Book reviews - Disarmament and Arms Control.

Conversations with Ban Ki-moon: What the United Nations is Really Like: The View from the Top
(Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013, 238pp.)

So my message to national leaders, and particularly the young generation, has always been - widen your scope, and look beyond your national boundaries and try to become a global citizen. That is the best way for everyone to contribute - Ban Ki-moon

Ban Ki-moon comes from a Confucian tradition kept aline in certain Korean milieu: a leader leads by example in the hope that others will follow his example of hard work, honesty, concern for others. Can such a management style work in an organization such as the United Nations with people from many different cultures? Ban brought into the UN administration a small number of Koreans who are his most inner circle, people who had been with him when he was Foreign Minister of South Korea. They share the same management style and serve as a ring of protection around Ban.

Certainly some of the 8,000 staff at the UN headquarters in New York (some 63,000 world wide) are moved by the example. Others find the leadership by example distant. As a result, powerful but lower staff on the organization chart create their own management styles and set up their own fiefdoms.

As Plate notes “Western journalists would have to admit that ours is not a medium that cherishes the low-key. Ban's way can be, on the surface at least, so quiet as to be inaudible, the half dozen speechwriters notwithstanding, and perhaps so spice-less as to give a whole new haze to the term unflashy. But Ban knows who he is and is comfortable within his quiet diplomatic/businessman's suit state of mind.” Many of the views were held of U Thant, the only other Asian UN secretary general.

Ban's management style, however, is also colored by his graduate studies at the Harvard Kennedy School and its focus on real politics and current diplomatic issues. As Ban says “ I am still in the process of improving my style or my leadership capacity, but my leadership style comes from a philosophy of collective leadership. There is a general tendency for people in the international community that they want to have a certain one person coming up with some strong political slogan or belief or leading in a dynamic way in what is termed so-called leadership. But when you run an international organization like this one, the effectiveness of leadership can come only from support from everyone...One who is a very strong ego-type person will never be successful in the UN, but if you are too soft you will again not be regarded as a relevant leader. Therefore, how to position the secretary general in this way is really an extraordinary difficult and sensitive task, but that's what I find myself doing as secretary general.”

If leading by by example causes difficulties within the UN Secretariat, it carries over even less well to influence the leaders of the Member States. Bann notes “The leaders of our member states are all politicians, but sometimes what you want to see is more statesmen, than politicians. Now, there are many politicians, big or small, high or low, but when the politician becomes a nation's leader, then he really needs to be a person who is committed to the global agenda. People say all politics is local and, of course, I can agree but when they come to the UN, they should come as one of the global leaders, as a member of the UN. They should talk global politics rather than local politics. That's what I expected. Unfortunately, I have not been able to see, here at the UN, many global leaders.”

Global thinking among national leaders and national diplomats requires a strong current of global thinking from below. The great challenge we face today is to leave behind the culture of violence and war and move forward to create a just and peaceful world society. We can achieve this historic task by casting aside our ancient national, ethnic, and racial prejudices and begin to think and act as responsible Citizens of the World. The UN and its Secretariat serve as a “flag ship” of the direction we must take, but for a ship to move forward, there needs to be a strong current in the waters below. The strong current is the combinded work of NGOs in consultative status with the UN and the broader civil society.

Rene Wadlow