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[Opinion] UN Secretary General

Posted December. 02, 2004 23:12,   


When I was an elementary school student, I used to have quarrels with my friends over who is the strongest man in the world. Some said it is the U.S. president and others said it is the president of the Soviet Union. But we concluded that it is the UN Secretary General. Given that it was in the 1960s when Korea was still gripped by the shock from the Korean War, it was only natural for young children to regard the UN as a very powerful organization. We thought that the UN saved Korea from the North’s attack and therefore the head of the international organization is the most powerful in the world. I considered the logic quite reasonable.

▷The UN Secretary General is still influential in the international community, if not as much as we used to think. First of all, the size of the organization is considerable. The member states increased to 191. The budget of the UN Secretariat amounts to $3.1 billion a year. The number of staff working at UN Headquarters in New York is about 7,500. The post also provides an international reputation, as the international body for world peace is rarely blamed unless it commits a blunder. Kofi Annan, the current UN Secretary General, was awarded Nobel Peace Prize in 2001, becoming the second UN Secretary General who won the prize.

▷However, Kofi Annan, who once seemed perfect, is now in a difficult position. His son is suspected to have received an astronomical amount of bribes from companies associated with the “Oil for Food” program in Iraq. Anan is also thought to have lied in order to cover up the charge. It is the biggest hardship in the whole career of Annan, a second-term Secretary General who has been serving for the UN for 8 years now. Washington politicians, who have been at odds with Annan after he declared the Iraq invasion illegal, are strongly arguing that he should be kicked out before his tenure ends.

▷Asian countries are moving quickly since Annan got in trouble. The reason is that it is expected that an Asian would be the next Secretary General, as it would be the turn of the Asian continent to nominate the secretary general according to UN custom. The Association of South-East Asian Nations, or ASEAN, has already picked Thailand’s foreign minister as candidate for the post. Korea, for its part, started an effort to appoint a Korean UN Secretary General in 2006. To that end, an activist group has been established and it already submitted a proposal on the issue to the government and the National Assembly. It is fair to say that the UN Secretary General is actually decided by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, as the five countries can veto the one who is elected by the General Assembly. Yet, it is worth trying to recommend a candidate at the national level, given the considerable international prestige that the post carries.

Bang Hyung-nam, Editorial Writer, hnbhang@donga.com