A Conversation With Ban Ki-moon

Friday, December 16, 2016
Pierre Albouy/Reuters

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon discusses the role of the United Nations in a changing global landscape.

SCHNEIER: It’s not too early to wish everyone a Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. The Council on Foreign Relations, headed by the very gifted President Richard Haass, premier foreign policy think tank, and the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, concerned with religious freedom and human rights, are honored to have you, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, with us as you end ten years of an impossible job—(laughter)—at the end of this month and to recognize you for your service to the international community at a time of volatile and volcanic changes. You’re a man of humility, modesty, and you have carried the burdens of mankind.

I’ll never forget, you and I met the first time after 9/11, at the U.N., when tragedy struck, terror right here in New York City. You were the chief of staff of then Former Prime Minister Han, who was president of the General Assembly. For the first time, the U.N. General Assembly opening had to be postponed because of the terrorist attack. I encountered a man of decency who identified with the pain and suffering of all New Yorkers. And Commissioner Kelly and Mayor Dinkins, you remember those days. All of us do.

And throughout the years, as you attained prominence on the international scene, you remained a man of decency, who showed respect and concern for every human being, and the planet we inhabit. Your initiative Human Rights First, Paris Climate Agreement, sustainable development and humanity agenda are hallmarks of your tenure.

Now with sorrow you leave behind an unresolved Syrian humanitarian crisis and a world beset by terrorism, with 40 active regional conflicts, including church burnings, synagogue burnings, mosque burnings, temple burnings. It’s a very, very sad world you’ll leave behind for your successor, Antonio. Regrettably, you could not accomplish what you wanted to accomplish. But no human being can accomplish everything. What we can do, each one of us, is to help a perfect God perfect an imperfect world. And you did your share.

A proud son of the South Korean people, you brought honor to the South Korean people through your service and dedication as an international public servant, upholding human dignity for men and women alike.

You will no longer have the title of secretary-general. And I don’t like the title former. It doesn’t sound good. It just doesn’t sound good. But you will carry the title that I bestowed upon you: mensch. (Laughter.) Mensch. (Laughter, applause.) And those of you who don’t speak German, it means a fine, decent human being. That title you will hold forever. So no former secretary-general. Mensch Ban Ki-moon. (Laughter.) OK?

So we pray your success in your new endeavors, and I will say to you—(speaks in a foreign language)—OK? Which means good luck to you, to your first lady, to your family, and thank you so much for joining us on this very occasion. Thank you. Thank you and God bless you all. And we say again all the best, for a year of peace, prosperity, stability, and a better year than what we had until now. God bless you all. Thank you. (Applause.)

BAN: Thank you, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, president of Appeal of Conscience Foundation. Thank you very much for your very kind recognition of my work during last impossible job as secretary general. And I will humbly accept that you designated me as mentioned. But I believe that I have far, far to go to be called like a mensch, really. But I’ll try my best, according to your guidance.

Mr. Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, excellencies, distinguished members of the Council on Foreign Relations, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a great honor for me to join this afternoon to talk about the role of the United Nations in a changing global landscape.

I thank Mr. Haass for inviting me and for his support throughout my term. We have known even before he became the president of this Council, when he was working in the State Department. We were counterparts and we worked very, very closely. He gave me great support and help.

And also Rabbi Schneier is my mentor—is my mentor. He has been giving me all spiritual guidance. Of course, it’s not written in the charter, but whatever he did, whatever he said, was exactly in line with the charter of the United Nations. And he’s a real mensch. (Laughter.) And I have—there is a saying in Korea; you never dare to step on the shadow of your teacher. So we always follow far behind the teacher, not to even step on the shade of a teacher. So I have that kind of respect for him. I thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)

As you know, his work with the Appeal of Conscience Foundation and his focus on dialogue and mutual respect is particularly important in these days of escalating hate speech.

Today, ladies and gentlemen, I visit you at a time of transition here in the United States and also at the United Nations. I am preparing to leave my job in just fifteen days. Yes, it’s hard to believe—unbelievable that ten years has passed so quickly and I have now fifteen days. After five more days, I’m counting ten, nine, eight, like this. (Laughter.)

