UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon: ‘Arab Spring‘ will be viewed as inspirational episode of 21st century
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has given an interview to Interfax ahead of his visit to Russia on May 16-19 in which he speaks about the goals of his visit, pressing tasks that the UN face, the organization‘s reform, as well as topical issues on the international agenda, including situation in Syria and the Middle East settlement.Question: Mr. Secretary-General, could you please share with us at least some of the central issues which you are going to discuss with the Russian leadership during your upcoming visit?
Answer: At the start of my second term in early 2012, I outlined my five-year action agenda, which includes accelerating progress on the Millennium Development Goals and forging consensus around a post-2015 sustainable development framework, focusing on prevention, building a safer and more secure world, supporting nations in transition, and working with and for women and young people.
I am visiting the Russian Federation to appeal to Russia’s leadership in advancing all of these critical objectives which we share in common.
I will meet with Russian leaders to discuss a number of issues of common concern, including the situation in Syria.
I feel privileged to visit the Russian Federation, one of the strongest partners of the United Nations.
Q: What is your assessment of Russia’s role in addressing the tasks the UN is faced with? Do Russia’s actions in the UN always meet your expectations? Probably, you are going to make some suggestions to the Russian side, could you specify? In your opinion, is Russia successfully playing its new role as a donor country?
A.: As Secretary-General of the United Nations I cannot overstate the importance of a strong partnership between the Russian Federation and the United Nations in ensuring the primacy of law in international relations, strengthening international security and advancing international economic and environmental cooperation.
As a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council, as well as a G20, G8 and BRICS member, Russia has a special role to play in addressing regional and global challenges – fr om sustainable development to climate change; fr om conflict situations in the Middle East, Africa and central Asia to managing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, in the Balkans and elsewhere.
The dramatic events in the Middle East have underscored the need for citizens everywhere to live in freedom and prosperity. We count on Russia‘s leadership on one of the great and pressing causes of our time.
The United Nations depends on Russia in all our efforts to prevent and resolve deadly conflicts, defuse tensions and deliver aid around the globe. Together, we can, and must, build a better world. I know we have Russia‘s support.
Q: You’re an active advocate of the Millennium Development Goals, which is one of the most ambitious programs that the UN has ever undertaken. There has been some palpable progress in this area, but an overall successful cannot be guaranteed by 2015, given recent financial and economic problems that have seriously hindered efforts of individual countries and the international community in general. Should we simply take it that there has always been poverty on Earth, and, in all likelihood, there always will be?
A.: It is precisely because we are currently faced with pressing economic, social and environmental challenges affecting all countries that bold action is needed to address the dire needs of people around the world. Now is not the time for half-measures.
With strong leadership and accountability to meet commitments, the progress we have seen in implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) can be accelerated and expanded in most of the world’s countries, and more MDG targets met by 2015.
Despite the recent crises, the developing world remains on track to bring to half extreme poverty from its 1990 level.
A number of countries have registered major successes in combating hunger, improving school enrolment and child health, expanding access to clean water and HIV treatment, and controlling tuberculosis, malaria and tropical diseases.
These improvements have occurred in some of the poorest countries, demonstrating that the MDGs are indeed achievable.
With less than 1,000 days until the end of the MDG period in 2015, the time for action is now. While we have made significant progress, much remains to be done. We still significant challenges ahead worldwide in the areas of maternal health and sanitation.
The UN is also thankful for the Russian support of the UN Post-2015 Development Agenda, and in particular of Ms. Elvira Nabiullina’s participation in the High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
Q.: Two years of protest movements in the Middle East and North Africa have shown that the ‘Arab Spring’ is a rather contradictory phenomenon. Old power structures have been demolished, and the new ones are taking shape slowly, through trial and error. How do you think the process will evolve in the near future?
A.: I remain convinced that the ‘Arab Spring‘ in the long term must address the legitimate aspirations of the people of the region for dignity, democracy, justice, freedom and a better future.
People throughout the Middle East and North Africa have stood up to fight for their rights and freedoms. We need to show our solidarity with them and help them pave the way toward dignity, equality and human rights for all.
Wh ere transitions have begun, people look to the international community for support in their own state-building efforts. Wh ere the struggle continues, especially in Syria, we as the international community have a responsibility to act and stop the bloodshed.
I firmly believe that when history will be written, the series of events that we call the “Arab Spring” will be viewed as a significant and inspirational episode of the 21st century. Until such a time, many challenges remain to be overcome.
Each country must be in charge of its own destiny, and must lead the process of change. But the United Nations is ready to make our expertise, best practices and lessons learned available and count on countries that have experienced similar change in the recent past as a valuable partner.
Q.: You have played a proactive role over the past two, three years in defusing the crises in Syria, Bahrain and, previously, in Libya, Yemen, Egypt and Tunisia. Meanwhile politicians and public opinion are accustomed to seeing a UN Secretary-General resorting mainly to ‘quiet’ diplomacy. Do your efforts imply that, in your view, inaction would have been even costlier for the UN?
A.: Although I am equally comfortable using quiet diplomacy and speaking out, there are certain basic principles that I believe need to be understood.
One, which I have repeated since the start of the Arab Spring, is that leaders need to listen to and respect the genuine aspirations of their people.
That ultimately means allowing freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. In many cases, we have seen that it also means allowing credible democratic transitions to take place.
I believe we need to make clear the values that the United Nations upholds. Not acting on those values does a disservice to the world’s people.
