Against the backdrop of last week’s G-20 Summit, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his representative for Syria suggested that any U.S. or allied military action on Syria would be illegal. According to the United Nations’ own press report:
He appealed that any decision that is made is done so within the framework of the UN Charter. The use of force is lawful only when in exercise of self-defense in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter and/or when the Security Council approves such action, said Mr. Ban. He appealed for renewed efforts by regional and international actors to convene the Geneva conference – with participation from senior United States, Russian and UN officials – “as soon as possible.”
That may or may not be true, but the fact that so many diplomats and journalists give so much credence to what the secretary-general says shows ignorance of the original intent of the United Nations and reflects the mission creep which blights the organization. Article 97 of the UN Charter declares that:
The Secretariat shall comprise a Secretary-General and such staff as the Organization may require. The Secretary-General shall be appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council. He shall be the chief administrative officer of the Organization.
In other words, his job is first and foremost as a manager. It is not his role to determine what international law is or is not. Alas, the current secretary-general, like Kofi Annan before him and Boutros-Boutros Ghali before him, has shirked his administrative duties while seeking to maximize travel. They have allowed corruption and bloat to run rampant through the organization while they engage in soapbox diplomacy for which they have no charge.
True, Article 99 suggests that “The Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security,” but he is not entrusted as the arbiter of international law. To allow Ban to, in his official capacity, make such declarations is to transform the UN from a discussion forum meant to promote peace to instead a dictatorial entity. That the time and money Ban spends on his jaunts around the globe wastes resources and contrasts so much with the UN’s notoriously slow and inefficient bureaucracy only underlines the secretary-general’s malpractice.