It’s a little bit sad, but that’s life. And I have to give my all—all difficult jobs unfulfilled to my successor. I know that the United Nations, my successor, new secretary general, is preparing to take the helm. Over my ten years as secretary general, I have witnessed many dramatic changes. I have seen significant advances, and some dispiriting setbacks, victories for multilateralism and failures too.

There is no doubt that we live in a time of uncertainty and turmoil. Many people are scared or angry, and they are gushing out their anger and frustrations to their leaders. We must try to counter these forces wherever and whenever they occur.

We live in an increasingly globalized world. We are connected by economics where a disturbance in one sector can ripple around the world. We are connected by our planet, which is sending us daily warning signs. And we are connected by our common humanity. We are more aware than ever before of the inequities that destabilize the world and of the consequences of ignoring them. When people feel disenfranchised, powerless, overlooked, or abused, they respond at the ballot box or on the battlefield. These are the forces that the United Nations was created to manage.

You’re all well-aware of our organization’s aims, achievements, and shortcomings. We live in an imperfect world, and the United Nations is a mirror of that world. I have been saying that United Nations should be united. When United Nations is not united and divided, then we have a problem. When United Nations is not united, we have seen all these fires still continuing to burn.

We see the complexity of today’s challenges most plainly in the atrocities, suffering, and happening in South Sudan and in Syria.

In Syria, legitimate grievances were met with brutal oppression by the leaders. The flagrant disregard by the government for human rights precipitated a barbarous civil war that has had profound consequences in the country, in the region, and the world.

Yesterday, with all this cessation of hostilities, we have been able to rescue and escape thousands of people, with some almost 200 wounded people, to Italy and some other part, Western part, and also even in Turkey. But unfortunately, this morning we had to suspend this operation because of, again, fighting took place in the course of this operation.

Development in Syria has been set back decades. The exodus of refugees has put a major strain on the country’s neighbors, in mainly four countries—in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq—and some in Northern Africa, including Egypt.

These shock waves of the forced mass movement of people have been felt throughout Europe and beyond. The discord in the Security Council has prevented a solution in Syria and soured international relations in other arenas. And the conflict has provided a fertile breeding ground for violent extremists hellbent on their own evil agenda. No one wins. Everyone loses.

The only answer is a political solution built on genuine dialogue that is backed by a united international community. The same holds true in Yemen, Mali, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Libya, Iraq, and between Israelis and Palestinians.

There are at least 17 places at this time where small or big fires are still burning—17 places. If we include some broader way, including some forgotten crises or frozen crises, we have more than 35 crises. They’re all potentially eruptive. Once they erupt, then we will have much, much more violences.

Ladies and gentlemen, the link between peace, development, and human rights is most clearly apparent where nations are in turmoil. But it is also evident when we look in our own backyard, whenever we see honest families struggling for better lives but dragged down by poverty and inequality.

That is why 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development goals agreed last year by all member states is universal, applying to all countries. And it is why these 17 SDGs are closely integrated and mutually supporting. Put simply, the 2030 agenda is a blueprint for peace, prosperity, opportunity, and dignity for all people. Living on a healthy planet. There are many critical components to the 2030 agenda. But I’d like to highlight one element in particular that will have the most far-reaching effects for the most people. That is, climate action.

Climate change is already affecting people all over the world. It’s been approaching much, much faster than one may think. It’s affecting whole spectrums of our world. People in the coal and oil industries are understandably concerned about jobs and profits. But if the world fails to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the consequences will be devastating for farmers, for low-lying cities, for water security, for communities vulnerable to wildfires, for the tourism industries, and many, many so on. Governments around the world have recognized the dangers of climate change and the urgency of addressing it. They understand that climate change is a threat multiplier that can disrupt ecosystems and economies alike, and cause mass displacement of person and tensions within and between countries.

They also understand the vast opportunities inherent in low emissions, climate resilient-development. That is why this Paris agreement on climate change, adopted last December, entered into force this year, in record time. In the history of human being, but mostly since the foundation or founding of the United Nations, this climate change was signed by record-number of countries, parties. In just one day, in just one day, when we opened it for signature on April 22nd at the United Nations, 175 countries came, in one day, and they signed. That broke the record of—previous record, of which was signed—in 1982 in Montego Bay, Jamaica, when people came to sign the U.N. Convention on Law of the Sea. Then since April 22nd, in just less than seven months, this agreement has entered into force legally. That was, again, record-breaking speed.

