United Nations Secretary-General-Ban Ki-moon addresses the General Assembly meeting after that body endorsed his appointment as Secretary-General-designate, at UN Headquarters in New York.

The Ban Ki-moon Interview

Ban Ki-moon served as the eighth secretary general of the United Nations from 2007 to 2016.  He is out with a new memoir titled Resolved: Uniting Nations in a Divided World.

The book gives his first-person account as the leader of the United Nations who navigates complex crises around the world, including Syria, Myanmar, Israel and Palestine, the West Africa ebola outbreak and much more.  He also offers his perspective and a behind-the-scenes account of some key UN successes during his tenure, including the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals.

We cover quite a bit of ground in this interview, including his perspective on what the covid crisis revealed about the strengths and weaknesses of the United Nations, what can be done to bolster multilateralism today, his frustrations with the security council and advice he might offer to his successor Antonio Guterres. And of course, we spend a good deal of time talking climate change diplomacy, which was his signature issue as Secretary General.

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Mark Leon Goldberg [00:01:55] Congratulations to you on the book. I highly recommend it for anyone who’s interested in the United Nations and international affairs. It’s an excellent read and I think a useful addition to the historic record. So thank you for writing it. 

Ban Ki-moon [00:02:15] Well, it is me who should thank you and the audience to listen to my stories. If I may say in just half a minute, why I have written this book is that this is about my life story and my philosophy for our future. I hope my memoir, Resolved: Uniting Nations in a Divided World, will spread my ideas and stories to the wide audience that is responsible for the world today and tomorrow. I just humbly wish that it will inspire possibility, spark actions, and improve your cooperation and ultimately encourage people around the world to become global citizens. I have been emphasizing the importance of global citizenship particularly among the world’s political leaders and business leaders. That is my main and humble purpose in writing this book. This is my first ever book written in my 76 years of life history. Thank you for your questions. 

How the United Nations Handled COVID

Mark Leon Goldberg [00:03:44] Well, I should just say, as a journalist who covered you for 10 years, I was just very pleasantly surprised with how candid you were in the course of the book. At many times during reading the book, I almost laughed out loud to myself when you would say something that you would never have uttered as Secretary-General or have gotten away with! So, again, thank you for writing a candid book. And I’d like to just kick off this conversation by asking you to reflect on the United Nation’s response to COVID. This is arguably, the single greatest shock to the international system since the advent of the UN, since World War II. And I’m curious to learn from you what this moment revealed to you about the UN system. And let’s start with strengths. What did COVID show you about the value of the UN in a global crisis like this? 

Ban Ki-moon [00:04:42] Coronavirus has, in fact, totally locked down the whole of our society. Never in the history, even during the Second World War -we have never been such a completly lock down all throughout the world. Almost a 220 countries, including 193 UN member states, are completely affected. Why is it so? Because we have been neglecting this climate action. This has a very close relationship because we have been neglecting and abusing the privilege which has been given by our nature. But what about then, United Nations? UN should have been working much more in close cooperation among the agencies. Now it has been given only to WHO. 

[00:05:48] Then United States on the president. Trump has withdrawn, criticizing the WHO and other agencies. So it was morally wrong and it was politically unwise. Look at the case of Ebola in 2014. When Ebola just spread to Western African countries, I had a very close relationship cooperation with WHO Director-General, Margaret Chan. And we have mobilized all agencies, so all the countries together. Now, it has been given to just the WHO and the WHO has been very much isolated because the US has withdrawn and criticizing. For the first time in history of the United Nations, during my time in 2014, the United Nations has established UNMEER a United Nations Ebola Emergency Response mission. Under this UNMEER system, led by me and working very closely with the US President Obama and WHO, World Bank and IMF we have been mobilizing all tools, agencies of the United Nations, that we were able to rapidly eradicate Ebola, which stripped Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea at the time. 

This was the one lesson which we have to and we should have done. I telephoned to Tedros, Director-General of WHO ,at the beginning of this March last year. Why don’t you mobilize the whole United Nations system? This is one lesson which we have learned. 

What Can Be Done To Strengthen Multilateralism?

Mark Leon Goldberg [00:08:01] Yes. I remember in your book you discuss that phone call you had with Dr. Tedros, urging him to mobilize all the UN agencies and not just let the burden of COVID fall exclusively on the shoulders of the World Health Organization. Your answer to that question about COVID and the UN, leads nicely to my next question, which is about multilateralism in the world today. You know, these last few years have been very challenging times for multilateralism with, among other things, the previous administration, as you just cited, withdrawing from key multilateral agencies. I’ve had a former diplomat on the show before who likened multilateralism to a muscle. It needs to be used or it will weaken in atrophy. So what today can be done to more robustly strengthen multilateralism? 

