[Viewpoint] Celebrating 20 years in the UNWe often mark anniversaries with some sort of a celebration - a round number is often marked with more fanfare. Korea is marking the 20th anniversary of its membership in the United Nations. It is not only a nice round number, but also one that is perhaps more significant than any other in its young association with the United Nations.
One of its nationals, Ban Ki-moon, the highest-ranking official of the United Nations, has just been re-elected unanimously as UN secretary general for a second five-year term. Korea served as a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council and also served as president of the UN General Assembly.
The country transitioned from being a developing country to that of an industrialized country and joined the “rich man’s club,” the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Such membership, however, comes with its own price tags - one of which is to increase overseas development assistance.
Korea has taken to this with the same zeal that it has shown in so many other areas. It is the 11th-largest contributor to the UN regular budget and the 10th-largest to UN peacekeeping operations. This year, its bilateral assistance to developing countries is to the tune of $1.5 billion, and the government has plans to double this figure by next year.
These accomplishments will make the country proud, but this is not the whole story of this legendary country.
I arrived in Korea just over two months ago. Since then, I have traveled on work throughout the country, including to Busan, Changwon, Pyeongchang, Suncheon, Suwon, Seoul and, of course, my current hometown, Incheon.
Everywhere I went I was struck by the energy and drive of the people, the organizations - both public and private - and, of course, the political leadership.
From members of city legislatures to mayors, ministers and President Lee Myung-bak himself, the extent to which national development is promoted across all sectors - social, economic and environmental - would be the envy of any society.
This enthusiasm, coupled with the desire to contribute to developing countries, is leading Korea to use the United Nations and all of its programs and funds to the fullest extent.
The country has championed green growth and has not only set up a Global Green Growth Institute, but has also established a Presidential Committee on Green Growth that has put in place a host of measures emphasizing the centrality of environmental issues.
No surprise then that the International Union for Conservation of Nature is scheduled to hold its World Conservation Congress in Korea and a number of meetings for UN bodies, including the World Tourism Organization and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, have been held in the country. And, this is all in addition to hosting a Group of 20 summit last year.
It is not a surprise then that the Regional Preparatory Meeting of the Rio+20 was also hosted by Korea. The United Nations has identified two issues as priorities for the full Rio+20 conference next year in Brazil. The first one deals with green economics and the second focuses on institutions for sustainable development.
Korea pioneered green growth, an essential element of green economics. By mostly bucking the financial crisis that engulfed many industrialized states, the country is proving to the world that it is on to something. Of course, it is looking to the United Nations to spread the message
While it may be premature to call Korea the center of the world, it is certainly safe to say that nothing of any consequence in the world agenda can be undertaken without Korea at the table. Is this all due to its membership in the United Nations? Perhaps not, but the country has benefitted from its membership in the United Nations just as any model country may be expected to.
And importantly, Korea recognizes that it has an obligation to help those countries that are much like its former self before the nation’s economic boom, and Korea is making every effort to work through the United Nations to make it happen.
Congratulations to Korea on the 20th anniversary of its membership in the United Nations. May it continue to be a beacon of hope and a champion of causes that promotes issues like global sustainability now and in the future.
*The writer is director of the Subregional Office for East and Northeast Asia of Unescap in Songdo, Incheon.
By Kilaparti Ramakrishna