debate: From U.Thant to Ban Ki-moon
NEW YORK - When U. Thant of Burma
(now Myanmar) was the first -- and last -- Asian Secretary-General
of the United Nations during 1961-1971, the former Burmese
ambassador was described as modest and low-keyed compared
to his high-profile predecessor Sweden's Dag Hammarskjold,
who died in a plane crash in the Congo in 1961.
Rames Nassif, a former press spokesman
for U. Thant, once recalled a rumour floating around
the UN delegates' lounge that French diplomats secretly
despised the Secretary-General for not speaking French
(an unforgivable sin by French standards), and ridiculed
him in private because he was "too short".
When he heard these rumours, U.Thant is supposed to
have told his friends: Why should the French be complaining:
"I am taller than Napoleon -- and Napoleon did
not speak English."
|Members of the Security Council
of United Nations vote during a meeting regarding
North Korea at U.N. Headquarters in New York Friday,
Oct. 6, 2006. The Security Council urged North Korea
on Friday to cancel a planned nuclear test and return
immediately to talks on scrapping its nuclear weapons
program, saying that exploding such a device would
threaten international peace and security. (AP Photo/David
In the current issue of "Irrawaddy", a monthly
magazine published by Burmese political exiles fighting
the current military junta in Rangoon, Aung Zaw recounts
the days of U.Thant at the UN when he once riled the
United States with his response to reporters on a question
about the possible use of nuclear weapons in Vietnam:
"As you are no doubt aware, I am against the use
of atomic weapons for destructive purposes anywhere,
under any circumstances. Anybody who proposes the use
of atomic weapons is, in my view, out of his mind."
U. Thant also apparently hinted that the US decided
to use nuclear weapons against the Japanese because
they were non-whites.
Not surprisingly, Ban Ki-moon of South
Korea who will soon be anointed as the second Asian
Secretary-General of the UN has threatened to virtually
plunge headlong into the current nuclear crisis in his
neighbourhood. Perhaps much to the delight of the Americans,
he has said he will use his mandate as UN Secretary-General
to convince the North Koreans to give up their quest
for nuclear weapons.
"As I have gained much deeper
understanding and experience into the inter-Korean relationship,
including North Korea, I think I will be in a much better
position to handle this issue as Secretary-General,"
he said last week. He also made the point that although
current Secretary-General Kofi Annan has kept himself
engaged in the North Korean crisis, he has not been
able to visit Pyongyang during the last 10 years of
his tenure as UN chief.
But how far Ban will succeed in his
mission is left to be seen -- judging by the unpredictability
of North Korean leaders and their determination to go
nuclear at any cost. The US, which is also determined
to prevent the expansion of the current nuclear monopoly,
has publicly threatened the North Koreans, warning them
against the testing of any weapons. Last week the Assistant
Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Christopher Hill was unusually blunt: "We are not
going to live with a nuclear North Korea. We are not
going to accept it." He also said that North Korea
can have a future or it can have nuclear weapons. "But
it cannot have both."
In an interview with the New York
Times, Hill warned that North Korea would not be permitted
to get away with its nuclear testing -- unlike Pakistan.
The Pakistanis suffered three years of US economic and
military sanctions after they tested their nuclear weapons
back in 1998. But after Pakistan decided to cooperate
with the US on the war against terrorism, the sanctions
were lifted. "This ain't Pakistan," Hill was
quoted as saying, in a comparison with North Korea.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration
has been pushing China, a long time ally of North Korea,
to play a key role in the crisis. But the Chinese seem
to be running out of patience with the North Koreans,
and also losing whatever influence they had in Pyongyang.
Although the Chinese warned North Korea against long-range
missile testing, the North Koreans went along with their
testing, anyway. As a result, China supported a Western-inspired
Security Council resolution to condemn North Korea for
testing missiles last month.
But one major dilemma facing the Americans
is the accusation of double standards. Besides the existing
five declared nuclear powers-- the US, France, Britain,
China and Russia -- there are also three other recent
nuclear converts, India, Pakistan and Israel. But what
is troubling countries like Iran and North Korea, who
are on the threshold of becoming nuclear powers, is
that the big five are only paying lip service to the
cause of nuclear disarmament. While all five share the
goal of eliminating nuclear weapons from their military
arsenals, they are, at the same time, developing newer
and more sophisticated nuclear weapons.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
rightly addressed this issue when he appeared before
the UN General Assembly last month. In his speech, he
referred to the unbridled expansion of nuclear, chemical
and biological weapons. "Some powers proudly announce
their production of second and third generation nuclear
weapons. What do they need these weapons for? Is the
development and stockpiling of these deadly weapons
designed to promote peace and democracy? Or are these
weapons, in fact, instruments of coercion and threat
against other peoples and governments? How long should
the people of the world live with the nightmare of nuclear,
biological and chemical weapons? To what length can
powers producing and possessing these weapons go? How
can they be held accountable before the international
community?" he asked.
But the answers were not forthcoming.