by Willa Frej
On a rainy Tuesday afternoon, members of the Yale community gathered in Luce Hall to listen to the 8th Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, give an addrss. The George Herbert Walker Jr. Lecture in International Studies, part of the MacMillan Center for International & Area Studies at Yale, welcomed the Secretary General as part of an ongoing series featuring prominent global leaders. He took office on January 1, 2007, was unanimously reelected by UN General Assembly in June 2011, and will serve until end of 2016.
The Secretary General began on a humble note. While he was Korean, he assured the audience that he did not come to dance Gangnam Style, and chuckled as he lamented that PSY’s rise to fame has overshadowed his own. He proceeded to laud Yale and its global accomplishments, even within the United Nations, and expressed gratitude towards the UN for having remained a “beacon of hope” since its inception, especially during his childhood in South Korea immediately following World War Two.
The pith of his talk centered around global transitions. Since 1945, he explained, the dramatic changes in political, social, and economic paradigms have shaken the globe. Demands for freedom, democracy, and equal opportunity have set in motion a period of serious turmult characterized by what one could call the “four I’s”: inequality, injustice, instability, and intolerance. To this, the Secretary General prescribed connecting the dots between these global challenges as well as forming new partnerships to “get things going.”
“Transition” is synonymous with upheaval, said Ban Ki-Moon, though many fear that “the winds of change will not blow their way.” He spoke, for instance, of Syria—citing the abysmal human rights violations and unwarranted violence that have uprooted the lives of millions of Syrians and sent many to seek refuge in other countries. Ban Ki-Moon hope is to enact a strategy to end violence and protect human rights.
He then returned to his previous worry about the complex links between challenges and his solution to strengthen and expand partnerships. As residents of the Sahel region crumble beneath drought-induced famine and Malians are crippled by Sharia law, Ban Ki-Moon has identified the most immediately important issues: the food crisis, the energy dependency, the education gap (especially between genders). He specified education as a means to combat extremism, declaring that women are safe if “armed with their intelligence.” The partnership that demands the most attention is that of the UN with the United States. Ban Ki-Moon analogized the UN’s development goals with those of the US, and shared a hope to rely heavily on American support to set the Middle East peace process back on track. He referred to the stasis in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an indication that active global leadership is more necessary than ever before.
The Secretary General concluded by graciously asking to “let us walk together.” His conclusion, however, left some unsatisfied. Though humility was woven into his diction, Ban Ki-Moon did not address some of the questions burning in the audience’s mind in a display of the ultimate form of humility – the admittance of defeat and the pledge to learn from past mistakes. His vaunting view of the “world in transition,” an ideal devoid of nuance, ignored the recent UN withdrawal from Syria. It also overlooked Ban Ki-Moon’s controversial admission of intolerant rulers, such as Hugo Chavez, into the United Nations Human Rights Council. Had Ban Ki-Moon spoken with greater candor about the gravity of these crises and the difficulty in combatting them, he may perhaps have instilled in his audience a greater sense confidence in the UN’s abilities to comprehensively shape the social, political and economic landscape.
Willa Frej ’13 is a political science major in Pierson College. Contact her at email@example.com