On June 17th, Chairman Ban Ki-moon’s spoke on Oxford Union Podcast. The interview was on works he had done as the 8th United Nations Secretary-General, and the changing international politics.
Chairman Ban began speaking of South Korea’s relationship with the UN. Just 5 years after UN’s establishment, the Korean War broke out. The UN Security Council agreed to dispatch peace forces to the Korean peninsula. As a young boy Chairman Ban was a child of war, poor and devastated, but he grew up and became the Secretary-General of the UN. This is all thanks to education. Education is the foundation for our humanity, which is why the UN has its priorities on quality education.
While he was in office, the conflict and growing violence in Darfur, Western Sudan was one of the first things he addressed. “I promised at the very beginning of my term that I will make sure that we will bring the Sudanese people and people in Darfur peace and security and also development,” said Chairman Ban. However unfortunately, the UN PKO is still remaining in the area, precariously. He also mentioned the situation in Syria. 9 years have passed since the Arab Spring in 2011. The Syrian government’s aggressive response to the Syrian people caused many deaths and refugees.
“Can you believe that we have more than 75 million people out of their home countries, as refugees or displaced people?,” Chairman ban cried. During his tenure in office, he had convened four international conferences to fund Syrian refugees. But we need to witness succeeding efforts from the UN Secretary-General to support other refugees as well. Providing shelter and quality education for refugee children is crucial and we need the UN to mobilize more funding for this matter.
He explained the chronic incapacity and ineffectiveness of the UN Secretary Council when there is no reconciliation between the permanent member states. “In the course of this kind of problems, it is the people who suffer most,” he said. There have been many arguments on the reformation of the UN Secretary Council, and this is why. A global vision based on fundamental UN principles and ideals should go beyond national interest, and this is what we need to overcome the ineffectiveness of the UN.
The rising tension in the two nuclear holding states Iran and North Korea is also worrisome. North Korea has annulled many declarations and negotiations between surrounding nations. Recently the North Korean authorities have announced that they will cut off all the communication lines between North and South Korea. (This interview was held before North Korea bombed the joint liaison office with South Korea) The situation isn’t better in Iran. Several important agreements like the JCPOA(Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) is now practically abrogated after the Trump administration began. This is very shameful considering how much effort was put into the signing of this document.
Conclusion of the comprehensive Paris Climate Change Agreement is a historical event. It is evidence that shows the international society shares the same view on the urgency of climate crisis. The European Union has announced ‘Net Zero’ by 2050 and few states are even planning to legislate this movement. “I’ve been often saying that ‘nature does not negotiate with human beings’. Nature has its own ways, and because it has its own ways it is the human beings who have to follow what nature tells us to do,” said Chairman Ban.
Working as the UN Secretary-General, Chairman Ban Ki-moon also worked to empower women. “Can you believe that from 1945, since the foundation of UN until 1992, during those years, those 5 decades, there were only 3 women senior officials?,” he explained in grief. He tried to embrace more women officials within the UN system up to 35-40% but more effort needs to be put in to achieve 50:50 ratio.
When asked about his Indian Express op-ed, Chairman Ban praised India’s diverse culture, ethnicity, language and religion. This is what made India socioeconomically developed. However their pride on long history and diversity should be kept away from any dispute or discrimination based on race and religion.
Chairman Ban finished his interviews by emphasizing global vision and global citizenship. Global citizens ought to be caring of other people in this small planet earth that we share, ready to extend their helping hands.
Below is the transcript of the podcast:
Welcome to the oxford union podcast series. This is Mahi Joshi, your president for this term and your host for today.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is a South Korean diplomat and politician who served as the 8th Secretary-General of the United Nations from 2007 until 2016.
He was elected in 2006 and succeeded Kofi Annan at a time of increasing division and volatility. With terrorism, extremism, and authoritarianism was on the rise, the war on terror was persisting, crisis in the Middle East, Sudan, and North Korea ongoing, and the threat of climate of change wearing into an emergency.
Key achievements of his two terms in office include the negotiations of early stages of peace in Darfur, the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals, and the signing of the landmark Paris Climate Agreement in 2015.
