UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's first 100 days as UN chief, by his own admission, have not been a honeymoon: He's done lots of globetrotting, made some missteps, and had a few successes.
Ban mishandled UN reaction to Saddam Hussein's execution but has been successful in putting the international spotlight on the Darfur issue and keeping up the pressure for speedy action.
Just over three months after he took the reins of the United Nations from Kofi Annan, however, Ban is clearly still trying to master the job of being a top world diplomat while running a giant international bureaucracy where 192 countries often have competing interests.
"As a grade for the first hundred days, I'd give him an A Plus for effort, and an incomplete for substance," former US Ambassador John Bolton said in an interview ahead of Ban's 100th day in the UN post Tuesday.
Calling himself "a harmonizer and bridge-builder", the former South Korean foreign minister came to the United Nations promising to push for peace in Darfur and the Middle East, and restore the UN's tarnished reputation, which has been battered by the oil-for-food scandal in Iraq, corruption in the UN's purchasing operations, and sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers.
Edward Luck, director of Columbia University's Center on International Organization, said the best secretaries-general "combine advocacy for the UN's core values with a very realistic and pragmatic sense of what can be accomplished at any point in time".
"He will have to define his tenure more boldly in the future, but personally, I don't think that's something for the first hundred days," Luck said in an interview. He said Ban has been more outspoken on some issues than many people think.
The secretary-general told Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir that he had to live up to his promise to accept a hybrid African Union-UN force for Darfur, Luck said. He told US President George W. Bush that he wants to focus on climate change, and he told the Iranians that their rejection of the Holocaust is unacceptable.
But Ban ran into trouble on his first day of work, January 2, over Saddam's execution when he twice failed to state the UN's opposition to the death penalty and stressed instead that whether to use capital punishment should be a decision made by every country. The following day, his spokeswoman said he believes UN member states should move toward the abolition of capital punishment and the following week Ban said: "I encourage that trend."
After two months of preparation, more than any of his predecessors, many at the UN were surprised that he waited until the last minute to make his initial appointments. He dismissed as groundless reports that he promised top jobs to key countries, but he kept the tradition of his predecessors in giving the most important posts to veto-wielding Security Council nations whose votes were crucial to his election.
He asked for the resignations of all UN staff at the rank of assistant secretary-general and above, and at least one found out while listening to the daily UN press briefing that his had been accepted. Others are still waiting to hear whether they still have jobs, while the appointment of the person widely regarded as Ban's closest confidante, Kim Won-soo, as deputy cabinet chief and assistant secretary-general has never been publicly announced.
Ban said he wanted to repair relations between the UN's rich and poor member states who fought bitterly over parts of Annan's reform program, and to build a staff that is mobile, dynamic, accountable and better able to meet the challenges of the 21st century. But his attempt to get speedy General Assembly approval to split the overburdened Peacekeeping Department and revamp the Department for Disarmament Affairs ran into strong opposition, and it took over two months for the 192 members to approve his revised proposal.
While the assembly wrestled with reform, the secretary-general headed off in late January on a four-nation African visit including the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. There, he tried unsuccessfully to get Sudan's al-Bashir to allow the deployment of an AU-UN force in Darfur. In March, he made an unannounced visit to Iraq en route to the Arab League summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where he again put the pressure on the Sudanese leader.
"He's certainly proven to be a very energetic secretary-general," Luck said "Maybe his new label would be the ubiquitous Mr Ban. He seems to be everywhere there needs to be a hole plugged in the dike."
"He's testing the waters in a lot of places, seeing what's possible, getting a feel for the current political dynamics and reminding people that in many cases there may be a UN option that they haven't considered," Luck said.
(China Daily via agencies April 11, 2007)