by John J. Metzler
Weirs Times Contributing Writer
UNITED NATIONS— Calling 2015 a year which has brought “both breakthrough and horror,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon presented a global report card of sorts on a “pivotal year” in which the world organization marked its 70th anniversary as well as helped achieve what he outlined as a sustainable development agenda as well as the Paris climate change agreement. Speaking at a year-end press conference, the Secretary General lamented what he described as “epic flows of refugees and displaced people.” Regarding this looming crisis, the UN has slated $20 billion to cover humanitarian needs in 2016; that’s five times the level of a decade ago! The refugees are largely from the ongoing Syrian civil war as well as regional conflicts in Africa not to mention drought relief in places like Ethiopia.
Ban Ki-moon warned that “Syria is an open sore on the Middle East and the wider world; we are pressing for a nationwide cease-fire and for the start of negotiations in January on a political transition.”
The UN Security Council is expected to pass a resolution backed by all the powers including the USA and Russia, which calls for credible all party political negotiations leading to a long overdue cease-fire and a path to a political settlement.
Clearly while the international community has performed yeoman service in helping the waves of refugees and internally displaced people on the humanitarian side; namely treating the symptoms of the Syrian conflict, getting to the next step of solving the entrenched political problem remains a looming challenge.
The simmering crisis in the central African state of Burundi, scene of horrific ethnic carnage in the 1990’s has reignited. Ban Ki-moon told correspondents he was “alarmed by the escalating violence in Burundi” in which he warned “the country is on the brink of a civil war that risks engulfing the entire region.”
Describing the ongoing violence as “chilling” he stated “we must do all we can to prevent mass violence and act decisively should it erupt.” Countries like Burundi offer a classic example how focused diplomacy and engagement of the regional players, and last minute dialogue can still possibly preempt a wider crisis before it explodes.
But there are so many other crises ranging from South Sudan to Yemen not to mention the entrenched threat of terrorism from Islamic radicalism in states such as Afghanistan, Libya, Nigeria and Somalia. He stressed that “Countering the threat posed by Daesh (ISIL), Boko Haram and Al-Shabab and other terrorist groups is crucial.”
Significantly the Secretary General’s overview remained primarily Afro/Mid-East centric and barely touched on Latin America, East Asia or the Pacific.
Returning to the massive migration flow into Europe, where in the past year Germany has accepted in excess of 800,000 asylum seekers from Syria and elsewhere, the Secretary General stressed migration has surfaced as more than a regional issue, “it has become a global issue, it has gone beyond the European Union.”
Curiously Ban was asked when he shall make the long awaited visit to North Korea?
Though there has been widespread speculation that the South Korean Secretary General wishes to visit the isolated and quaintly named “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” Ban conceded that discussions were still ongoing. A trip to the North, by a fellow Korean after all, could offer interesting possibilities, despite the rigid nature of Pyongyang’s communist regime.
Now in his ninth year with one year remaining in office, Secretary General Ban may well wish to make the North Korean trip both as a swan song at the UN as well as a political asset to prepare for his expected run for president of South Korea in 2017.
The current international situation remains chaotic and dangerously unstable largely because the core of stability, namely clear and unambiguous U.S. global leadership has been sadly blurred or missing from parts of the geopolitical equation. This vacuum of American power, largely due to indecision or reluctance of the Obama administration, has allowed various players, be they formal states or shadowy terrorist groups, to challenge the equilibrium which feeds continued instability.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China.