That is—why then it has happened? Because government understands that it is in their own national interest to act on climate change. It’s not only the government. Business CEOs, Fortune 500 CEOs, they all know that without changing their business operations into low-carbon economy, then their business have no hope. It’s not only business. The civil society, the people on the ground, they now understand. That was the most, I think, vocal and strongest support for this climate change agreement come into effect. This is a rare and precious achievement that we should nurture and guard fiercely. It’s a key to sustainable future for us, human being, and our planet Earth. To jettison or damage it is to condemn future generations to untold suffering.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a critical juncture. We are the first generation that has all the tools necessary to end extreme poverty. We can eliminate this extreme poverty by 2030. And we can shrink inequality and lay the foundations for a sustainable future for all humankind. We are also the last generation that can avert the existential threat of climate change. So our generation has a very important role to play, that we are the last generation to do something to prevent, stop this climate change happening—from happening. For the past decade, I have tried to defend the human race, promote international cooperation, and improve the effectiveness of the U.N. itself. I’m confident that my successor will build on our advances and take on the lessons of our setbacks. The lesson I have learned—which I will continue to emphasize—is that we all need to be global citizens. By acting in each other’s best interest, we inevitably further our own.

I thank you for your attention, and ask for your wise leadership. When I was swearing in for second term, the catch was that together nothing is impossible. Together, we can make this world better for all. I thank you very much for this opportunity. (Applause.)

HAASS: Well, I want to thank the secretary-general twice over. I want to thank him for being with us today. But even more, I want to thank him for his decade of public service. It’s a difficult job. You get more criticism than kudos, in my experience. And it’s also a difficult job in another way, where you’re the leader of an organization, but it’s in some ways an organization designed not to be led. (Laughter.) And that is—that’s really the DNA of the place. So it’s a difficult job in every way. So I want to—I want to thank him here publicly.

I also want to thank Rabbi Schneier, who not only runs one of the most important synagogues and congregations in this city and country, but is at the intersection of diplomacy and religion. And it’s hard to think of two things that are more significant in this—in this day in age.

I’m going to ask a few questions of the secretary-general. Actually, what he whispered to me when he looked at the stage, he goes: Is this where you’re going to torture me? (Laughter.) And I won’t. And then I’ll open it up to our members. So I’ll just take a few minutes with a few questions.

You talked about Paris a lot, and about climate a lot. And you’ve been consistent about that. I remember our first lunch, you probably don’t, when you had just become secretary-general. And you told me that that was going to be a priority. I told you I thought—I disagreed with that. And you can see my influence remains consistent. (Laughter.) When you look back at your legacy, would you say that’s your most significant success, the Paris agreement, that area? How would you weigh it?

BAN: I think so, because in 2007, when I first began my job, I was thinking about my priorities. There are so many priorities, including regional issues. I thought that regional conflict issues would be a sort of (time bound ?). If we work hard with global solidarity, we would be able to address all these issue, and put out fires. Then I thought much more far-reaching things, which would be best for humanity? I realized that climate change was the one. At that time, if you look all the record of reports in the media, nothing—not much things were talked about climate change. And particularly, U.S. government was not also ready to—U.S. government was not ready, later on China. So big countries like India, Russia, they were not—just silent.

So I really wanted to prop up all these leaders, starting from President Bush at the time. I went to President Bush and I went to all the places around the world, in 2007 and ‘(0)9—2008 and 2009 until Copenhagen summit meeting. I thought that by 2009 we would be able to strike a deal. At that time, “seal the deal,” that was our catchphrase. I worked very hard, but we knew that we needed more strength. Then after ten years of—nine years, nine years of hard work, I was able to mobilize the world’s leaders’ attention and commitment. I personally—on my personal initiative, I have convened the summit meeting on climate change only—2007, first year; 2009; 2010; ’14; ’15. At least five times, on climate change, I mobilized all the leaders in the United Nations.

In between, I mobilized some—like, convened the MDG Summit, which is now—which has been developed into SDG—2010—2008, 2013, ’15. Three times. With this, I was able to really get this done, yeah.

