Dec 22, 2016

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (right), is seen here with Secretary-General-designate António Guterres, just before the General Assembly meeting to appoint him by acclamation the next Secretary-General of the United Nations. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The End of an Era, and a New Beginning

On a frigid morning in December, just 16 days before the end of his term, Ban Ki-moon made his last visit to Washington, DC as Secretary-General of the United Nations.  He was here to pay final calls to President Obama, Vice President Biden, and National Security Advisor Rice at the White House, having spent eight of his ten years at the helm of the UN working alongside these leaders.  I had the opportunity to join the meetings, and hearing them collectively reflect on their successes – and disappointments – highlighted just how much there is to consider during this uncertain holiday season.

With the ongoing carnage in Syria, the stream of terrorist attacks around the world, the civil war in South Sudan and the continuing flow of refugees across the globe it is easy to be discouraged and even cynical about the direction of the international order.  As a global community we must find ways to turn the tide on these crises.  For me, if there is one thing that’s clear, it’s that we will only be successful through cooperation, by building trust, and with enhanced partnership between nations and people.

We saw this happen during Secretary-General Ban’s tenure, perhaps most notably with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.  Following the 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen, there was a sense of doom – a sense that the moment for an agreement to fight climate change had passed; that the international community had failed and that countries could never come to terms on such a big and complicated issue.  But the Secretary-General and the UN pushed governments and worked with citizens of the world; they never gave up.  Six years and many hard negotiations later, the world had an agreement and a way forward.

Photo gallery of the Secretary-General’s trip to Washington, DC

Ban Ki-moon's DC Farewell

On December 15, 2016 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon paid his last visit to the U.S. capital as UN chief. He met with President Obama, Vice President Biden, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, and others at the White House. From there he spoke to more than 100 UN DC-based staff, thanking them and urging them to continue to be a voice for those who need it most.  While in town he also got a send-off from the UN Foundation and bade farewell to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.

This success must provide us with hope.  Hope that seemingly impossible differences can be overcome.  Hope that nations can see beyond only their own interests and find a shared direction for the good of the planet and its people.  Hope that when the stakes are high, we realize that we are better when we work together and find common ground.  As the climate negotiations demonstrated, this is far from easy.  It takes time and patience, but it is worth it.  Today’s problems know no borders, so we must bridge borders to solve them.

With transitions both at the UN and in the U.S., finding ways for understanding is now more crucial than ever.  The new Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has clearly stated his commitment to continued emphasis on human rights and a better world for all people, and to tirelessly working to make the UN as effective as it can – and should – be.  He has Secretary-General Ban’s strong foundation to build upon.

As we consider Secretary-General Ban’s legacy, we should note that while he was in Washington last week, it was not his final travel in the United States.  Yesterday, he visited Abraham Lincoln’s tomb in Illinois.  While at the tomb of this great American president who pushed the United States beyond the horrors of slavery, the Secretary-General said of Lincoln, “I’m very much inspired by his leadership. When people are united, when people promote reconciliation, when we have some social integration, we can build a much stronger, much more peaceful society. He was a heroic force of reconciliation. We are in need of that spirit more than ever, and I hope that world leaders can inspire their own people so that we can build a better world for everybody.”

Words to inspire us all as we move into a new beginning.

Robb Skinner, UNIC Director – December 22, 2016