UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan's address at the Truman Presidential Museum and Library followed by Q & A
( Independence, Missouri, 11 December 2006 )
SECRETARY GENERAL: Thank you very much, Senator [Hagel] for that wonderful introduction. It is an honor to be introduced by such a distinguished legislator for whom I have always had a great deal of respect. And thanks to you, Mr. Devine, and all your staff, and to the wonderful UNA chapter of Kansas City, for all you have done to make this occasion possible.
It is a pleasure, and a privilege, to be here in Missouri. It's almost a homecoming for me, as you heard from the Senator. Nearly half a century ago I was a student about 400 miles north of here, in Minnesota. I arrived there straight from Africa – and I can tell you, Minnesota soon taught me the value of a thick overcoat, a warm scarf - and even the weird looking ear-muffs – that's to an African eye!
When you leave one home for another, there are always lessons to be learnt. And I have had more to learn when I moved on from Minnesota to the United Nations – the indispensable common house of the entire human family, which has been my main home over the last 44 years. Today I want to talk to you particularly about five lessons I have learnt in the last ten years, during which I have had the difficult but exhilarating job as Secretary-General.
I think it's especially fitting that I do that here in the house that honors the legacy of Harry S Truman. If FDR was the architect of the United Nations, then President Truman was the master-builder, and the faithful champion of the Organization in its early years, when it had to face quite different problems from the ones FDR had expected. Truman's name will always and forever be associated with the memory of far-sighted American leadership in a great global endeavor. And you will see that every one of my five lessons brings me to the conclusion that such leadership is no less sorely needed now than it was sixty years ago.
My first lesson is that, in today's world, the security of every one of us is linked to that of everyone else.
That was already true in Truman's time. The man who in 1945 gave the order for nuclear weapons to be used – for the first time, and let us hope the only, time in history – understood that security for some could never again come or be achieved at the price of insecurity for others. He was determined, as he had told the founding conference of the United Nations in San Francisco, to “prevent, if human mind, heart, and hope can prevent it, the repetition of the disaster [meaning the world war] from which the entire world will suffer for years to come.” He believed strongly that henceforth security must be collective and indivisible. That was why, for instance, he insisted, when faced with aggression by North Korea against the South in 1950, on bringing the issue to the United Nations and placing US troops under the UN flag, at the head of a multinational force.
But how much more true it is in our open world today: a world where deadly weapons can be obtained not only by rogue states but by extremist groups; a world where SARS, or avian flu, can be carried across oceans, let alone national borders, in a matter of hours; a world where failed states in the heart of Asia or Africa can become havens for terrorists; a world where even the climate is changing in ways that will affect the lives of everyone on the planet.
Against such threats as these, no nation can make itself secure by seeking supremacy over all others. We all share responsibility for each other's security, and only by working to make each other secure can we hope to achieve lasting security for ourselves.
And I would add that this responsibility is not simply a matter of states being ready to come to each other's aid when attacked – important though that is. It also includes our shared responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity – a responsibility solemnly accepted by all nations at last year's UN world summit. That means that respect for national sovereignty can no longer be used as a shield by governments intent on massacring their own people, or as an excuse for the rest of us to do nothing when heinous crimes are committed.
But, as Truman said, “If we should pay mere lip service to inspiring ideals, and later do violence to simple justice, we would draw down upon us the bitter wrath of generations yet unborn.” And when I look at the murder, rape and starvation to which the people of Darfur are being subjected, I fear that we have not got far beyond “lip service”. The lesson here is that high-sounding doctrines like the “responsibility to protect” will remain pure rhetoric unless and until those with the power to intervene effectively – by exerting political, economic or, in the last resort, military muscle – are prepared to take the lead.
And I believe we have a responsibility not only to our contemporaries but also to future generations – a responsibility to preserve resources that belong to them as well as to us, and without which none of us can survive. That means we must do much more, and urgently, to prevent or slow down climate change. Every day that we do nothing, or too little, imposes higher costs on our children and our children's children. Of course, it reminds me of an African proverb – the earth is not ours but something we hold in trust for future generations. I hope my generation will be worthy of that trust.
