Ban Ki-moon and the shadow of Kofi Annan

Ban Ki-moon and the shadow of Kofi Annan

Reuters’ superb UN correspondent Louis Charbonneau has some thoughts on whether Ban Ki-moon will get a second term as Secretary-General:

It’s hard to find a delegate to the United Nations who despises U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. But it’s even harder to find someone who thinks he has the gravitas and charisma of his Nobel Peace Prize-winning predecessor Kofi Annan, who invoked the wrath of the previous U.S. administration when he called the 2003 invasion of Iraq “illegal.” As one senior Western official, who declined to be identified, said about Ban: “It’s not as if he’s lightning in a bottle, but we can live with him.”

I’m afraid that this type of invidious comparison is by now part of the accepted institutional history. Kofi Annan was charismatic; Ban is not. Annan had moral authority; Ban doesn’t.  You get the idea. I don’t have a particular view on Ban, but I have always thought that Kofi Annan’s vaunted moral authority had a very weak foundation. In fact, I’ll go further–I don’t think he had the moral authority to get the job in the first place.

Kofi Annan was the first secretary-general to rise from the ranks of the UN bureaucracy. Before he got the top job, he served as head of UN peacekeeping. As his Nobel Prize biography reports, "he was Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping at a time when nearly 70,000 military and civilian personnel were deployed in UN operations around the world."

The Nobel bio neglects to mention that while he was in that post, two of the most shocking episodes in UN history occurred: the Rwanda genocide and the massacre at Srebrenica. In both cases, UN peacekeeping forces were essentially eyewitnesses to genocide. The greatest portion of the blame, of course, goes to the Security Council member states that authorized weak peacekeeping forces incapable of defending civilians and that balked at bolstering them once the bloodletting started. But it is fair to say that Annan’s office did not cover itself in glory.

For all of Ban Ki-moon’s evident shortcomings, at least he doesn’t have that as part of his record.