UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon officially announced this week that he will seek re-election for a second term. He has since received endorsements from a number of the UN Security Council members as well as a number of General Assembly members, particularly those in Asia. This week, we speak to CIGI Distinguished Fellow and former UN Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette, who says that a combination of tradition and accomplishments by Ban Ki-moon explains the support for his re-election for a second term.

CIGI: What do you think a second term for Ban Ki-Moon will mean for the UN as an organization?

Louise Fréchette: First and foremost, it will mean continuity. The arrival of a new Secretary-General is always a moment of disruption, in a sense, because it’s like the arrival of a new government that needs to find its way around and get familiar with mechanisms and bodies from inside the organization. There’s been a tradition in the history of the UN of two mandates so as to benefit from the knowledge and personal relationships with leaders established by a Secretary-General over the course of a first mandate. What the UN will not get out of Ban Ki-moon’s re-election is a sense of new beginnings. Because he has been a less visible Secretary-General – some argue less charismatic and less of a strong public character – people might have hoped for such a new beginning. But the arguments in favour of stability and continuity have trumped everything else. It takes a major crisis for the key members of the Security Council, or a significant proportion of member states, to rise up against a sitting Secretary-General. The dramatic thing would have been if he had been denied a second term.

CIGI: Ban Ki-moon has noted that UN reform is one of his priorities. Given your research on this topic, what progress has he made on the issues, and do you think a second term will give him the opportunity to fulfill those goals?

Fréchette: UN reform is a very broad term that refers to many types of changes and adjustments. With regards to the reform of the Security Council, his role is marginal. Improving the machinery of the UN is where the Secretary-General can exercise strong leadership. It is important to note, however, that while he can initiate many innovations and changes, on most reforms he needs the approval of the member states.

Ban Ki-moon has been quite active on the administrative front, particularly in the area of peacekeeping where he reorganized the secretariat and put forward a series of proposals to improve the recruitment and deployment of civilian personnel. In his second mandate, he risks facing more constraint on the budget. The Obama administration, for example, is facing domestic pressure to reduce its contribution to the UN. The administration will try very hard to avoid a situation where the US is not in a position to pay its mandatory contributions in full. In exchange, I expect the US will want to see an overall reduction in the level of spending at the UN, which has increased significantly in the last decade, largely because of peace missions.

CIGI: Ban Ki-moon has a considerable amount of support behind his re-election, and does not face another candidate. While he has been criticized by some for not being an outspoken Secretary-General, what do you think this support means for the UN system?

Fréchette: Ban Ki-moon has not generated a lot of enthusiasm, in part because he has suffered from the comparison to his predecessor. There were questions at first as to whether he was well-suited for the job but over time he has earned the respect of UN member states. On the subject of human rights, for example, he has been very outspoken. He was quite forthright, for instance, in supporting the pro-democracy movement in Egypt early on. Moreover, he took the unprecedented decision to propose the use of force in Côte d’Ivoire and has been very firm on investigating the massacre in Sri Lanka, which was rejected and highly criticized by the Sri Lankan authorities.

 Over the last year, people have seen a Secretary-General who has been more present and vocal. He must operate within a shifting balance of the international order. For example, in 1992 the Secretary- General had to worry about the US in what was described as a “unipolar” world. Today, Ban Ki-moon must work with a constellation of emerging countries that want to be heard, but seem unsure of what they want the UN to do. This is a challenging moment for the organization and for its Secretary-General.

There were questions at first as to whether he was well-suited for the job but over time he has earned the respect of UN member states.
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