HAASS: But also, I would argue that one of the reasons you succeeded in Paris, whereas you did not in Copenhagen, is that you fundamentally changed the model. In Copenhagen, you had what I would describe as a top-down agreement that would essentially put specific—impose, if you will, limits on individual countries, set global limits. And Paris was a bottom-up agreement.

BAN: Yes, yes.

HAASS: Each country came and it said this is the goal we’re going to set for ourself. We will do our best to live up to it, and so forth. It was a—in some ways, it was—I actually think you come up with a different model of multilateralism, maybe less ambitious, but in some ways more realistic.

BAN: The one important lessons which I learned and surprised me, I think two things: the development of technology and science; and second, the civil society—civil society. And as you said, we’ve been trying to do a top-down, you know, agreement and just to try to push down, but it didn’t work. And then top-down and bottom up, I thought that this should be met somewhere in the middle.

Then we’ve been meeting lot of business communities. And civil society, NGOs, they were speaking out. The mass rally 2014 in Manhattan, in Manhattan, on the occasion of this climate summit meeting which I convened, there were 400,000 citizens marched. It’s not only New Yorkers, not only Americans. All throughout the world, they came and marched. It was not in New York—many places around the world, they were shouting. And at that time, I hoped—while working there with the mayor and Al Gore and many leaders, I hoped that the leaders who were not moved would listen these voices of the people. That was the way we were able to mobilize—(inaudible).

HAASS: Sir, if you see that as your greatest success or accomplishment, after 10 years, what do you now look back on as your greatest area of frustration?

BAN: After ten years, for me?

HAASS: Yeah, your biggest frustration. And is it Syria, is it—is it something else? What will you feel the worst about?

BAN: I’m sorry to leave all these issues unfulfilled, unfinished, still ongoing by—to my successor and to member states. I will not talk about the conflict issues per se, specifically, but what I regret very much is that the lack of empathy and lack of compassion of the world leaders. I’ve been really urging world leaders to listen to the voices of the people. Then my observation, unfortunately, is that all these problems were not caused by the people. They were mostly caused by the leaders. When the leaders, they were focusing on their very narrow personal or regional interests, then people were not happy. There’s grievances of the people that would burst out as a way to express their frustrations and anger. Then they—normally, the normal response by the leaders will use military and police forces, shooting people and killing lot of people. Then this is what happened in Syria. The demonstration were carried out in a very peaceful way, and then Assad and his regime just began firing to the people. That really is the beginning. That was the beginning of this crisis, which is almost uncontrollable now. It has been a global issue now.

HAASS: Given what you said, I want to be provocative here for a second. Given you talked about—I think it’s an interesting phrase—the lack of empathy on the part of world leaders, and you see the leaders causing many of the problems that are so obvious, so the—one of the most common phrases used in the world you and I inhabit is the phrase international community. And I’ve actually come to say there is no international community. Maybe one day there might be. But right now, there isn’t one. If there was a real international community that agreed on how the world should work, we wouldn’t have things among—like Syria. Well, do you think I’m too cynical? Do you agree with that? Do you see the—do you think there is an international community, or do you see it more as a vision?

BAN: I think we are living in an international community in a very small, small world. So if you regard it as small world, then there may not be international community. There are still lot of national geographical boundaries. But these days, geographical boundaries have no meaning at all, and therefore, we need to have a global vision. I said in my remarks all—everybody should be a global citizen, whether you are coming from United States or whichever country you are coming from. It doesn’t matter. We are one—member of one small family, a global family. So we have to look beyond where you are living, where you’re living. In that regard, my answer would be there is international community when we have a norm—norm—by which everybody should live and act in accordance with some common understanding for common good. This is what we have to do and work as international citizen.

HAASS: And I’ll just ask one more question and then I’ll open it up to our members, which is a—it’s a reform question. If you could change something about how the United Nations is structured, it operates, its procedures, what would you—if the Security Council basically said, Mr. Secretary-General, as a good-bye president, where as a way of saying thank you, we’re going to let you change one thing about this organization, about how the way it’s structured or operates, what do you think would be the thing to change that would have the biggest payoff?