Q.: Recent conflicts have again stirred up discussions on the international criteria of a regime legitimacy. The focus is on a line that a regime facing internal armed strife might cross to lose its legitimacy in the eyes of the international community. Many UN member states say that the current regime in Syria is illegitimate, and yet the international community is preoccupied with rescuing the government in Mali that came to power by force. What is your opinion on this issue?
A.: I believe that legitimacy, whether in Mali, Syria or elsewhere, rests in the will of the people.
This is why we are trying to ensure that there will be credible transitions to democracy in those countries. The effort to secure such a democratic transition lies at the centre of our diplomatic work.
Q.: Do you think there is a chance to resume the Palestinian-Israeli talks in the near future? What is your attitude to the idea of the Arab League joining the Middle East Quartet Is the Moscow conference on the Middle East still a topical issue?
A.: I strongly encourage efforts towards the resumption of credible negotiations to achieve the two-state solution. I am encouraged by the political momentum created through US President Obama’s visit to the region. I hope that renewed U.S. engagement would lead to a substantial initiative soon.
I have welcomed the positive engagement of the Arab League Peace Initiative follow up committee. It is important to create an environment conducive to a resumption of talks. I encouraged both sides to take positive steps in this regard.
Q.: Reports on Israel‘s air strikes on the Syrian territory and sporadic clashes at the Syrian-Lebanese and the Syrian-Turkish borders prove that the internal Syrian conflict risks growing into a regional armed confrontation. In your opinion, what should be urgently done to stop the dangerous trend? What role do you expect the UN Security Council and regional actors to play? Do you think there are signs of preparations for a foreign intervention in Syria?
A.: I have expressed my grave concern over reports of air strikes in Syria by the Israeli Air Force.
We call on all sides to exercise maximum calm and restraint, and to act with a sense of responsibility to prevent an escalation of what is already a devastating and highly dangerous conflict.
And we urge respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries in the region, and adherence to all relevant Security Council resolutions.
Q.: The Arms Trade Treaty has just been adopted, which was an uphill task. Does the document provide for a new approach to those who supply arms to ‘hot spots,’ in the Middle East and elsewhere?
A.: Armed violence kills more than half a million people each year – including 66,000 women and girls.
The Arms Trade Treaty will put warlords, pirates, human rights abusers, organized criminals, terrorists and gun runners on notice. It will be more difficult for these outlaws to obtain weapons.
But the merits of this Treaty go even further. It will also strengthen the rule of law by contributing to the development of an emerging network of international norms against trafficking, misuse, and the illicit proliferation of weapons and ammunition.
This Treaty will further complement and supplement existing international tools from the Program of Action on Small Arms to the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms and beyond.
Q.: This year marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean war, 1950-1953. Unfortunately, the Korean peninsula has recently been on the verge of a major armed conflict. Parties seem to have managed to reduce tensions; however, the situation is still in a deadlock. Is it possible that tensions will escalate again in the near future and what should be done to prevent such a development? To what extent the resumption of the six-party talks could help ease tensions?
A.: The international community has responded in a firm but measured way to the nuclear test, threats and other provocative acts by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The recent developments have strengthened the international consensus that the DPRK will not be accepted as a nuclear-weapon-state.
I continue to urge the DPRK leadership to reverse course and return to the negotiating table. I have spoken with leaders in the United States, China, the Republic of Korea and many other countries. I firmly believe that the recent offer of dialogue by the Republic of Korea is genuine and hope that the DPRK takes it seriously. As Secretary-General, I will continue my efforts to facilitate meaningful dialogue.
At the same time, the international community should not lose sight of the serious humanitarian and human rights situation in the DPRK. I encourage the authorities to focus on the well-being of the country’s people.
Q.: Is there a reason for UN reform, which is long overdue, limping on? What are your priorities in this regard? Do you share Russia’s point that, for any reform to succeed, including a perestroika of the Security Council, the broadest possible agreement of UN membership, ideally a consensus, is needed?
A.: Reform of a vast multilateral institution like the United Nations is bound to be a gradual process and requires consensus building among multiple constituencies and diverse stakeholders.
We have made significant progress on a number of reform issues. We are holding ourselves to much higher ethical standards with a sharper focus on results, transparency and accountability. We are also doing very well in redressing gender imbalances in our workforce.
For example, on my first day in office, I made my financial disclosure public. Financial disclosure is now established practice for all senior UN staff and those in charge of procurement and investment.
I firmly believe that the United Nations should demonstrate results and impact in its operations. To showcase my commitment to this principle, I have signed individual compacts with all my senior managers and shared them online with all UN staff. These compacts set specific performance goals and targets and base the yearly extension of senior managers’ contracts on annual performance evaluations. This is a new practice in the UN.
I am fully committed to enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of the organization. We need to renew our United Nations to deliver solutions for all, and find ways to make each dollar go further, and have a bigger impact.
One of the key enablers to do this is to have a multi-skilled work force that is mobile, flexible and capable of serving the different needs of the organization.
We are also investing in technologies and new ways of working that enhance our efficiency while cutting our carbon footprint.
By broadening the constituencies that the UN engages with, including foundations, youth, and the private sector, and leveraging our existing systems as knowledge sharing platforms, we can transform the way we work, and the multiply our impact. After all, the UN belongs to all of us: we all have to do our part to help make the UN deliver for all.