Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Sphinxes - Korean and Egyptian sub-species.

Many people at the UN have a feeling of deja vue since Ban Ki-Moon came to town. They see a resemblance to the early days of Boutros Boutros Ghali. There are indeed similarities: the most notable being that both came from outside the house with little visible concern for how things were done in the past.

One major difference is that Boutros Ghali assumed that the UN was a simulacrum of the Egyptian foreign ministry – and that this was a bad thing, to be dealt with by "stealth and sudden violence." Not only did he not bring many Egyptians with him, those already in the house were soon disappointed with his lack of attention to them.

In Ban's case, the opposite is true. He appreciated the ROK so much that he seems to have brought a lot of it with him, and put them in positions of influence in the organization. Readers of Catch 22 may remember that it was Ex Private First Class Wintergreen in the office who actually made the decisions on the Western Front in World War II, not the titular commanding officers. UN insiders get the distinct impression that behind every successfully appointed dignitary stands an influential Korean.

This is not necessarily a totally bad thing to begin with. The ROK's foreign policy has been, under the country's precarious circumstances, not a bad one. However, there are perils in running a ship without listening to the experienced members of the crew.

When reinventing wheels it is always best if you can avoid previously mapped potholes.
Only last week at a staff meeting, one impertinent member innocently asked Chef de Cabinet Vijay Nambiar if the new proposals to split Peacekeeping had been run by the Special Representatives who actually have to run Peacekeeping Operations on the Ground. They had not – even if Nambiar smartly accepted it as a good idea.

As we have said before, the new administration does not seem to have developed a rapport with anyone outside their own inner circle. I do not know if Korea has a form of Sumo wrestling, where the two proponents strain and grunt locked immobile to each other until one suddenly gives way. But that is what watching the new team on the 38th floor is like. You know there is a conflict: you know the proponents. But there is no progress until suddenly a proposal pops out the ring into the public view.

But it also seems certain that what we are seeing is the wreckage of pay-off to the Americans. In return for appointing B. Lynn Pascoe (the "urton" is seemingly silent) to head the Department of Political Affairs, the not so invisible hand of NAM has ensured that peacekeeping did not go under the American's direct grip – and the promise to dismember the Department of Disarmament affairs – which has John Bolton's bloody fingerprints all over it- may be transmuted into something that is indeed more effective. After all, he and the US have been the biggest obstacle to enhancing multilateral non-proliferation instruments for some years now.

The proposal to split peacekeeping into a political and logistics side is not the end of the world, and it is even true, as Ban now says, that making a High Representative for Disarmament could give a higher profile to the issue than keeping it as a Department.

It is even true that some of the concern of some of the Non Aligned Envoys is less for the efficiency of the organization than for the potential employment prospects when they retire from their own national diplomatic circles.

But if, as we hope, Ban is wrestling with the Bush administration behind the scenes, it can't be a bad thing if the Nonaligned, and maybe even the Europeans, Russians and Chinese begin to put their shoulders in. As a former union negotiator, I can assure Ban, the best position to be in is to cite popular pressure behind his resistance to overweening Washington.

But if he wants some supportive popular pressure, then he had better begin ensuring that the populace, the staff, the General Assembly, the press and public are more aware of what he wants, and why. At present, those sent out to do the explaining, do not seem have had explanations themselves.

Boutros Ghali learned quite quickly. Let's hope Ban does too.

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