BAN: During last ten years, I can—I can proudly say, if I may boast a little bit, I think among eight secretaries-general, I have done most reform. Of course, in each time when our—my predecessors were working, there must have been problems. But all these problems which have not been addressed properly have been accumulated, and now many member states and international community, journalists and civil societies, they were critical about the United Nations. Somebody was raising even relevance of the United Nations in 21st century. Is United Nations relevant now when we have not been able to deliver all what they have been expecting us to do? Because of that, from day one I have really tried my best to change the way United Nations is working: more accountable, more effective, and more sustainable way, transparent way.

The one good system is that we have deployed on this one language and computerized the systems. All these agencies and department had been talking in different languages, which we’re not communicating each other. Shockingly, if I wanted to send some—just some check down to UNDP across 1st Avenue, it would take sometimes two months or three months, just across the street. That was the United Nations.

Now, even though we are still in a stabilizing process through deploying the Umoja—what is known Umoja, computerized system, I think within—by 2018 we’ll be in a fully communicating system-wide. And that’s one thing. Then when it comes to reform, I should say that Security Council should also change responding to tremendous changes we have been experiencing during last seven decades. Security Council has veto powers of five members. But I would not challenge this one, because it is matter of—

HAASS: (Laughs.) They won’t let you. Don’t worry. (Laughter.)

BAN: Amending the constitution. So, OK, that’s fine, unless you change all this, I mean, constitution, our constitution charter, then there are many ways Security Council can really be more united, more transparent, and more effective. For example, OK, I did mention about this veto power. OK, let there be this veto power until such time when it is amended. But the way that decision-making process of United Nations as a whole, including Security Council, is mostly by consensus—consensus. But this consensus is largely misused as unanimity. We have 193 member states. If you want to have something to be adopted by 193 member states, it takes long time. It is very difficult.

In the Security Council, 15 members, they all have veto powers. Can you believe that? It’s not only United States, Russia, France, common members. All 15 members, they have veto power. For example, something happened today in Syria. Then Security Council is gathering their meetings. Then they want to issue a presidential statement or press statement, much, much lower level. There even a single country can block. So they need complete 15 member states’ concurrence for press statement. And then Security Council cannot say anything, despite something serious happening.

I’ve been raising this issue to Security Council several times, but they are not moving. So I hope very—there should be some civil-society voices coming up. We have one member. I will not disclose the country, but—(laughter)—this is one thing which I think United Nations change—should change.

HAASS: OK, we’ve covered a bit; lots left. So why don’t we ask members to raise their hands. Wait for a microphone. Let us know who you are. And I already see more hands than there’s minutes in the day.

We’ll start with Mr. Klein in the third-to-last row, I think it is.

Q: George Klein, chairman of the United Nations Development Corporation.

I’m going to speak for the young people, because I’m not young. We have lived 50, 60 years hoping for peace in the world. And there are more killings, more people dying, more disagreements, on a continuing basis. You’ve been an extraordinary secretary general. Your heart has shown what you are and who you are. Do you really believe that there can be a United Nations? And what message do you leave at the end of the 10 years? Should we be pessimistic, optimistic? And will there be a day that we can really have peace in the world?

BAN: I’m hopeful and optimistic that United Nations can deliver on all the issues, when the member states show more solidarity. It’s sometimes very frustrating that when certain member states come with their national vision, just try to force into the debating process with their national process, that when you look at the global vision, then we can easily have agreement.

You mentioned about young people. In fact, we have to work for young people. We are now all this establishment generation. But this world should be run by our succeeding generations, particularly young people. The number of young people is more than half of this global population. Then 50 percent of these young people, they are under the age of 25—25. Then that means we are living in a very young world, even though we—our world has 4 billion-year history, but very young, very dynamic. But there are many people who do not have any place to work. They don’t have any decent work. If not unemployment, underemployment.

We have to change this one. We have to do something for women, girls, and particularly young people. That’s why, for the first time, for the first time in the U.N. history, in 2012 I appointed secretary general’s envoy, a youth envoy. I appointed at that time 28-year-old man. I think he was youngest senior-most young person. And then I realized that there is a serious unemployment of young people, youth—youth unemployment worldwide, worldwide. And I appointed the last year the former Austrian prime minister as my special envoy addressing youth unemployment issue. Now, instead of saying “unemployment,” I say “youth employment” in a positive connotation.