My second lesson is that we are not only all responsible for each other's security. We are also, in some measure, responsible for each other's welfare. Global solidarity is both necessary and possible.
It is necessary because without a measure of solidarity no society can be truly stable, and no one's prosperity truly secure. That applies to national societies – as all the great industrial democracies learned in the 20th century – but it also applies to the increasingly integrated global market economy that we live in today. It is not realistic to think that some people can go on deriving great benefits from globalization while billions of their fellow human beings are left in abject poverty, or even thrown into it. We have to give our fellow citizens, not only within each nation but in the global community, at least a chance to share in our prosperity.
That is why, five years ago, the UN Millennium Summit adopted a set of goals – the “Millennium Development Goals” – to be reached by 2015: goals such as reducing by fifty percent the proportion of people in the world who don't have clean water to drink; making sure all girls and boys receive at least primary education; slashing infant and maternal mortality; and stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Much of that can only be done by governments and people in the poor countries themselves. But richer countries, too, have a vital role to play. Here too, Harry Truman proved himself a pioneer, proposing in his 1949 inaugural address a program of what came to be known as development assistance. And our success in mobilizing donor countries to support the Millennium Development Goals, through debt relief and increased foreign aid, convinces me that global solidarity is not only necessary but possible.
Of course, foreign aid by itself is not enough. Today, we realize that market access, fair terms of trade, and a non-discriminatory financial system are equally vital to the chances of poor countries. Even in the next few weeks and months, you Americans can make a crucial difference to many millions of people, if you are prepared to save the Doha Round of trade negotiations. You can do that by putting your broader national interest above that of some powerful sectional lobbies, while challenging Europe and the large developing countries to do the same.
My third lesson is that both security and development ultimately depend on respect for human rights and the rule of law.
Although increasingly interdependent, our world continues to be divided – not only by economic differences, but also by religion and culture. That is not in itself a problem. Throughout history human life has been enriched by diversity, and different communities have learnt from each other. But if our different communities are to live together in peace we must stress also what unites us: our common humanity, and our shared belief that human dignity and rights should be protected by law.
That is vital for development, too. Both foreign investors and a country's own citizens are more likely to engage in productive activity when their basic rights are protected and they can be confident of fair treatment under the law. And policies that genuinely favor economic development are much more likely to be adopted if the people most in need of development can make their voice heard.
In short, human rights and the rule of law are vital to global security and prosperity. As Truman said, “We must, once and for all, prove by our acts conclusively that Right Has Might.” That's why this country has historically been in the vanguard of the global human rights movement. But that lead can only be maintained if America remains true to its principles, including in the struggle against terrorism. When it appears to abandon its own ideals and objectives, its friends abroad are naturally troubled and confused.
And states need to play by the rules towards each other, as well as towards their own citizens. That can sometimes be inconvenient, but ultimately what matters is not inconvenience. It is doing the right thing. No state can make its own actions legitimate in the eyes of others. When power, especially military force, is used, the world will consider it legitimate only when convinced that it is being used for the right purpose – for broadly shared aims – in accordance with broadly accepted norms.
No community anywhere suffers from too much rule of law; many do suffer from too little – and the international community is among them. This we must change.
The US has given the world an example of a democracy in which everyone, including the most powerful, is subject to legal restraint. Its current moment of world supremacy gives it a priceless opportunity to entrench the same principles at the global level. As Harry Truman said, "We all have to recognize, no matter how great our strength, that we must deny ourselves the license to do always as we please."
My fourth lesson – closely related to the last one – is that governments must be accountable for their actions in the international arena, as well as in the domestic one.
Today the actions of one state can often have a decisive effect on the lives of people in other states. So does it not owe some account to those other states and their citizens, as well as to its own? I believe it does.
