Heart-felt talks reveal Ban’s leadership style, dreams
“Conversations with Ban Ki- moon: What the United Nations
Is Really Like: The View from the
Top” by Tom Plate; Marshall
Cavendish; 240 pp., $29.5
By Chung Ah-young
The United Nations is often criticized for its bloated bureaucracy and inefficiency. The position of U.N. secretary-general is no doubt daunting, responsible to maintain peace and order in the world.
The job becomes tougher in a second term, as is true for current U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. There have been more sarcastic reviews by the media rather than compliments attached to his leadership and management after he succeeded Kofi Annan. Ban himself realizes that the organization is in crisis and knows
Author Tom Plate
he faces challenges ahead.
The eighth secretary-general and second Asian head was born and raised in Korea. He has kept a diary since he was foreign minister and is available 24 hours a day if somebody wants to talk to him. He sometimes gives 10 speeches a day and flies economy when there are no other seats.
His personal side and heart-felt concerns about his task are revealed in “Conversations with Ban Ki-moon: What the United Nations Is Really Like: The View from the Top” (Marshall Cavendish; 240 pp., $29.5) written by Tom Plate, author of the bestselling “Giants of Asia” series.
Since Ban became secretary-general in 2007, many books have been published but without interviews or consultations with him. But this book is solely based on exclusive conversations with Ban by Plate, who is also a journalist.
It is full of inspiring quotes that reflect Ban’s philosophical thoughts regarding his job.
In it, Ban is described as “certainly not a natural showboater.” Rather he maintains a low-key style, which sometimes draws misunderstanding of his leadership but when it comes to humanitarian issues, he does do more. “Parachute humanitarianism,” as the author calls it, sometimes draws criticism within the Secretariat as he has rushed to trouble spots instead of leaving it to lower-rung officials.
Despite criticism by the Western media during his first term, Ban was unanimously re-elected in 2011. Plate says, “It is not common at U.N. headquarters in New York that they concur on something major easily and unanimously.”
The early part of the book shows conversations more on his leadership that confronted endless challenges but overcame them in a unique style. Ban is a “workaholic” who puts public service first and his personal life second.
“This is a job that requires a sense of mission. Many people had cautioned me that this was going to be the most impossible job. I realize now, after having served, that this really is the most impossible job. And jokingly I told my member states and my friends that my mission would be to make this impossible job a mission possible … mission possible,” Ban says.
Concerning the unfavorable media coverage, the secretary-general reveals his pain by saying he wanted to be judged by his hard work and record of accomplishments. Looking back to his early days in office, the media knocked him hard by comparing him with his predecessor.
“I really wanted to bring some dynamism, some change of thinking, some discipline, some accountability and ethics to the United Nations system. That was resisted very strongly by the existing members of the system,” Ban confessed to difficulties in his early days.
He experienced hard times as people were not accustomed to Asian values and there were not many senior level Asian workers in the Secretariat. “I am still in the process of improving my style or my leadership capacity, but my leadership style comes from a philosophy of collective leadership. There is a general tendency for people in the international community that they want to have one person coming up with some strong political slogan or belief or leading in a dynamic way in what is termed so-called leadership,” Ban says.
In the later part of the book, Ban unveils the organization’s failures in functioning effectively. “Many situations need multinational forces. The U.N. being multilateral, we need to have a multilateral force with one command system. It’s an efficiency and effectiveness problem.”
Through the conversations, the secretary-general also emphasizes that the international community normally works on a consensus basis, whether it is a regional, small or big organization. But the true meaning of consensus is that one or two different countries should not block decisions. Consensus should not be confused with unanimity, he says. “But now just one country can block everything. Look at the case of the U.N. Conference on Disarmament. It’s only one country (Pakistan) that has been blocking progress for the last 12 years.” Ban says.
“Don’t expect that I will be a superman. In fact, however super a man may be, without the support of member states, there is nothing I can do. This is a fact of reality of being secretary-general,” he says.
The book elaborates on Plate’s up close and personal observations and touches on important international issues that are raised in the organization. It allows readers to know his personal, human side through his words.
REVIEW: From the Prestigious Huffington Post, by HP Columnist Nathan Gardels
CONVERSATIONS WITH BAN KI-MOON BY TOM PLATE
By Nathan Gardels
Tom Plate stands out among Western journalists. Not only has this former editorial director of the Los Angeles Times, syndicated columnist and Loyola Marymount University professor relentlessly chronicled the most important story of our era – the rise of Asia. He has done so through his rare personal access to the key leaders in the region.
