August 24, 2009

Ban Ki-moon: a non charismatic (non proactive?) Secretary General

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Pope Benedict XVI have some things in common. Both belong to the very select group of leaders of the international community. Their predecessors were very charismatic and highly regarded as proactive and progressive. But both of them are seen as the opposite of their predecessors: non charismatic at all, not proactive and even problematic. Ratzinger’s term has been widely commented, but only recently people have started to talk about Ban’s problematic term. In fact, it has been more dark than problematic. A secretary general is supposed to be a world leader with the power to mediate between different actors of the world arena and make sure the international agreements are respected. In his few attempts to do so he has achieved very little (some would say nothing).

Some months ago he insisted to meet Burma’s (Myanmar’s or however you want to call it) military Junta in order to make them free the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi who has been under detention for the past 14 years. Ban returned empty handed from his meeting with the generals who not so long ago reacted violently against the monk’s peaceful protests against the regime. His recent visit to Sri Lanka did not have a very positive outcome either, considering that still thousands of Tamils are displaced in refugee camps.

But everyone has started talking about Ban after the appearance in the media of Mona Juul’s intercepted memo in which she fiercely criticized his term. Mona Juul is the chief of the Norwegian delegation to the United Nations. In the memo, which was not aimed to be public, and is labelled by Foreign Policy Magazine as “brutally frank” she calls the Secretary General: “spineless, charmless, and incapable of setting the agenda”. She also says “Ban's voice on behalf of the G-172 and the poor is barely being registered” and that “he has been "absent on the issue of disarmament and non-proliferation."

The Mona Juul memo has raised speculations about problems inside Ban’s team. Some comments have been made about the possibility that he will hold office only for one term. It will be interesting to see what happens in his visit to Norway by the end of this month.

Now Ban’s actions will be observed with much more attention by the media.

August 06, 2009

“Oops Kim did it again”

Two weeks ago Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that North Korea behaved as a naughty child looking to attract the world's attention (she didn't say that the naughty child is in the headlines anytime he wants). Kim Jong IL has “come to life” again after reports that he had suffered a stroke last year. But his political intelligence was not affected at all by his health condition. Since the two American journalists were detained by North Korean officers for allegedly trying to cross its border illegally, it was obvious that he would use them to attract (once more) the attention of the international community, particularly the United States. The Obama administration had a difficult dilemma. They could have done nothing and let their two citizens face a 12 year hard labour sentence in the reclusive state with all the political implications it could have had.

The other option was very risky considering the tuff attitude North Korea has taken towards the Obama administration. After Obama’s inauguration North Korea withdrew from the Six Party Talks, restarted its nuclear tests and launched a rocket capable of transporting a nuclear weapon (although the regime officially said its purpose was to carry a satellite), increasing the tension in the region. So that other option was to make a secret diplomatic arrangement in order to free the American hostages, some would say in other words “negotiate with terrorists”. I think that in the end negotiating with North Korea the release of the journalists was the smartest decision they could have taken, but of course it has its negative implications. In one hand, Kim Jong Il has demonstrated the whole world that he can kidnap people, then release them and in return have a picture next to a respected American ex president, and be in the headlines (again) for a while. In the other, the heroical rescue made by Bill Clinton will let the Obama administration have a better understanding of what really is happening in North Korea after reports of the preparations for the succession of its leader.

The “official pictures” released by the North Korean government show what everything was about. Bill Clinton, who is normally cheerful was very serious, while Kim Jong IL, always appears to be in a bad mood, was trying to smile all the time.

By now, we can say that once more Kim Jong Il got what he wanted. We must wait to see if the Obama administration can get from this operation more than the rescue of the journalists, and use it to get closer to the North Koreans and probably restart the Six Party Talks. But as many of us know, with North Korea it’s always the same, once step forward and wo backwards. At least we have something new to laugh about, that incredible official picture with the waterfall in the background, and the funny faces of Bill Clinton, who has made a wondrous return to the main stage, and the always mysterious Kim Jong IL.