As things stand, accountability between states is highly skewed. Poor and weak countries are easily held to account, because they need foreign assistance. But large and powerful states, whose actions have the greatest impact on others, can be constrained only by their own people, working through their domestic institutions.
That gives the people and institutions of such powerful states a special responsibility to take account of global views and interests, as well as national ones. And today they need to take into account also the views of what, in UN jargon, we call “non-state actors”. I mean commercial corporations, charities and pressure groups, labor unions, philanthropic foundations, universities and think tanks – all the myriad forms in which people come together voluntarily to think about, or try to change, the world.
None of these should be allowed to substitute itself for the state, or for the democratic process by which citizens choose their governments and decide policy. But they all have the capacity to influence political processes, on the international as well as the national level. States that try to ignore this are hiding their heads in the sand.
The fact is that states can no longer – if they ever could – confront global challenges alone. Increasingly, we need to enlist the help of these other actors, both in working out global strategies and in putting those strategies into action once agreed. It has been one of my guiding principles as Secretary-General to get them to help achieve UN aims – for instance through the Global Compact with international business, which I initiated in 1999, or in the worldwide fight against polio, which I hope is now in its final chapter, thanks to a wonderful partnership between the UN family, the US Centers for Disease Control and – crucially – Rotary International.
So that is four lessons. Let me briefly remind you of them:
First, we are all responsible for each other's security.
Second, we can and must give everyone the chance to benefit from global prosperity.
Third, both security and prosperity depend on human rights and the rule of law.
Fourth, states must be accountable to each other, and to a broad range of non-state actors, in their international conduct.
My fifth and final lesson derives inescapably from those other four. We can only do all these things by working together through a multilateral system, and by making the best possible use of the unique instrument bequeathed to us by Harry Truman and his contemporaries, namely the United Nations.
In fact, it is only through multilateral institutions that states can hold each other to account. And that makes it very important to organize those institutions in a fair and democratic way, giving the poor and the weak some influence over the actions of the rich and the strong.
That applies particularly to the international financial institutions, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Developing countries should have a stronger voice in these bodies, whose decisions can have almost a life-or-death impact on their fate. And it also applies to the UN Security Council, whose membership still reflects the reality of 1945, not of today's world.
That's why I have continued to press for Security Council reform. But reform involves two separate issues. One is that new members should be added, on a permanent or long-term basis, to give greater representation to parts of the world which have limited voice today. The other, perhaps even more important, is that all Council members, and especially the major powers who are permanent members, must accept the special responsibility that comes with their privilege. The Security Council is not just another stage on which to act out national interests. It is the management committee, if you will, of our fledgling collective security system.
As President Truman said, “the responsibility of the great states is to serve and not dominate the peoples of the world." He showed what can be done and what can be achieved when the US assumes that responsibility. And still today, none of our global institutions can accomplish much when the US remains aloof. But when it is fully engaged, the sky is the limit.
These five lessons can be summed up as five principles, which I believe are essential for the future conduct of international relations: collective responsibility, global solidarity, the rule of law, mutual accountability, and multilateralism. Let me leave them with you, in solemn trust, as I hand over to a new Secretary-General in three weeks' time.
My friends, we have achieved much since 1945, when the United Nations was established. But much remains to be done to put those five principles into practice.
Standing here, I am reminded of Winston Churchill's last visit to the White House, just before Truman left office in 1953. Churchill recalled their only previous meeting, at the Potsdam conference in 1945. “I must confess, sir,” he said boldly, “I held you in very low regard then. I loathed your taking the place of Franklin Roosevelt.” Then he paused for a moment, and continued: “I misjudged you badly. Since that time, you more than any other man, have saved Western civilization.”
My friends, our challenge today is not to save Western civilization – or Eastern, for that matter. All civilization is at stake, and we can save it only if all peoples join together in the task.
You Americans did so much, in the last century, to build an effective multilateral system, with the United Nations at its heart. Do you need it less today, and does it need you less, than 60 years ago?
