and India has been a leading country in the Non-Aligned movement. There have been very active member states of the UN and India has shown some
model roles in diplomacy. I was fortunate to spend three years in India trying to learn how a diplomat should work together with other member states. Now, climbing the ladder in my diplomatic career, I have been also working very closely with Indian diplomats and Indian politicians like PM Modi and PM Manmohan Singh and many foreign ministers and diplomats. I even had as my Chief of Staff, an Indian diplomat while serving as secretary general. So all in all, I have very good experiences and memories. When this is a personal story. When I was there, my son was born in India. Then after many years, I my son-in-law, an Indian man, was married to my daughter. So I love Indian connections like in terms of a public career and in terms of family and relationships. My grandson Jai who is the joint product of India and Korea. All in all I have a very good attachment and love for Indian culture. India also is the origin of our civilisation and culture.
Q: Wonderful. And what does the future hold for you? There's some speculation that the Presidency in South Korea might be in line in the future?
A: Well it is over already, we have a new President. I have dropped this ambition. Now, as a former secretary general of the UN I think I have more things to do, more constructive, future-oriented works to do. I'll try my best to foster a global citizenship, a global vision among young people who will soon be taking over their leadership in their respective societies. It is very important we work as global citizens. Now while we make all different national passports all national nationalities. But in this tightly/tight knit interconnected world with transformative technological development, particularly in terms of communication and information and transportation, this world has become a very small one and we are all members of a global society. Therefore, we should not mind much about national territories, and national citizens. We have to work for global citizens, this is my vision and I am going to foster this global citizenship to many young people as a former secretary general and I will be chairing the Ban ki-Moon Centre for Sustainable Development. I am also planning to establish a Ban ki-Moon Centre for Global Citizens. So those are the areas where I will devote my time and energy.
Q: Finally there has been a kind of a wave of isolationism, populism where you know the Presidency of Donald Trump is all about making America great. We saw Brexit being away from Europe. How do you fight that instinct when people want to pull away from an interconnected world?
A: Again we are living in a very small world where we are all members of a small global family. I am deeply concerned about these kind of shortsighted national perspectives. Instead of building bridges, erecting walls against other people, this is totally unacceptable in the 21st century. I am deeply concerned about this nationalism, isolationism and just trying to protect your own people. There is no difference between regions or among the countries. We are one family now. I have been urging world leaders to foster a global citizenship and global vision. Those leaders who do not have global vision cannot be global leaders. We need global leadership now. That's what UN is aspiring for and trying to achieve.
Q: Your excellency, Mr Ban Ki Moon. Thank you very much.
A: Thank you very much it's been a great pleasure.
Ex-UN chief Ban Ki-moon talks exclusively to WION (WION)