Ban delivered the keynote address Monday to the Global Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg, France, saying that calls for democracy in Syria suggest the chances for political reforms aren't guaranteed.
"It takes time to build democracy," he said. "But we must join forces to nurture progress until democracy takes a firm root in all countries around the world."
The United Nations estimates that more than 18,000 people have died in the conflict that began in Syria 18 months ago. At least 2.5 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance.
Ban's comments follow the passage of a resolution in Turkey that permits a military response to deadly Syrian shelling from across the shared border last week. The secretary-general said the situation in Syria has taken a catastrophic turn, adding conflict is threatening to engulf the region.
"They show that this is a regional calamity with global ramification," he said of the border attacks.
The U.N. Security Council hasn't been able to pass a formal resolution on the Syrian crisis. Russia and China, two veto-wielding members, say resolutions lack balance.