His “Asian Giants” series (published by Marshal Cavendish International) based on extensive personal interviews and encounters, has so far included the great eminence of East Asia’s transformation, Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, as well as the controversial Mohammed Mahathir of Malaysia and Thailand’s Thaksin Shinawatra.
Now, the latest in his series profiles United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, the most famous South Korean apart from the K-pop “gangnam-style” rapper PSY.
PSY may have more hits on YouTube than Justin Beiber, but Ban’s lasting impact on the world, not much covered by less far minded journalists, promises to be immense.
As Globalization 2.0 — the new interdependence of plural identities that has resulted from the rise of the emerging economies, particularly China — supplants American-led Globalization 1.0, Ban is pressing the UN to face its fate at a time when its role has never been more important.
Absent the hegemony of a leading power or bloc of powers, how will we be able to provide and manage common global public goods – whether figuring out how to mitigate global warming, stem nuclear proliferation or regulate the vast financial flows washing over the planet – without a modernized UN?
Working behind the scenes of world headlines, Secretary General Ban has, without fanfare but sober and self-effacing pragmatism, whipped the creaking UN bureaucracy into a far more efficient and disciplined organization. He has done more than even Hurricane Sandy to place global warming – “the consequences of which are approaching, fast approaching” says Ban — at the top of the agenda of world leaders.
He has even broached the greatest taboo, and greatest source of dysfunction at the UN: the ability of individual states to block action absent “consensus” from all others.
Plate’s engaging style, as in his other books, elicits candor from his subjects.
In one passage, Plate raises the core conundrum of a body built on national sovereignty in a globalized world. “The reality of the world,” Plate observes to Ban, ” is that its problems are ever mounting and becoming more international, and yet the Westphalian tradition of nation-state’s sovereignty has remained the same. It has really, in a sense, been blocking action.”
Ban responds: “That’s right. That’s right. The international community works normally on a consensus basis, whether it is regional, small organization, or a big organization. But the true meaning of consensus is that one or two different countries should not be able to block decisions. Consensus should not be confused with unanimity. But now, one country can block everything. One country!”
Undiplomatically, Ban openly laments the lack of progress of the UN Conference on Disarmament. “It’s only one country [Pakistan] that has been blocking progress for the last 12 years. Twelve years! Is that reasonable?” he bursts out passionately.
Ban confides to Plate that he told the conference this year that “If you behave this way, you may lose your own prerogative, ownership, jurisdiction … this may be taken to another forum, another venue.”
This is true of the UN as a whole. If it can’t get its act together under a Secretary General as objective and practical as Ban Ki-Moon, the global agenda will be decided elsewhere, such as in the G-20, or worse, nowhere at all.
With the world going through a great transition where new powers are rising and hegemons are fading, dangerous times are upon us. This historic moment could be 1914 again instead of 1950. In 1914, the absence of global institutions and rules meant that a small incident – the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo – tripped an unstable alliance system into world war. In the 1950s, in the wake of the Second World War, the UN system and other institutions were built up that have been able to maintain general peace and stability for 70 years.
Though less people seem to be paying attention to Ban than PSY, making the UN work may be all that stands between peace and some global calamity sparked by, say, an Israeli strike on Iran or the dispute between Japan and China over rocky outcrops in the sea between them.
This excellent and highly readable book by Tom Plate humanizes the head of the world’s premier governmental organization while also reminding us what is at stake.
PRESS RELEASE, 7 November 2012
PRESS RELEASE: Latest in ‘Giants of Asia’ Series Offers Unprecedented Insight Into UN Secretary General
Second-term Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says, in his first reaction to the controversial new book by an American journalist about the secretary general’s life and work: “I don’t agree with all of ‘Conversations with Ban Ki-moon’, but that is to be expected. But on the whole, the author got my point of view across well. And I would add this. I think Tom Plate tried hard to understand my point of view about many issues, especially about the future of the United Nations, the need for global citizenship and the importance of understanding the UN’s inherent limitations as well as the UN’s overwhelming and vital relevance today. Certainly, the author and I do agree on one very important issue. We agree that the UN, for all its obvious faults, is more important than ever. We need to understand that the world would be worse off without it. We all need to work harder to make the UN work better.”
Just published, Conversations with Ban Ki-moon: What the United Nations Is Really Like, A View from the Top is the fourth volume in the bestselling Giants of Asia series brought out by Marshall Cavendish International (Asia), and is the first inside look ever at the UN from the perspective of an incumbent Secretary General (SG).
