Al-Ahram Weekly Online   23 - 29 July 2009
Issue No. 957
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Bringing the world together

Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon speaks to Mona Sewilam about the many crises facing the world, including financial, food, conflicts, the environment, and how the UN works with NAM countries to deal with them

'I am very troubled as well as deeply concerned about the volatile situation in Somalia... I convened a donors' conference in April in Brussels where I was able to get some financial pledges from member states. We are also trying to train and increase the capacity of Somali national forces and police'

You've been travelling a lot since you took office as the eighth UN secretary-general in 2007. You've visited the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, the City of Peace, over eight times now. It looks like Sharm will soon become your second home.

That is true. I have been to Sharm El-Sheikh already for the fourth time this year. I feel it's like a second home. It is a fantastic city. My only regret is that I have not been able to see around the city and enjoy some swimming or sightseeing. Next time when I come I'll make sure that I will have some private time to see more.

Egypt assumes the chairmanship of the NAM between 2009-2012. You delivered a speech before the 15th NAM Summit in Sharm El-Sheikh on 15 July. How did you find the summit? I understand that you had several bilateral meetings.

First of all, I'd like to commend the leadership of President Hosni Mubarak as the chairman of this important movement. Since its inception which was shaped by president Gamal Abdel-Nasser, it has been making contributions to peace, stability and development, not only among NAM countries, but to the whole world. The United Nations regards our partnership with the member states of the NAM as very valuable. It would be very difficult to imagine that the UN would carry out any of its important initiatives without full support of the NAM countries. Therefore, I count on the leadership and commitment of President Mubarak in addressing multiple crises like climate change, food, energy, pandemic and economic crises. We have to work together to make this world more harmoniously developed and we count on more contributions from the NAM countries in keeping peace and stability through their contributions to peacekeeping operations. The NAM contributions have been very important.

The NAM currently consists of 118 member states, or two- thirds of the countries that make up the UN. It has been criticised over its relevance and some analysts have even described it as a dead movement. How much leverage does NAM have in the United Nations and how effective can it be in a changing world order?

All the dynamics have been changing. Of course, during the Cold War, there was much more of a political role to be played by NAM in keeping the balance between West and East. Now that the Cold War system has collapsed, the active participation of the NAM in addressing climate change issues, development agendas, and other issues has been great. And the UN will continue to work very closely with NAM member states, particularly Egypt as chair.

The Sharm El-Sheikh Declaration calls for convening a high-level conference under the auspices of the UN to formulate a joint response of the international community to terrorism. President Mubarak has been calling for that since 1986. What has been hindering that?

The fight against international terrorism is the most important priority and agenda of the whole international community. Look at how many tragic attacks we have had to suffer. Therefore, the whole international community must agree on a comprehensive convention on international terrorism. Of course, we have some individual treaties or conventions in addressing terrorism, but we must work wholeheartedly together to agree on a comprehensive convention. We must be united to fight international terrorism. Terrorism cannot be justified under any circumstances. Whatever the justification may be, it cannot be condoned and we must eradicate it. Therefore, united and concerted efforts by NAM countries will be crucial.

Will we ever see a conference on international terrorism under the auspices of the UN?

There have been such conferences and debates on how we can comprehensively address international terrorism. Now that the 15th NAM Summit has agreed on that, we will discuss this among member states of the General Assembly.

The Sharm El-Sheikh Declaration also calls for strengthening the political momentum in preparation for something very close to your heart, i.e., the Copenhagen conference on climate change. What needs to be done if governments are to seal the deal on a new climate agreement in December 2009 in Copenhagen? To my understanding, you do think that what is being done right now is not sufficient.

This is a top priority issue for humanity as a whole including NAM. It is not only the priority of the UN, the Western world, or NAM. It is the most urgent issue for the whole of humanity. Therefore, we must seal the deal in December in Copenhagen. For that to be made possible, first of all industrialised countries must have ambitious and bold targets to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions 25-40 per cent by 2020. Developing countries should also take nationally appropriate actions and developed countries should provide necessary financial and technological support to them in their efforts to adapt themselves to the changing situation. Then, after that, we need to discuss good governance systems, how we can channel effectively and smoothly the financial and technological support to developing countries.

