A scathing confidential memo by a senior Norwegian diplomat leaked to the press yesterday has taken public what up until now has been the quiet and increasingly despairing concern at the United Nations about Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Indeed, Ban might now be facing what must have seemed unthinkable only a few months ago: a single term as the head of the United Nations.
In her damning memo, Deputy U.N. Ambassador Mona Juul called Ban -- the South Korean foreign minister elected secretary-general in 2007 -- "spineless," "charmless," and, most importantly, "incapable" of setting an agenda. Her critique echoed a series of pieces in the international press -- in The Economist, The Times of London, and by yours truly in Foreign Policy -- that in recent months have called Ban out for his miserable performance, citing his lack of vision, leadership, or policy prowess. Of course, Ban and his staff have aggressively tried to combat this emerging image. My own article drew an outraged letter from Ban's chief of staff, who claimed my criticisms were part of some unnamed "political agenda." I doubt he can say the same of Juul's.
The Jacob Heilbrunn argument that started it all.
The Norwegian diplomat's leaked report on the "Nowhere Man."
At the United Nations, she represents Norway, which traditionally wields great influence in the organization (and is a disproportionate funder). Her criticisms were, to say the least, cutting. "Ban's voice on behalf of the G-172 and the poor is barely being registered," she wrote. He has been "absent on the issue of disarmament and non-proliferation." He has a burdensome "lack of charisma" and an "omni-present chef de cabinet" who obfuscates the policy process.
To her credit, Juul spoke out loud what many of her colleagues have been saying privately: Ban hasn't been a bad secretary-general. He has been a horrendous one, as feckless as he is inept. At a moment when global change is more imperative than ever, Ban has been AWOL. Indeed, in recent months, Ban's feverish attempts to disprove his numerous detractors have simply highlighted that ineptitude. In trying to refurbish his battered image, he has only further injured it.