Ban Ki-moon, former foreign minister of South Korea, is one of only eight people to serve as SG since the UN was founded in 1945, succeeding Kofi Annan in 2007. An otherwise private man, SG Ban agreed to be interviewed by Plate, a university professor as well as a syndicated columnist on Asia, whom had covered Ban as a journalist. The motive? To help people understand the complicated truth about the UN and why its role in building bridges between people and nations of all sizes is vital.
What readers will probably enjoy most are the personal anecdotes and unprecedented insight on the job of a world leader. SG Ban’s job is not easy, as Plate writes: “The position offers the incumbent global star status but at the same time comes with an often-hostile bureaucracy, almost 200 bosses (UN member states), a Western media attached like crack junkies to the microwave of instant results and a backlog of problems almost as long and snarled as history itself….” Ban reflects on that situation with frankness and determination, answering questions with grace and straightforwardness. Not only is Conversations with Ban Ki-moon the first book of extensive conversations with a sitting UN secretary general, but it’s also the first book to portrait Ban himself by actually talking to him.
“The secretary general has a reputation for being about as open as the CIA on a bank holiday. God bless Mrs. Ban for giving the big thumbs up!” Plate reflects on how Ban Ki-moon’s wife gave a simple yet meaningful nod of approval when Plate approached him about writing the book about the man in arguably the world’s most demanding job. Plate, who evidences obvious rapport with the quiet yet warm Ban, pushes the SG to admit that he’s tired and doing too much work, but Ban sees it just as part of being SG. “I’m working for all humanity and that’s what I’m doing,” Ban says. That task often means no downtime for Ban, who makes it a policy to accept a phone call at any time day or night, often leaving bed at 4 a.m. so he doesn’t miss the opportunity to speak with a world leader who may be calling from Africa or Europe. Ban, who lobbied hard to be chosen for the position, accepts the impossible aspect of answering to so many about issues that may have no solutions as just part of the job. It’s his job, after all, and he’s doing it his way, even when critics find fault with his “low-profile approach to high-level diplomacy.”
“Many people had cautioned me that this was going to be the most impossible job. I realize now, that after having served, that this really is the most impossible job. And jokingly I told my member states and my friends that my mission would be to make this impossible job a mission possible … mission possible,” Ban says.
About the Author
Tom Plate is a journalist, columnist and author of ten books, including the bestseller, in Asia, of Confessions of an American Media Man (2007) – and the bestsellers Giants of Asia series: Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew (2010), Conversations with Mahathir Mohamad (2011) and Conversations with Thaksin (2011), all published by Marshall Cavendish International (Asia). His award-winning syndicated columns focusing on Asia and America, begun in 1996, have been regularly featured in major world newspapers. He is currently Distinguished Scholar of Asian and Pacific Studies at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, as well as a recent Visiting Professor at United Arab Emirates University in Al Ain (Abu Dhabi), UAE.
About the publisher
Marshall Cavendish is a leading international publisher of educational materials, books, directories and magazines, both print and digital, in 13 different languages. Marshall Cavendish’s textbooks have also made its mark internationally. Its educational materials are used by educators and students in more than 50 countries, and its math programs have contributed to Singapore’s consistent top performance in international studies since 1995. Marshall Cavendish is renowned for its Math in Focus and Primary Mathematics textbook series, which have been adopted in classrooms worldwide. The company continues to add to the to the bestselling Giants of Asia series, which includes books on Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, Malaysia’s Mohamad Mahathir, Thailand’s Thaksin Shinawatra, and most recently UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, of Korea. Last year in Singapore, the Lee Kuan Yew book won The People’s Choice Award (from Popular Books) for best English-language nonfiction book.
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Exclusive interviews with the UN General Secretary, now in his second term at the UN. Only eight people have been privileged to hold the job of Secretary General since the United Nations founding in 1945. And only one of them has ever told the inside story of the UN while still holding that special office. That man is Ban Ki-moon, the veteran diplomat and former star foreign minister of South Korea now in his second term as SG. Because he understands that the UN is in crisis and because he fears the reasons for this are not widely understood he believes it is time to unveil the truth about the organization and explain why its failure would be a catastrophe. The result, via unprecedented conversations with American journalist Tom Plate, is a deeply revealing book about the kinds of issues and challenges whose resolutions (or lack thereof) will in fact determine the future of the world.