Alongside this, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pursued an agenda of bureaucratic reform and transparency within the UN, and oversaw the creation of UN Women, a symbol of moderation and unity in a time of turbulence.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon retired in December 2016, after 2 full terms in office, handing over to Antonio Guterres.
He has since founded Ban Ki-moon Center for Global Citizens which aims to support women and young people, and has served president and chair of the Global Green Growth Institute; a treaty based international organization for Sustainable Development.
Thank you so much for joining us today Secretary-General, it is a great pleasure to be hosting you.
You became Secretary-General of the UN after a long and distinguished career in the South Korean diplomatic services, and after serving as Minister of Foreign Affairs in South Korea. Could you tell us about the South Korea that you represented and how you see your country has changed in the past 50 years?
When I was elected as a Secretary-General, it was October 2006. By that time, the relationship between UN and Korea has been and even now, very special. Without the UN’s intervention during the Korean War in 1950, which was caused by the aggression from North Korea, assisted by China at that time, Korea would have never survived, and I would not be talking with you today even. That’s how much the Korean people and government owed a lot for this survival, peace, and security.
It was just five years after the UN was born, then UN faced the greatest challenges to this real existence and to the purpose of the ideas of the UN Charter. Then the Security Council at that time decided to dispatch UN forces. It was the first time that UN initiated that kind of massive military engagement at that time, we have not seen any such kind of example until now. More than 37,000 UN soldiers were sacrificed on the Korean territory.
Of course at this time things are very difficult. UN has not been able to enforce peace. We are now trying to keep the peace. So we have 14 UN peace keeping missions at this time. During my time, we had 16 missions. But they were not peace enforcement forces. That was the first time that UN’s epic as a peace enforcer.
I only hope that the UN has that kind of peace enforcing capacity and mandate, but because of the very delicate political situation, and particularly during the time of a Cold War, nothing could have been agreed upon between the Soviet Union and the United States on this issue. While UN was ever to dispatch peace enforcing force at that time, Soviet Union was absent, boycotting the Security Council at that time. So there was no Soviet delegation, so it was easy that United States, United Kingdom, China, and France were able to agree on this. That was the main reason we were able to be saved by the UN I am deeply grateful.
Then when I was elected as a Secretary-General, I told the story. I was the child of war, but now I’ve become a man of peace. So the child of war who was very poor and completely devastated by the Korean War, now grew up and became the Secretary-General of the United Nations. That is what I can tell you about this.
So you were elected as Secretary-General, in 2006 and took office in 2007. One of the first things you did was addressing the growing violence, particularly in Darfur in Western Sudan. Could you tell us about these negotiations and how the war slowly approached to close in 2009, which celebrates as one of your greatest successes?
When I took over my job as a Secretary-General, the peace and security in Darfur, Sudan, was at its highest conflict. And everyone was talking about Darfur, as we are talking about Syria and the Middle East. Therefore I promised at the very beginning of my term that I will make sure that we will bring the Sudanese people and people in Darfur peace and security and also development.
But unfortunately until now, we are still keeping the largest UN peace keeping forces. It’s not peace enforcement, this is peace keeping. That means that the soldiers are trying to keep at bay, between the two conflicting parties. They are standing in the middle between the two conflicting parties.
Sudan has been split into two, Republic of Sudan and South Sudan, with people’s popular votes. Referendum was taken by the UN whether the people living in the southern area of Sudan wanted to liberate and have an independent state. That was again a very interesting but important which have happened during my time as a Secretary-General. So South Sudan has become 193rd member states of the UN. But the situation in South Sudan is still very precarious. Even though Vice President Riek Machar has joined President Salva Kiir’s government, their relationship is not fully trusted by each other. That is very worrisome.
In Sudan, there was a change of government. The long term dictator Omar al-Bashir of Sudan was deposed by the people’s power, and they tried to reestablish their own peace, security, and development. But still, the current situation is not that good.
At this time, what really bothers me as a former Secretary-General is that we do not have any peace at all in Syria. As a part of Arab Spring in early 2011, the Syria people rose up against dictator leader Bashar al-Assad of Syria. He had ruthlessly suppressed and killed people in Syria.