So these are your ambitions and expectations for the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009?

Yes, I am very much committed. That is why I am going to convene a summit meeting on 22 September. I have invited President Mubarak to attend, and I expect that more than 100 heads of state and government leaders will participate in this important climate change summit meeting. There, I expect that the leaders will demonstrate their political leadership and commitment so that in Copenhagen, the negotiators will be able to agree on a globally acceptable, equitable and balanced climate change deal.

When the first UN secretary-general Trygve Lie left office, he told his successor, Dag Hammarskjöld, "You are about to take over the most impossible job on earth." In short, what is your vision of a stronger UN for a better world when UN resources do not match the organisation's global tasks?

Yes, it is a very tough mission as my predecessor, the first secretary-general Trygve Lie said. But my mission is to make this impossible job a possible job or mission. For that I need strong support of the member states. The UN cannot do it alone. All the global challenges and regional conflict issues cannot be resolved by any one country or any one individual. However powerful, however resourceful one country may be, it cannot be done. Therefore, we need the collective support and cooperation from the member states, we need the political support, resources and financial support. Only on the basis of this, only on the basis of multilateralism, can we address climate change issues, food security, energy security and pandemic issues.

The 2005 UN report titled In Larger Freedom estimated that the budget for the core functions of the UN is just $1.25 billion which is nearly $1 billion less than the annual cost of running Tokyo's fire department.

Now it has gone up to around $2 billion a year. This is still far, far short of what is needed. However, I know that we are living in an era of crisis, especially the financial crisis. And we need to manage this whole UN operation in a very frugal way. It's my commitment that I must use every single dollar contributed by member states for the real purpose of UN goals and objectives. Therefore, I have been trying to streamline and make this organisation, the UN, more efficient, effective, accountable and transparent. That's my commitment, and I made significant progress until now.

You've been dealing with many difficult files including the Middle East, North Korea, HIV/AIDS, swine flu, environmental disaster, terrorism, and UN reform. How successful have you been in resolving the Darfur crisis?

The Darfur crisis has been one of my top priorities. There are three areas in which I have been exerting my efforts. First of all deploying a UN-African Union joint peacekeeping mission called UNAMID. By the end of December 2009, it's my target to deploy 26,000 soldiers. That will be the largest and the biggest peacekeeping mission in the world with the exception of some critical assets like helicopters, heavy transportation equipment or some hospitals. I am working together with member states to get support.

We must work very hard to have the comprehensive peace agreement implemented as soon as possible. The AU-UN joint mediator has been working very hard. And I have requested President Mubarak's full support and influence on this and on the humanitarian area. I think we had been able to avoid the humanitarian crisis which was caused by the expulsion by the Sudanese government of international humanitarian organisations. But, even with this, we are now trying our best to fill the gap to provide necessary humanitarian assistance to many displaced persons.

This brings me to my next question. Some 65 per cent of the UN peacekeeping budget is devoted to Africa. How does Somalia fit in the picture? Why hasn't the UN sent a peacekeeping force to join the AU peacekeepers (AMISOM) based in Somalia?

I am very troubled as well as deeply concerned about the volatile situation in Somalia. We must strengthen the capacity of the African Union mission in Somalia called AMISOM. That is what I am doing. I convened a donors' conference in April in Brussels where I was able to get some financial pledges from member states. We are also trying to train and increase the capacity of Somali national forces and police. At the same time, the Somali government of President Sheikh Sharif should reach out to minority groups and all clans to have national reconciliation. And at the appropriate timing and circumstances, the United Nations is going to deploy peacekeeping operations whenever circumstances permit.

Excerpts from this interview will be aired on Nile TV International's "Peace in Focus" on Sunday 26 July at 10pm and on Wednesday 29 July at 4:20pm Cairo time.

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