So we have to do much, much more. But basically, I am very hopeful that—in the future of the United Nations.

HAASS: Speaking of young people, Ms. Chiffon. (Laughs.)

Q: Yes. My name is Laura Chiffon. And as the secretary general knows, I’m helping out at the U.N. television to become more powerful in its communication through videos and stuff like this.

I have a rose, actually, here. It’s for you, because I think—thank you for your—

BAN: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)

Q: Now, the rose—

HAASS: I also hope, though, you have a question that—

Q: I have a question, yes.

HAASS: (Laughs.)

Q: I will be, yes. No, because I thought that the world, we can compare in a sort of way the world and a flower, because basically, to blossom, it needs just three things—water, sunshine, and love, which are the main three things as for the flower—

HAASS: A question.

Q: —in the world—for the world, for you—water, sunshine, and love for a flower, and for the world to blossom as a flower. Thank you.

HAASS: That might be more of a statement than a question, so you—(laughter)—

BAN: Thank you very much. Thank you.

HAASS: Yes, ma’am.

Q: Hi. Nazee Moinian, Columbia University.

In the face of the political unrest in your country, rising China, seemingly belligerent China, and the missile crisis in North Korea, what are you concerned about most?

BAN: That’s very—

Q: Or something else that I didn’t mention.

HAASS: You can say all of the above. (Laughter.)

BAN: Let me say you must have been following all these stories coming from my country, Korea. It’s again very surprising for me, unexpected things that’s now happening. I believe that during my seven-decades-long life as a South Korean citizen, we have not been experiencing this kind of political turmoil except when there was—Korean War broke out. And when her father, President Park Chung-hee, was assassinated in 1979, those were the times when Koreans were going through turbulent process. But this time, in a very peaceful society, very democratic, economically well-to-do society, this has happened. The people were very much frustrated and angry about the complete lack of good governance. And they believed that the trust on and for the leadership of country was betrayed. That’s why people became much more frustrated and angry. And I fully understand all this situation.

Having said that, as you know, Korea is also one of the good examples often cited by economists and politicians that in such a short period of time that Korea has risen to full blossom of democracy and economic growth. It has been called as one of the four dragons—four dragons. And it has been also very much looked to, how can emulate the South Korean examples. Koreans are resilient and respect for these democratic institutions. And I am convinced that the—while going through this turmoil, temporary turmoil, soon they will be able to overcome this crisis. I hope that this will give up good lessons—good lessons to the leadership people of Korean society, whether political, economic, and social. Then one must show the public common good ahead of their personal or organizational interest. That’s what we have to learn. Thank you.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, which you still are for 15 days.

HAASS: Please introduce yourself.

Q: Mahesh Kotecha, SCIC.

In the accomplishments or frustrations about the U.N., you did not talk about the refugees. There are 65 million displaced people within and outside borders of countries in which they were. Could you talk a little bit about the record of the UNHCR and the UNICEF and other agencies which have been so important in this area, and the lack of empathy and the problems that you have found there, and maybe the solutions?

BAN: Thank you. There were refugees, and there were many people who have been fleeing their countries because of persecution, because of poverty—extreme poverty, and just to have some better opportunities. So we need to differentiate a little bit between refugees and migrants, but all these migrants and refugees combined, as you said, we have more than 65 million people who are away from—who have to be away from their countries. And this is highest number since the end of Second World War. Only during Second World War had we had that many people.

So it’s a tragic situation. I think mostly, starting from Syrian crisis. They have traveled out—minimum 5 million people out of their country. And they are being accommodated in basically four countries now. Turkey, they have more than 2 million. Lebanon, one-fourth of the population there are Syrian refugees. And Jordan, they have almost 1 million people. And Iran. And there are some hundred thousand people in Egypt, in Northern Africa. It has created total crisis.

When you have guests, some guests, then you are always welcoming your guests. When they want to stay one month or two month in your house, then you become a little bit more serious. (Laughter.) Then when there’s a massive flow—massive flow, millions, hundred thousand people, 5,000 a day or night, then only just registering them takes a long time. The servicing, providing life-sustaining support, that is also huge challenge. Europeans, they’re most well-to-do, generous, mostly democratic, most open societies, they were receiving refugees at the beginning. As number grew uncontrollable way, then they became a little bit more serious and they were erecting walls and there were some xenophobic rhetorics and some discriminatory practices, et cetera, et cetera.