Since 2011, when Arab Spring took place, since then until now, it has been 9 years. More than half a million Sudanese or Syrian people were killed by their own government, and even some opposition. More than 6 million Syrians had to flee their country for their security and better opportunity, but mainly for their survival. We don’t talk about—we cannot talk about better opportunities, economic development, or social security, but all just because of the safety they had to flee their country. They are mostly staying at refugee camps. More than 2 million refugees stay in Jordan, 3 million people stay in Turkey. They also stay in Norther Iraq and Lebanon’s refugee camps. One fourth of total population in Lebanon is Syrian refugees. This is a terrible situation.
Because of the ineffectiveness of the UN Security Council, between the United States and Russian Federation, they do not agree on anything, particularly Russia. Russia is not helping at all. They are trying to support Assad region. This is very worrisome at this time. I hope that Syrian people, with the help of the entire international community, we can see some peaceful resolution at this time.
So 2 things upon that:
First, as you said there are millions of refugees around the world who have to flee like Syria, what is the UN doing and how do you respond to the criticism that UN is not doing enough for these refugees?
Second, how do you fix, as you said there is a Security Council conflict that exists between the United States and Russia perpetually?
Those are good questions. In addition to almost 6 million Syrian refugees, there are at this time, 75 million refugees and displaced people around the world. Can you believe that we have more than 75 million people out of their home countries, as refugees or displaced people? This is the number we can find only after the Second World War. The Second World War was a terrible and miserable. Tens of millions of people were killed, and so many refugees. It was understandable because it was a real terrible one. But without just the war in Syria, so many people have become refugees.
During my time, I have convened at least four international donor conferences on Syrian refugees. It took place and was hosted by Kuwait three times. Kuwait government was very generous in hosting three consecutive years to hold international donor conference. We mobilized billions of dollars. Then the 4th international donor conference took place in London. United Kingdom and Kuwait government co-hosted. At that time, we mobilized more than 11-12 billion dollars for Syrian refugees.
But those money were only for Syrian refugees. What about other areas? What about other refugees? UNHCR is the main organization to mobilize, but with the convening power of the Secretary-General of the UN, my successor, Antonio Guterres, they have to mobilize billions of dollars to provide such support.
It is worrisome that there are also many refugees who are Palestinian in Palestine area. The United States stopped funding for refugees housed by UN. So it creates a serious problem. Without funding, we cannot provide any food, water, medicines, and we cannot educate children.
During my time, the first thing that the UN would do when refugees arrive, we first have to establish a shelter. Whether it is a tent or make shift building. Then we have to provide food, water, and health service. The next thing we do is establishing a school for children. These are all make shift schools, but we make sure that every single children who are among the refugees are taught, and given education. This is what we have to do and I hope that UN will really lead this campaign to promote and mobilize more funding.
Following on from that, you’ve acknowledge several times during your leadership that the UN has a complicated relationship with Israel. Could you tell us about how this relationship was developed under present Netanyahu and the future of the Palestini minority as you’ve just said?
I think there is always a conflict in interests when you deal with so many global challenges. Conflicting interests mean that sometime countries do not reconcile. The countries among the UN member states, they are divided; so they have different interests on certain issues, for example Palestine, Middle East issues, US, Israel and most of the Middle Eastern countries and Europeans, they take a different position. In the course of this kind of problems, it is the people who suffer most. That is why I have been really speaking out that all these global challenges should be solved through global vision, whether you belong to a certain country matters least. It’s not a national issue, is a global issue. So conflict resolution should be based on fundamental principles of the UN’s ideals and values of the Charter. That means first come human rights, human dignity. Then we have to provide peace and security for those people. We have to provide those people something to eat and drink and (allow them to) live healthy lives. These are somethings which should always take principle positions.
But in reality, it is always difficult. Countries do not compromise; they are not willing to cooperate with each other. That is why UN plays a really important role among the parties concerned.
