Harvard came one step closer to running the world last night after Kennedy School of Government graduate Ban Ki-Moon emerged as the presumptive victor in the quest to replace Kofi A. Annan as secretary-general of the United Nations.
The South Korean foreign minister—who earned a master’s degree in public administration from the Kennedy School in 1984—received 14 yes votes and one no-opinion vote in an informal U.N. Security Council straw poll held at 4 p.m. yesterday.
Because Ban enjoys the support of all five permanent Security Council members, it is widely considered a foregone conclusion that he will be nominated as the eighth secretary-general on Oct. 9. He would then go before the U.N. General Assembly, which traditionally accepts Security Council nominees without protest.
If elected, Ban would become the first Harvard graduate to rise to the post of secretary-general.
This news has caused considerable stir at the Kennedy School, where Ban completed his post-graduate work focusing in international relations and security.
“Harvard will have a pretty proud moment if this guy climbs to the top,” wrote Ashton B. Carter, Ford Foundation professor of science and international affairs, in an e-mail.
At least three Harvard grads are current or soon-to-be national leaders: Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, MPA Class of 1971; Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, MPA Class of 1980; and Mexican President-elect Felipé Calderón Hinojosa, MPA Class of 2000.
They’re not the only Harvardian heads of state. French President Jacques Chirac attended Summer School here in 1953, and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe earned a certificate in administration and management from the Harvard Extension School in 1993. (And President Bush, though a dyed-in-the-blue Yalie, is a 1975 Harvard Business School alum.)
Ban bested a fellow Harvard alum in his secretary-general bid—Surakiart Sathirathai, the deputy prime minister of Thailand. Surakiart received a master’s degree from Harvard Law School in 1982 and a doctorate in juridicial science three years later. He garnered four “yes” votes yesterday and two vetoes from permanent Security Council members.
Dillon Professor of Government Graham T. Allison, Jr., who once taught Ban in a course entitled “Central Challenges in American Foreign Policy,” described Ban as a “very good student” and Ban is likewise enthusiastic about Harvard, returning for an Institute of Politics Forum in 2005, and describing his years at the Kennedy School as “golden,” according to the website of the Center for U.N. Reform Education, a New York-based nonprofit research group associated with the U.N. Department of Public Information.
Ban, whose 56-month term as foreign minister of South Korea ranks among the longest in the nation’s history, is widely lauded as a model statesman, adept at building consensus.
He is also a preternaturally diligent and committed worker who sticks to a rigid timetable that divides his day into five-minute blocks, according to The Times of London.
As former Kennedy School Dean Joseph S. Nye commented, he is “a diplomat’s diplomat, very careful in what he says and does but very thoughtful.”
Occasionally, critics have characterized Ban as a detail-oriented bureaucrat, lacking in vision or forcefulness, according to the Times of London.
Nye, however, counters that while Ban “is not a man who is going to overwhelm you with a sparkling set of new ideas, as you see him and talk to him at greater length, you see that while his style is diplomatic, underneath it’s very thoughtful.”
—Materials from the Associated Press were used in the reporting of this story.