S. Korea Minister Tapped for U.N. Leadership

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U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan leaves his post later this year. Ban Ki-Moon, now the foreign minister of South Korea, has been nominated to take Annan's place. Robert Siegel talks with Ashton Carter, a science and international affairs professor at Harvard University, about Ban Ki-Moon's challenges.


As North Korea forces itself to the forefront of the war at stage with it's nuclear test, a South Korean appears poised to assume the leadership of the United Nations. Ban Ki-Moon, currently his country's foreign minister, was officially nominated today to become the world body's next secretary general. Kofi Annan leaves that post at the end of the year. With Ban Ki-Moon's election regarded as a formality, the career diplomat will head an organization with thousands of employees all over the world, an annual budget of nearly two billion dollars, and tons of headaches.

Ashton Carter of Harvard University, a former assistant secretary of defense. He's worked together with Ban Ki-Moon over the years. And first of all, tell us about - who is this man? Who is the South Korean prime minister?

Dr. ASHTON CARTER (Harvard University): Well, he's a career military and diplomatic figure in South Korea. Been a staunch supporter of the U.S.-South Korean alliance. A good friend to Americans, knows the United States well. And somebody that I think - from the U.S. point of view - is very trustworthy.

SIEGEL: In the stories about him that I've been able to find today, there are various adjectives used to describe him, that are of - they're of a theme. Low-key, quiet, confusion - I saw in one profile of him. What are these adjectives getting at?

Dr. CARTER: Yeah. He is a subtle consensus builder. He's not a firebrand. And if you think about the job of U.N. secretary general, it is a job where to be effective, you need to be good at getting people to work together. And so, all those adjectives, I think, to put a positive construction I put on them - and I would put a positive construction on them - is that that's the kind of man he is. And in that sense, he's well suited to the job.

SIEGEL: Well, let's take the current crisis on the Korean Peninsula and generally in north Asia, which you've been involved in both writing about and formerly in government you have to deal with for a while. What might a South Korean U.N. secretary general bring to the question of North Korea's tests, say, that a secretary general from some place else might not be able to bring?

Dr. CARTER: Well, you might that because he knows the situation so well and is known in the region so well that he would be effective. In fact, probably the opposite is likely to be the case. The others around the world, not necessarily those in the region, but around the world, might tend to think that he is too close to the situation to be objective. And the North Koreans, for their part, are fabled for disdain for the United Nations.

And when the United Nations is furthermore run by a figure from South Korea, which they also have terrible disdain for, they're not likely to show him any respect in that job at all. So, he'll be good in many roles, but I wouldn't expect that he'd have any unique advantages with respect to the North Korean situation. And it may go slightly the other way.

SIEGEL: On the other hand, there are other issues facing the U.N. Well, for example, Darfur, should the U.N. take any active role in trying to stop the genocide in Sudan? Does Mr. Ban have any background in such concerns or any record of in such matters?

Dr. CARTER: Yeah. This is - now, he is a man of moral strength and courage. He is one who has encouraged the South Korean military to get out and about around the world and help out in places as far away as Iraq. And he has that tremendous consensus building capability, which is really required for a situation like Darfur.

SIEGEL: You said that some people, not necessarily from the regions surrounding North Korea but elsewhere, might see a South Korean secretary general as not the most honest broker for dealing with a North Korean crisis. Will people around the world see him as an extension of the United States, somebody who is even more pro-American than other recent U.N. secretaries general?

Dr. CARTER: I don't think Ban Ki-Moon has a reputation as being adhered to or stuck to the United States. Remember, he's been serving the current president of South Korea, who has bucked the Bush administration and the United States on a number of key issues - about the military alliance, about North Korea, where the South Korean government has not really been helpful in the six party talks. So I think from a U.S. perspective, but also from a global perspective, he has the right distance from the United States that he can be effective in the United Nations.

SIEGEL: That's Professor Ashton Carter of Harvard University talking about Ban Ki-Moon. The South Korean who it now appears will be the next secretary general of the United Nations. Ash Carter, thanks a lot for talking with us.

Dr. CARTER: Good to be with you.

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