What is most important is that global leadership, global vision among the leaders of big powers, like SC 5 permanent members, they have their own different views. Normally the US does not agree on what the Russians or the Chinese will do. US have much stronger coordination with UK and France, while China and Russia would stand on a different side. That means that there is always an ineffectiveness of the SC. Ineffectiveness of the SC means the incapacity of the UN. UN cannot do everything. That a real problem. So you must have heard a lot about (voices claiming that the) UN SC should be reformed in a way that they can really address all global challenges with efficiency and common views.
So upon your election in 2017, the Economist magazine stated several challenges you would have to face in your term. One of them being the rising nuclear demons, the Iran and North Korea. 13 years on, how do you assess these threats especially wake of America’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.
Those two countries Iran and North Korea, are really the source of our concern and the concern of the UN as a whole. People around the world are really watching with strong sense of concern, how they can be a part of responsible members of the UN. Why? Both countries have or are developing nuclear weapons. North Korea has already tested 6 nuclear weapons test from 2006 until 2017. This is a total violation of international global regimes governing nuclear weapons: NPT(Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty).
Still we’ve really been trying to engage NK through south and North Korean diplomacy interrelations, through US and NK relationship.
In the past, what is known as the 6 parties talk was held. 6 parties, who are neighboring and directly concerned parties like South and North Korea, US, Russia, China and Japan, have been conducting a lot of effort. I myself was one of the negotiators of the joint declaration between the South and North on denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in 1992. After that there were many important agreements like Geneva agreed framework between the US and North Korea. Plus there was at least 3 summit meetings between three presidents (of South Korea) and 2 leaders of North Korea. Summit meetings starting from President Kim Dae-joong, President Rho Moo-hyun; and the current President Moon Jae-in has had 3 summit meetings with North Korean Kim Jong-un. US had 3 meetings; once in Singapore, Hanoi, and in Panmunjom. 3 times.
Despite all these agreements, declarations, North Korea has not been implementing these. That is why it’s completely stalled. Recent announcement by North Korean authorities is that they have cut off all the communication lines between the South and North including the hot lines which were installed between the two hands of the governments of South and North Korea. Military communication lines and South North dialogue liaison offices lines, all has been cut off and they are now mobilizing lot of people demonstrating against South Korea. This is very worrisome at this time.
When it comes to Iran, there was a very important agreement, what is known as JCPOA(Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). This is between Iran on one side and US, EU and also Germany on the other side. So it is one to 8 parties’ agreement. Unfortunately, this JCPOA has been abrogated by President Trump and soon as he took power. That was very disappointing. And this is one of the great sources of the continuing tension now.
The current American administration argues that JCPOA is not completely comprehensive. No agreement in this world can be perfect. There is no such thing as a perfect agreement without any defect. If there is anything missing, they can still meet and amend, instead of abrogating the entire agreement. US should stay as a party of this.
This has not been completely broken but is practically broken now. Iran is now free, they have free hands. They declared that they will try to enrich uranium.
So those two are very worrisome challenges. It is all the better, for those two countries to be within the international framework rather than letting them play outside the framework. This is wisdom. The US cannot just abrogate the agreement which have been worked out with a lot of energy, negotiations and detailed consultations. Just looking at the parties (you can see that). On the other side (of Iran) is US and the whole EU, and Germany herself is another stand-alone party, while they are part of the EU. That means she really wanted to give assurance to the Iranian side that: if you completely implement and abide by the agreement we’ll provide you necessary support.
Now that it is broken, it is important and urgent to really revive this JCPOA agreement, and resume dialogue between the South and North Korea before anything erupts out by North Korea.
Heading away from foreign politics now, I want to talk about the transition which occurred in your time in office with climate change, turning into climate emergency. One of the greatest successes of your time in office was considered to be the signing of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. Especially again in the wake of US’s withdrawal in 2017, what do you make of this legacy of yours.
The climate change was one of my top most important priority agenda since day 1, 2007 January. We are after many ups, downs and frustrations, but we were able to have a comprehensive agreement in Paris on December 12th, 2015. That was a historical agreement in (at that time) the 70 years history of the UN. (It shows) that much international community was of the same view that climate change is the defining challenge for our humanity as well as for our planet earth. Unless we take an urgent action, our humanity would have no hope while our planet earth will continue to heat up.
