12/20/2006 - When Ban Ki-moon of South Korea placed his left hand on the Charter of the United Nations and was sworn in as its eighth Secretary General, he assumed control of an organization viewed with dramatically varying degrees of respect, skepticism and indifference by the countries of the world, according to surveys conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project.
Ban is the first Asian in 35 years to head the United Nations. He replaces Secretary General Kofi Annan at a time when the UN appears poised to embrace major reform in the wake of growing discord between member nations, the oil-for-food scandal involving Iraq, and mounting criticism that its outmoded ways of doing business are not up to the challenges posed by a world riven by political, economic and sectarian divides.
"The dark night of distrust and disrespect has lasted far too long. We can begin by saying what we mean, and meaning what we say," Ban told the members at his swearing-in ceremony. "My first priority will be to restore trust. I will seek to act as a harmonizer and bridge-builder."
Ban was speaking about divisions of opinion within the UN General Assembly. But he could just as easily have been addressing public concerns about the UN in key member nations, according to surveys in 15 countries conducted in the spring of this year. Overall, majorities in nine countries had a favorable view of the UN. In three countries - all located in the broader Middle East - majorities rated the institution negatively while the reviews were mixed in three others.
Support for the United Nations was highest in Indonesia, where the UN played a key role in relief efforts in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of that country in December 2004. Nearly eight-in-ten Indonesians (78%) said they held a favorable view of the United Nations while 18% said their view of the organization was unfavorable.
Read the full analysis New UN Chief Heads an Organization That Faces Both Skepticism and Support on the Pew Research Center Web site.