Diplomatic Fallout: Will Ban Ki-moon Leave Any Legacy at the United Nations?

Diplomatic Fallout: Will Ban Ki-moon Leave Any Legacy at the United Nations?

Will Ban Ki-moon leave a substantial legacy when he completes his second term as secretary-general of the United Nations at the end of 2016? This question may seem premature. Ban has been in office for more than six years, but he has nearly four more to go. Yet, as Ban has already discovered, a U.N. secretary-general’s schedule is consumed by a mix of urgent crises and hollow diplomatic rituals. Last week, for example, Ban oversaw the signing of a new peace deal for the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, but also had to make time for a speech launching the International Year of Quinoa.

If Ban wants to focus on a small number of strategic priorities, he needs to seize them now and stick to them despite all the distractions that lie ahead. Neither of his predecessors was able to do this. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, secretary-general from 1992 to 1996, was forced from office after one term after losing the Clinton administration’s trust. Kofi Annan’s second term went off the rails as he battled scandals over the U.N.’s administration of the oil-for-food program for Iraq and sexual abuse by peacekeepers.

As of today, Ban seems less likely to end his tenure in such an explosive fashion. However, it is still possible that he could become bogged down in a major scandal. The most obvious candidate is the outbreak of cholera in Haiti dating back to 2010, which many experts have traced to a contingent of Nepali U.N. peacekeepers. The U.N. has handled these claims clumsily, and last week Ban told the Haitian president that the organization would not compensate the victims. An enterprising investigative journalist or persistent pressure group could conceivably find ways to make this ugly situation worse for Ban.

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