Websites for e-books:
FIRST REVIEW OF THE BOOK: SEE http://passblue.com/2012/10/26/the-quiet-korean-ban-ki-moon-opens-up/
The Quiet Korean: Ban Ki-moon Opens Up
Over the last few years, an American journalist and academic, Tom Plate, has been writing a series of books called “Giants of Asia.” Lee Kuan Yew, the brilliant if steely founder of modern Singapore, was first. Then came Mahathir Mohamad, the former long-serving but short-tempered prime minister of Malaysia, and Thaksin Shinawatra, a deposed Thai leader still wandering in exile with allegations of corruption hanging over his head.
Now it is Ban Ki-moon’s turn in Plate’s latest book, “What the United Nations Is Really Like: The View From the Top.” The formats of all the “Giants” books are similar. They are built almost entirely on taped conversations, with copious interjections, prodding questions and digressions from the interviewer, as well many photos of the author. But in this case the subject is different.
Ban is not – never was – a government leader in Asia, and certainly not a big personality on the Asian stage or a recognized global figure. Yet throughout his career in diplomacy, culminating in his service as South Korea’s foreign minister, he has probably had more intense contact with the United States than Lee, Mahathir or Thaksin. As a winner in 1962 of an American government-sponsored trip, Ban, who was 18 at the time, traveled for a month in the US, mostly on the West Coast, with other international students. Two decades later, he spent 10 months at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, where, he said, he learned a lot about analytical thinking.
All this and other forays into American life helped make him the preferred candidate of President George W. Bush and his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, to replace Kofi Annan as United Nations secretary-general in 2007. Being America’s choice is not often an asset at the UN. So he toured the world with his hallmark methodical efficiency to line up enough governments besides the US to make him a near-consensus winner of the prize, leaving other Asian competitors in the dust. (The general perception was that it was “Asia’s turn” to nominate a secretary-general; his five-year term was renewed in 2011.)
In numerous interviews with Plate that moved from the secretary-general’s residence to restaurants and clubs around New York, which the author seems to have enjoyed perhaps more than Ban, the secretary-general stressed the pride he took in his thoroughness and reliability. He knew that he was not a glittering celebrity. After his arrival, moans soon could be heard around the UN over his deeply reserved nature, inaccessibility and tendency to surround himself with Korean aides, leaving diplomats and UN staff members feeling frozen out of the secretary-general’s world.
Was it Asia that made him this way? In one of the most revealing passages in the book, Ban said this: “The first year, there were, I think, some misunderstandings about me. You know, I’m only the second Asian secretary-general after U Thant. [1961-1971] That took 36 years, so there was not much Asian thinking or Asian values appreciated within the UN system. Those people who had been working with U Thant, in his time, they have all disappeared.”
The UN, Ban said, had been taken over in the interim by “European and Latin American approaches” at odds with an Asian preference for a low-key, non-confrontational style, marked by more hard work and less socializing. He included his predecessor in the Western camp because Annan, although a Ghanaian, had been educated in Europe and the US and worked in the UN system for 40 years. To Ban’s thinking, Annan was “from a predominantly European, Western culture.”
“But in the end, during the last four-and-a-half years,” Ban said, “I think they now understand, clearly, that Asian values are also one of the very important values, and cultures, which should be respected, and Asian countries … they’re doing well now. And that’s why people have been saying that the 21st century will be led by the Asia-Pacific.”
EVENT COMING! ASIA SOCIETY SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA — THURSDAY 5-7 PM DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES
Conversations with Ban Ki-Moon
Discussion and book signing with author Tom Plate
‘Conversations with Ban Ki-Moon’ by Tom Plate.
November 15, 2012
University of Southern California
Doheny Memorial Library
Tickets are $10. See: http://asiasociety.org/southern-california/events/conversations-ban-ki-moon
Registration is required. Registration deadline is November 12, 2012.
What the United Nations is Really Like: The View from the Top. Conversations with Ban Ki-Moon
“Only eight people have been privileged to hold the job of Secretary General since the United Nations’ founding in 1945. And only one of them has ever told the inside story of the UN while still holding that special office. That man is Ban Ki-moon, the veteran diplomat and former star foreign minister of South Korea now in his second term as ‘SG.’ Because he understands that the UN is in crisis — and because he fears the reasons for this are not widely understood — he believes it is time to unveil the truth about the organization and explain why its failure would be a catastrophe. The result, via unprecedented conversations with American journalist Tom Plate, is a deeply revealing book about the kinds of issues and challenges whose resolutions (or lack thereof) will in fact determine the future of the world.” — From the cover of Conversations of Ban Ki-Moon
Tom Plate is an internationally syndicated columnist and Distinguished Scholar of Asian and Pacific Studies at Loyola Marymount University. He is the author of 10 books, four in the Giants of Asia series by Marshall Cavendish Asia.