Ban Ki-moon [00:09:05] In this time of crisis no country, however powerful or resourceful, can handle all this global crisis which we are facing. And that is a lesson and that is the importance of multilateralism. The United Nations is a symbol and backbone of the multilateralism. So the UN should be empowered fully and much more with the necessary resources and political support by the member states. Now, particularly during the time of President Trump of the United States, multilateralism became in disarray. US, which has been the champion in human rights, withdrew from the Human Rights Council. 

[00:10:00] In fact, the Human Rights Council was created as a reform measure at the strong request of the United States in 2006. From the Human Rights Commission was made into Human Rights Council. Then they withdrew from JCPOA, they withdrew from WHO, and they have been taking the policy of “America First.” That leadership missing in the global diplomacy has made the multilateralism in disarray. Everybody, every country, was vying for themselves. That is why we are suffering from this Corona pandemic. No one will be safe and secure until everyone is safe and supported. That is the hard lessons which we have learned this time. 

[00:11:01] I am very pleased to see President Joe Biden, as his first presidential act, to return to Paris Climate Change Agreement and also he is leading to try to mobilize multilateral forces. I sincerely hope that the G7 summit, which will be held in a few days in the United Kingdom, will really be an occasion where the biggest and richest countries in the world will really be united and try to do maximum they could do. First thing, I think they should do to save the lives of human beings around the world, particularly those countries in the developing world. They are helpless to take care of themselves. Therefore, I joined many world leaders, former world leaders, 230 world leaders, G7 leaders, a letter of appeal to G7 leaders that it should really mobilize the necessary funding -at least the more than 40 billion dollars to provide vaccines and all of this medical equipment to resuscitate the economy. So they have a political and moral responsibility. That is the importance of G7 now that multilateralism is now coming back. At the same time, we really hope that those countries like the G20, they should be fully united to address this current crisis. That’s my sincere hope as Former Secretary-General. 

Mark Leon Goldberg [00:12:59] So, is it your sense that uniting the G20 specifically, around a common response to the Coronavirus pandemic, which is now well into its second year -that those actions can be harnessed to strengthen multilateralism more broadly? 

Ban Ki-moon [00:13:21] Yes. Now, WHO has initiated ACT A, Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator. That is a groundbreaking global collaboration initiative for development, production and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines. Again, I strongly urge that G7 leaders in Cornwall in the United Kingdom will decide to provide the necessary financial and technological support for the developing countries. Another very important, serious, urgent issue is climate change. I am urging G7 leaders to decide and make a road map of how they are going to mobilize the 100 billion dollars they have promised in the Paris Agreement. To provide, first of all, financial assistance, science and technological assistance to many vulnerable countries, small islands, developing countries, and others. Most of the developing countries, they are the ones who have been hit worst, and most without having contributed not much. It is the industrialized countries who have contributed most of the greenhouse gas emissions which have created this current climate crisis, and therefore they have again, moral and political responsibility. 

What Advice Would Ban Ki-moon Give to Antonio Guterres on How To Manage Climate Diplomacy?

Mark Leon Goldberg [00:15:03] So we are speaking just a few months ahead of a major climate summit in Glasgow, which is built upon the Paris Agreement that you devote a lot of time in your book to to discussing and how the Paris Agreement came to be. What advice might you give your successor, Antonio Guterres, right now in the lead up to this crucial climate summit that is intended to increase the ambition and the scale of national contributions, what each country will do to confront the climate crisis? 

Ban Ki-moon [00:15:41] First of all, I’m very happy to see that my successor, Antonio Guterres, has been recommended by the Security Council unanimously for a second term. So, he will be soon appointed for a second term. So, he has a renewed authority and mandate. And therefore, I hope he will closely coordinate and cooperate and exercise his leadership as a Secretary-General to make sure that this forthcoming COP26 in Glasgow will be a great success. Now, this is going to be 26, my experience is that each and every COP has its own strengths and weaknesses. In some COPs, we made considerable progress. In some COPs, not much -very weak, sometimes a very much a division. But United Kingdom is a member of G7, and they have been one of the firm supporters on climate action. And therefore, I really hope that we will know that the curve is bending for a sustainable future of less than 1.5 degrees Celsius above warming, that the biggest emitters -they are the biggest emitters- we have made ambitious commitments to cut emissions by more than 50 percent in their nationally determined contributions. 

Mark Leon Goldberg [00:17:24] That’s your definition of success at this coming conference of parties.

Ban Ki-moon [00:17:29] As I said already, 100 billion dollars to help those small islands and developing countries in their mitigation and adaptation efforts. Without every country -all the country on board, nobody will be safer from this climate crisis. That is what I would like to emphasize. I’d like to also hope the language will have changed from “build back better after COVID-19” to “building forward with equality, justice and sustainability, leaving no one behind.” With that in mind. I do hope that this COP will be more inclusive than any of the previous COPs. While that may be challenging given the pandemic, now more than ever, it is more important than ever that those voices from the (coughs)… I’m sorry..