Now, the previous 4 years Julys of 2016-2019 were identified as the warmest Julys ever in the recorded history. Then in October 2018, the IPCC(Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has declared again that unless the human kind make sure that global temperature rise be contained under 1.5C by 2030, we will have no hope. We have to completely reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Many European countries, the EU has declared that they will work for ‘net zero’ emission by 2050, that there will be no greenhouse gas emission by then. And several countries have announced that they will even legislate this commitment. So most of the EU is now on board (climate action) except one or two countries, including Poland. We are really urging that by 2050 we should have ‘net zero’. But frankly speaking, we’re not talking about developing countries. African countries, South-east Asian countries, China, India, Pakistan and Latin American countries, it may be quite difficult for them. But those countries, who are rich like OECD member states, should really realize ‘net zero’ by 2050. This is an urgent agenda at this time.
I’ve been often saying that ‘nature does not negotiate with human beings’. Nature has its own ways, and because it has its own ways it is the human beings who have to follow what nature tells us to do. Now recently Pope Francis said very famously that we are not sure why god has disposed this coronavirus, but it is sure that it is a message, a response of the nature to the human kind, because the human kind have not been listening to the voices of the nature
During your administration the UN created UN Women, a UN entity working for the empowerment of women. Based on this, I wanted to ask about, the issues disadvantaging woman which is eternal to the UN from gender biases to sexual assessments of hundreds of peacekeepers. What did you do and what can be done to address this systemic issue?
Just simply put: Without women empowerment, without women joining, we will never be able to address global agendas and global crises. Unfortunately, during last many thousand years, during the most of the human lives; women have been just a side light. Light has always been on men, who have been taking leadership role.
Then during my time, I emphasized that more than half of the global population is women, and it is unfair. We must give at least half of opportunities, if not more, to women. Now that’s why I created UN women for the first time for the UN history. Can you believe that from 1945, since the foundation of UN until 1992, during those years, those 5 decades, there were only 3 women senior officials taking charge of responsibilities that man had done. I thought that this is unfair and this is the injustice; that we have to empower women. During my time, I really try to make 50:50 in appointing senior positioned women. I am not talking about just regular staff. But more women when comes down to lower level, but when it goes to higher level, there are very few women. Now it is still not completely half and half. But I really tried to raise it to at least 35–40 %. So, there are many senior position holding women in the UN system. That’s what I am very proud of. For that, one of the women NGO, called Asia Initiative based in New York has created an award, taking after my name: Ban Ki-moon Award for Women’s Empowerment. I am very proud of it and if every goes well, in October I am going to go to New York this year to present the 4th year award to women leaders.
Earlier this year, you wrote an opinion piece for the Indian Express in which you said that Indian must stay with the vision of founding fathers to fight the threat to secure democracy. Weighing in on your experience as the former South Korean ambassador to India, how do you suggest the fight against Hindu nationalism ought to be fought?
India is one of the biggest countries, with the second largest population, with a lot of ethnic groups, largely Hindus and Muslims, about the many different ethnicities speaking different languages. As I understand there are at least 13 common official languages, including Hindi official language. So, it’s a dynamic, now making a very fast economic development under the leadership of the current Prime Minister Modi. While we watch India’s development in the socio-economic side, we really want to see more harmonious relationship among the people consisting India. So, India should be very proud of the long history, diversity and all these compassions. (They are) quite religious people. Therefore all these religious belief, diversity should be given more support in making India united as a whole, without any dispute or discrimination because of race or religious belief. That’s what I really hope.
Referring to things such as populism, conflict, persisting inequality, and poverty, you have acknowledged the hopelessness, the anger, and the frustration people feel towards their governments and political institutions. How should the UN and liberal democratic institutions around the world respond to this challenge for its people?
The UN has a huge mandate as well as huge responsibility addressing many challenges starting from poverty eradication. That is why my number one goal of MDG and Sustainable Development Goal, SDG, is always eradication of extreme poverty.
