Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Our Next Secretary General : The Washington Ally ?

By Perry PADA

In my previous article regarding the identity of the next UNSG titled “It’s Time to Show Ambition” (Why not Indonesia Run for UNSG Office), I was convinced that it would be easy to predict the identity of the next person to occupy the position, that is one of the Asian candidates. I clearly stated that “it must be a candidate from among the Superpower’s friends or allies or at least from a country not ill disposed to US Global policy in the region” (The Academia Chronicle, June 2006).

In that observation, I was right, the closest friend and ally of USA in Asia from among other UNSG contenders is of course the South Korea Foreign Minister, Mr. Ban Ki Moon (62). He would be the second Asian UNSG after Mr. U Thant from Burma (1961-1971). While the UNSG contest is still to be finalized by the U.N. General Assembly, he has formally been nominated for the post by the Security Council. Therefore, South Korea outmanoeuvred the other six candidates from India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Jordan and Latvia. The six rivals had already signalled their withdrawal and support for the South Korea candidate.

My earlier analysis was a contrary one. I argued that South Korea would not be a good candidate to win. My argument was largely based on South Korea’s deficiency rooted in the protracted conflict on the Korean Peninsula. Traditionally, a UNSG candidate was thought to come from a country which was not engaged in either internal or external conflict. This unwritten precondition was thought to be very important in order to maintain the candidates objectivity in a crisis. I was further assuming that it was unlikely that the Korean candidate would gain enough support from both Europe and Asia and clearly not from its South East Asia Neighbours in ASEAN. The ten members of ASEAN had already caucused and formally announced their support for Thailand. Unfortunately, the ASEAN candidate lost support following the 19 September 2006 Military Coup in Thailand. It would appear as if there was an unpredictable miscalculation.

What made Ban Ki Moon – South Korea’s candidate successful? It is an interesting issue since it would entail much geopolitical analyses particularly over the nuclear security issues in the region. This has become even more acute since North Korea’s detonation of a nuclear device at Gilju, Hamgyong Province on Sunday. I assume it is not solely Ban’s profile that contributed to his success, but the country profile of South Korea, and its potential regional role. Ban’s personal profile is more or less comparable to the other candidates. Therefore, one can conclude that the candidates personal capability is not the only prerequisite for victory. The candidate’s country profile is a determinant one and the most advantageous element to the victory. It is a state contest and not a personal one. To this point, we might begin to ask why South Korea? And could Korea promote the interests of developing countries? There are some logical points in responding to the above question.

First, there are some advantageous points in Ban’s personal background, Ban was Educated at Harvard University which familiarized him with the American school of toughness. In addition, he was twice assigned to the South Korean Embassy in Washington and is a former director general of American affairs in the South Korean Foreign Ministry before being appointed as FA Minister. According to some journalists (The New York Times) personally, Ban has the firm backing of the Bush Administration and is known as an ally of Washington. One might further speculate that Ban has been groomed by Washington for some years. To this ‘Washington ally’ issue, Ban denied that his relations with the U.S. would impede his efforts to resolve the burning issues of the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs. (The Agence France - Presse)

Second, historically, South Korea and the USA have been close allies throughout the post Second World War period. Since the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 South Korea has become a US military zone in protecting its security interest in the region. Therefore, since the cold war era in 1950s South Korea has been the American backbone in its containment strategy against China and North Korea. The military alliance has also successfully contributed to the economic progress of South Korea. According to some studies, the South Korea – USA mutual security Treaty creates a climate of stability favourable for foreign trade and investment and for preferential treatment by USA. The 30.000 US force presence also provides an economic subsidy to South Korea by enabling Seoul to maintain a much more formidable posture that it could afford on its own. However, this policy also has proven to be an impediment to North/South reconciliation. (Policy Forum on Line 06-28A, 11 April 2006).

Third, one may also question China’s position in support of South Korea’s candidacy. North Korea and China have been in a long alliance since the Korean War. Moreover, according to some reliable sources China is now a stakeholder in North Korea’s economy. China has repeatedly blocked UNSC resolutions against North Korea, including some threatening sanctions. China also hosts the six party talks (North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the USA) to prevent punitive sanctions from the UNSC, the USA and its allies. China is seen as a buffer between North Korea, the USA and Japan. (Council on Foreign Relations, July 2006). The decision to support South Korea’s candidate does not mean China is turning its back on the North. It is to support its own strategy. Since for China, stability and the avoidance of war are the top priorities. The clear worry, according to some, of Beijing is that the collapse of North Korea would lead to chaos on the border creating hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding into China (Stanford’s Asia-Pacific Research Centre) while endangering China huge investments ($ 2 billion /year) in the country..

Therefore, for China it is better to maintain the status quo on the Korean peninsula. Continuing of the US - South Korea alliance will serve China’s strategic regional objective. It is quite diplomacy with a big gain, politically and economically. I assume the “same analysis” can be given to the Russian position to support South Korea. In addition China’s economic and political relationship with South Korea has dramatically transformed in recent years, with the ballooning of trade and investment. To this point, China has replaced the US as Korea’s largest trading partner. China has also been the beneficiary of the rising tensions between Seoul and Washington over the behaviour of US troops stationed in the South Korea.

Finally, regarding the question of promoting (less) developing countries, I am not sure our new UNSG will focus more on third world humanitarian issues, since I am assuming he will be overwhelmed by security’s issues. To this, Ban stated that South Korea can understand the pains and difficulties of developing nations because she has risen by over coming them (Newsweek, October 16). Let us hope our new UNSG meets with success.

Jakarta, 10 October 2006

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