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Where Are You, Ban Ki-Moon?

Author: Jonathan Tepperman, Managing Editor, Foreign Affairs
September 25, 2013
International Herald Tribune


Of all the recent twists in the Syria saga, one of the most unexpected has been the sudden return to relevance of the United Nations, now holding its General Assembly in New York, and its otherwise invisible secretary general, Ban Ki-moon.

Since he came into office six-and-a-half years ago, Ban has remained remarkably anonymous, despite occupying one of the world's most high-profile jobs. This obscurity is especially striking in contrast to his predecessor, Kofi Annan, who was charismatic, dashing and often in the news, and earlier office-holders like Dag Hammarskjold, who helped define the job in the 1950s. And it's earned the South Korean diplomat withering criticism: He's been called among the worst secretaries general in U.N. history, a "powerless observer" and a "nowhere man"; Foreign Policy magazine even called for his resignation in 2010.

The U.N. under Ban's stewardship has managed to get some things right: (generally) providing effective relief to refugees, (generally) doing a decent job on peacekeeping, and avoiding the corruption and mismanagement scandals that tarnished the last years of Annan's tenure. But on Syria — the critical issue of the moment — Ban's record has been thin.

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