Mark Leon Goldberg [00:18:30] No, I love the passion. This is what I was used to when when seeing you as Secretary-General. And the one issue in which you were most passionate was always climate, from an early stage too, before it was fashionable. 

Ban Ki-moon [00:18:42] So we have to work for Global South and also the young generation who will be living in this world. So they should be all present and at the forefront. It’s not only the right thing to do to put those most at risk at the center of discussion, but it’s also shown to be more effective to climate outcomes. And there should be a firm commitment for net zero, net zero carbon neutrality by 2050. Like most important countries, the United States, the European Union, Japan, Korea have made it a firm commitment. China even made a commitment for net zero by 2060, we can understand the magnanimity and size of China’s challenges and 2060 was welcomed by world leaders. So this is my strong message, strong message. 

Does Multilateralism Have An Answer For Rising Authoritarianism?

Mark Leon Goldberg [00:19:51] Throughout your book, and in your answer to me just now, you reaffirm and you discuss throughout that global problems like climate change require global solutions. One of the key global problems today is rising authoritarianism and democratic decline. And this is a global problem. No region is immune. This is happening everywhere around the world. But is this the kind of problem that has a global solution? You know, is there a multilateralist answer to the challenge of rising authoritarianism? 

Ban Ki-moon [00:20:27] Now, in this 21st century, when democracy and human rights and justice and all these important principles enshrined in the trust of the United Nations should have been much more widely disseminated and practiced. But as we have already entered into the 21st century, where we have the full use of science and technology and much better tools to make our life much more prosperous and convenient. But when it comes to the political scene, there are more and more people are abusing their rights as mandated by their own people. This is because the role of the United Nations, particularly the Security Council, is not exercising their duty and their right enshrined in the trust of the United Nations because of the division of the Security Council. What have they done for the case of Syria? It’s already 10 years -exactly 10 years- since 2011. Its now 2021. 6.6 million people from Syria have left, fled their country, become refugees, and the remaining all people are now living under extremely difficult economic situation because Security Council has not been able to take any action. Even humanitarian actions have been vetoed by some of the -how many members of the Security Council? 

[00:22:24] So that is what we have been seeing. This is not justice. This is not right. That is why people are crying out for the reform of the Security Council. Now, again, there are many regional blocs -regional groups like the League of Arab States, African Union, ASEAN, or American -OAS, etc., etc. These original groups should be also empowered. They should be much more engaged in the regional issues, but mostly they are divided. Mostly they are divided. That is a very sad phenomenon at this time. As a Secretary-General, I have been really meeting, engaging with each and every leader, whether they are democratic or undemocratic. But I have been urging them that you should work for their own people. It’s not right. It’s not justice. Justice will prevail. You may just go this way but justice will prevail. If not now, tomorrow. If not tomorrow, soon. Surely, in the very near future. This is why we have established the ICC International Criminal Court. But because of the division of, again, for the Security Council, Security Council is not able to recommend to indict those responsible people of the ICC. 

What Challenges Will The United Nations Face In the Coming Years?

Mark Leon Goldberg [00:24:05]  Lastly, going forward, as you mentioned earlier, we’re speaking just as your successor, Antonio Guterres, was recommended by the Security Council, despite the divisions that you just articulated, for another five year term. Over the course of the next five years, what will you be looking towards to suggest to you whether or not the United Nations is succeeding or failing in living up to its ideals? 

Ban Ki-moon [00:24:34] United Nations should be successful -must be successful. That’s the only international organization created by the whole world’s people. This is a place where almost all the nations, small and big, powerful or weak, or rich and poor. So this is the only forum whee we can really discuss the whole world’s problems. We have so many subsidiary organizations. We have so many specialized agencies where each and every issue, which we are now going through, experiencing in this world -including climate and human rights and development- can be discussed. 

[00:25:27] Again, during my time in 2015, the United Nations has presented the most ambitious, most far-reaching visions. That is the Paris Climate Change Agreement and also 17 goals with the Sustainable Development Goals. 17 goals cover each and every aspect of our human lives and our nature. If we really implement all these 17 goals by 2030, there will be nobody will suffer from abject poverty. Nobody will suffer from injustice and human rights issues. Men and women and our our world’s people will be able to live harmoniously with our nature. I think that is the vision. I think that’s the most ambitious and far-reaching vision the United Nations has been presented. Those true visions must be held and implemented with the whole-hearted support and participation of all the countries. 

Mark Leon Goldberg [00:26:44] Well, Mr. Secretary-General, thank you so much for your time and for your passion on on these issues. And again, the book is is a wonderful tour around the world. It’s a very valuable addition to anyone who wants to learn more about the United Nations and international affairs and about you. It’s a great personal story as well. So thank you. 

Ban Ki-moon [00:27:09] Thank you very much for this opportunity. Thank you.