[FOUNTAIN]Our (neutral) manSelecting the world’s highest ranking public servant has been full of unexpected events. On March 31, 1953, the UN Security Council nominated Dag Hammarskjold, vice foreign minister of Sweden, as a candidate to be the UN’s second secretary general. Upon hearing the news, Hammarskjold thought it was an April Fool’s joke. Until then, he had been an obscure figure in the international world, only known among the Organization for European Economic Cooperation because he had been chairman of the Bank of Sweden.
That year, four countries bid for the UN position but their candidates were vetoed by either Russia or the United States. France recommended Hammarskjold. The consensus among permanent members of the Security Council was that he was neutral, favoring neither East nor West. He was elected at once. However, soon after winning a second term in 1957, accusations of favoritism arose. The Soviet Union recommended that he resign, claiming that he was too pro-Western. Khrushchev, secretary of the Communist party, said sarcastically, “There are neutral countries but there is no neutral person.” He proposed a troika system with a representative for the East, West and non-aligned countries instead of one secretary general.
In September 1981, the Security Council was bogged down again with a U.S.-China confrontation. The secretary general candidates were narrowed down to Kurt Waldheim, running for his third term, and Ahmed Salim, Tanzania’s foreign minister. America favored Waldheim but China favored the non-aligned African. During the voting, America and China started to show their greed. The U.S. vetoed Salim 15 times and China vetoed Waldheim 16 times. A suggested compromise of splitting the five-year term in half ―half for each candidate ― was useless. It was then that Javier Perez de Cuellar, a legal adviser in Peru’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, rose to the top.
The Soviet Union was hesitant because they thought Peru was in America’s backyard. Eventually, they supported Cuellar because he had served as ambassador to the Soviet Union. It was the most closely-pitched battle in UN history.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Ban Ki-moon has declared his bid for UN Secretary General. An Asian is greatly expected to fill the position for the first time in 35 years since the third secretary general, U Thant of Burma. Great timing. But it will be difficult to please all five countries that have veto power, as each has a complicated history with Korea. To do so, we might have to reverse Khrushchev’s words. “There is no neutral country but there is a neutral person.”
by Oh Young-hwan
The writer is a deputy political news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.