Ban Ki-moon’s Hushed Power

NEW YORK – Days after Sri Lanka’s government defeated its long-time foe, the Tamil Tigers, in May, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon flew into the country’s capital, Colombo, for a 24-hour visit to urge its president to open up its refugee camps to international aid groups. This was another urgent trip by Ban to a war-torn capital, as part of his regular duties as the UN’s chief representative, seeking to uphold peace and restore global comity.

But who really knew much about this latest foray into a troubled region by the UN chief? Not many. Ban, who has just marked the half-way point in his five-year term in office, has so far been unable to attract a large worldwide audience for his activities.  This is due, in part, to stylistic reasons, but also to the vagaries of UN diplomacy.

Still in his quiet way, Ban is spending more than a third of his time on the road, and has accomplished much over the past 30 months. In Darfur, he managed to get African Union peacekeepers into Sudan’s killing zone in his first year in office through intensive behind-the-scenes diplomacy. Though the political process has since stalled, he has pushed for more peacekeepers and helicopters.

In Kosovo, Ban was able to lower the temperature on the boiling issue of the province’s independence. He persuaded the European Union and the United States to allow continued UN oversight in Kosovo while gradually permitting self-governance – all without triggering dangerous confrontations with the two states which oppose its breakaway, Serbia and its close ally, Russia.