When people were born, one should be given enough to eat and nourish one’s body. Only then, can you expect that these citizens will greatly contribute to our social and economic development. That is why the UN has recommended that the developed countries should provide at least 0.7% of their GNP to the developing countries. If this kind of rate and standard of economic development continues among the developing countries, it will almost impossible for them to sustain themselves, to stand-alone by themselves. That’s why we really expect the OECD countries, the 36 OECD countries, to provide necessary economic assistance.
Finally SG, before I turn to questions from the audience, my final question for me is to ask you a bit about the current projects that you’re working on, that you’ve set up since leaving office, particularly the BKMC. Could you tell us a bit about what is center is and what this center does?
I have established the BKMC in Vienna, Austria and in Seoul; I’m also the Chairman of the Ban Ki-moon Foundation. Why BKMC and BKMF? That is a little bit vague, but what I have realized during my 10 years’ service at the UN is that most of the leaders do not have global vision. They claim to be global leaders but lacks global vision, global citizenship. I think we need real leaders and citizens with global citizenship.
With transformative development of science and technology, travel, communication, we are living in a very small planet Earth. There is no place one cannot reach within 24 hours by airplane. Within a fraction of a second this message can be delivered to the end of the world. That means we need to be a global citizen. That means there is no boundary. Boundary does not mean anything.
When I was a young boy in 1962, I was very fortunate to travel to the US and meet President Kennedy at the White House. I was not the only one. There were about 130 international students, coming from about 40 countries. He addressed to us “Look, we have a better future for the young people like you!”
We are living in the small world, national boundaries doesn’t mean much. What matters is whether you’re ready to extend your helping hands, whether you really care for other people and living together as global citizens. That has always been in my mind. That is why I have still promote the importance of global vision and global citizenship
Turning now to questions from the audience, the first one is from C, and he says:
“What kind of an education will contribute to building your design model of global cooperation?”
Education is a foundation for our humanity, particularly young generations. To be able to grow and contribute as global citizens, without the provision of quality education, you cannot expect these young generation and other citizens to contribute to common development of peace, justice and human rights. That is why UN takes a very high priority in providing quality education.
That is why during my time I have established the Global Education First Initiative, abbreviated GEFI. I have appointed Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister, as the special envoy on this GEFI. Why? Education gives our citizens, particularly young generation, very effective tools and means to contribute to global peace development and upholding human rights. Unfortunately at this time there are more than 60 million young boys and girls, school-aged children, who are out of school. MDG which was initiated in 2000, had a target to eradicate this number, but they are still there.
Now we have upgraded, that we should provide quality education, higher than primary education. That’s our goal by 2030 that there should be no school-aged children out of school. That’s why UN is really establishing even making school in refugee camps.
I am one of the great beneficiaries of the UN education policies.
When I was just 6 years old Korean War broke out in1950. Then I entered primary school in 1951, but school buildings were broken, were very poor and thirsty. Still we were also thirsty to learn. UNESCO provided textbooks. We learned with textbooks provided by the UNESCO and also UN Korea Reconstruction Agency, UNKRA.
I told this story when I became the SG: “Look I was a very poor boy, a child of war. But I was very thirsty and very much committed to learn. That why once child of war became a man of peace, the UNSG!”
This is very important that all the children around the world, wherever they may be should be able to learn. Thank you.
SG, I have one final question for you from the audience, this one is from S and he says:
“Many of the UN’s unmet challenges are due to the lack of political will to achieve UN’s set targets. How far should the principle of state sovereignty shield member states from meeting their targets and what should be done about those fail to meet them.
Meeting the target will require strong political commitment by the political leaders. Also it’s not only by political leaders but business communities; they are very important components as stakeholders.
When these goals are assisted and support by government leaders and business community leaders, when there is a good policy and good direction, sufficient financial and material support, we can really help poor people to live out of poverty. That is the number one goal of the UN Agenda 2030. So let is work together to make this world better where nobody is hungry, nobody is left out. Join our process towards prosperity and peace.
Thank you SG it has been an absolute pleasure to hosting you, thank you so much for joining us here today.
Thank you it has been a great pleasure to meet you.