So this—while understandable, their sentiment—but at the same time, as responsible members of human society, they should do more compassions, give more support, because they are helpless people, defenseless people. They are voiceless people. Now, who can speak for them? Who can defend them? That’s what we’ve been urging. Then I thought, this should not be left to European leaders only, because European Union leaders, they were—their relationship became a little bit sensitive each other—or themselves. Then I thought that it’s better to be discussed at the global level, at the United Nations. That’s why I initiated this September 19th summit meeting on refugee issues.

And President Obama took another initiative, his own initiative, on September 20th in a more targeted way. How can divide all these refugees to some accommodating countries? Then there was a very important agreement and declaration adopted in the General Assembly known as New York Declaration. We are now continuing two more years to have an agreement on a global compact based on global responsibility sharing. Not a single country, however powerful, however resourceful it may be, they cannot do. United States, however rich you are, you cannot accommodate all of them. Therefore, we need to have some global solidarity, global sharing, and this (is important ?). This will be done by the United Nations.

But in the meantime, we are supporting every day 130 million people—water, food, sanitation, and education. We need the support. That’s why last week we launched an urgent appeal for 2017 in the amount of $22.2 billion. It’s about $22 billion to support 130 million people next year. We need a strong and generous support from countries like United States and European Union, and some countries in Asia, like Japan and South Korea and some good and economically rich countries from all around the world. Thank you.

HAASS: But the lesson seems to be that unless we do more to deal with the cause of refugees, the system will be overwhelmed. And that’s what we’re seeing.

BAN: Yeah, this—we have system. We have a system. Yeah, we have a system, but the problem is now to—this is a massive flow. Sometimes you are just not prepared.

HAASS: But it seems to me, put some greater emphasis on doing something about the events that are causing the flow in the first place. So if the world is not prepared to act in places like Syria, the world is going to have to deal with the consequences. And it doesn’t do very good.

We got time for one more. Jason. I apologize to the many people who have their hands up, but I haven’t been able to get to. I apologize.

Q: Thanks, Richard. Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General. I’m Jason Forrester, a Council member.

Thank you for mentioning the challenges that South Korea is facing. Do you think that South Korea could benefit from the leadership, the experience of someone such as yourself, in a key role?

HAASS: (Laughs.) Here’s your chance to make news today, Mr. Secretary-General? (Laughter.) Do you want to kind of—do you want to make an announcement here?

BAN: Are there any journalists here? (Laughter.) Then I’ll make—I’ll not make—(laughter)—I don’t want to make any—


BAN: You know, I’m secretary-general still. I am focused on my—

HAASS: Fifteen more days in his current job.

BAN: I will have to focus on my agenda, on all this agenda.

In fact, many people ask me such questions. You are not the only one. (Laughter.) I’ve been telling them that I am extremely busy. I’m always out of breath because of all these continuing job. So I don’t have time to think about that. When the January 1st comes, when I become a free man—(laughter)—a private citizen, as a private citizen of the Republic of Korea, then I have to think seriously how best and what I can contribute to this situation. That’s what I can tell you at this time. But for more than that, maybe you may have to wait until January 1st. Thank you. (Laughter, applause.)

HAASS: Well, Ki-moon, we’re out of time. And I know I speak for everybody, again, in thanking you not just for today, but for what you’ve done for and with us for the past decade. And we wish you only the best whatever it is you decide on January 1st. (Laughter.)

BAN: Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you. (Applause.)


Top Stories on CFR

Conflict Prevention

The trade war, fallout from COVID-19, and increased military activity raise the risk of conflict between the United States and China in the South China Sea. Oriana Skylar Mastro offers nine recommendations for ways the United States can prevent or mitigate a military clash. 


China is undertaking massive infrastructure projects across the world and loaning billions of dollars to developing nations. On paper, the objective is to build a vast trade network, but is China also exporting authoritarianism?


An unprecedented financial and political crisis has sparked mass protests in Lebanon, but a nonresponsive government and the coronavirus pandemic could stand in the way of demonstrators’ demands.