Surely not. More than ever today Americans, like the rest of humanity, need a functioning global system through which the world's peoples can face global challenges together. And in order to function more effectively, the system still cries out for far-sighted American leadership, in the Truman tradition.
I hope and pray that the American leaders of today, and tomorrow, will provide it.
Thank you very much.Q&A (unofficial transcript)
Moderator: Thank you so much, Secretary-General.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we would like to open this up now to some of your questions that you have specifically for the Secretary-General. If you don't mind I'd like to take the liberty to ask you the first question.
Secretary-General, you have criticized US foreign policy before in the past, and some of your words today were especially biting in that regard. What led you to choose your final speech as Secretary-General for what some are seeing as a fairly pointed attack on the US foreign policy, particularly here in this venue as Presidential Library.
SG: Nothing could be further from the truth. I think those who listen to me and anyone who reads this speech simply, honestly and sincerely cannot draw that conclusion.
SG: What I have done here this morning is to look back into history – where the UN came from; the leaders who created the UN – and Truman obviously was one of the giants – and looked forward and proposed some vision.
You cannot have a vision without a sense of history. What I am saying here is that, when the US works with other countries in a multilateral system, we do extremely well. We need US leadership. The US has provided that leadership in the past, and our world is in a sorer state. We have lots of problems around the world, and we require the natural leadership role the US played in the past and can play today. And so, to appeal for cooperation and leadership should never be seen as an attack.
Moderator: Can we have a question from a member of the audience?
Q: Mr. Secretary. As a member of Congress, along with my colleague Dennis Moore, we struggle each day with what solution there is for the ongoing conflict in Iraq. You, no doubt, are familiar with the Iraq Study Group's report – I have read it . It is being criticized in some quarters, and supported in others. Is there some component of that report that you would suggest that the President, who sets foreign policy – we don't – but that if the United States Congress and the President can work together on that would begin to create the atmosphere for a US withdrawal from Iraq?
SG: That is a difficult question.
Let me give you my views without being presumptuous as to give advice to the US government and the US Congress. I think we are in a very difficult situation. It is a very tough issue, and I would want to applaud the Iraq Study Group for a good and useful report that they have produced, which I think clarifies many issues. But I believe, in Iraq today, we need to find a way of getting the Iraqis to reconcile. We need to be as active on the political front as we are on the military front. We need to find a way of getting the Iraqis to come together to settle their differences, and review the Constitution as indicated. If they can reconcile, and come up with fair revenue sharing, sharing of oil and taxation revenues; sharing of power; we may be able to reduce the tension. Indeed, each group is fighting for its place in the future Iraq. So we need to focus some attention on the political process as well as the military. I also believe that we need to get the regional countries to cooperate and to work with the Iraqis, but you also need to bring in the broader international community – at least the permanent members of the Security Council; maybe the UN and the Arab League, to work together, and also to support the process. I think that would be really helpful.
You may know that I have suggested an international conference, which would not be a one-off, but a standing conference which can resolve issues, or issues could be referred to it, if there are problems. I know not everybody has accepted the idea yet , but I believe that such an approach would be helpful.
I have also indicated that it is important to talk to everyone who is in a position to influence the solution, including Iran and Syria. We should make them part of the solution. We should make them responsible by pulling them in to work with the international community, and tell them what the international community expects of them. I don't think either country would want to remain isolated forever, and if you make them responsible and pull them in to work with you I think it would be in everyone's interest.
We should also not forget that getting Iraq right is not only in the interest of the US and the broader international community, but even more so for the countries in the region.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Annan, for coming to Kansas City, and thank you for setting a remarkable example of statesmanship and, for my model United Nations students, it is especially desirable to welcome you here, so thank you very much for your contribution to our history.
As a teacher, I have several students that are immigrants, and since we are still in your term in office, at times there have been as many as 50 million refugees in our world, and I have one of those students with me today, I would appreciate it if you would address the refugees and especially those that are looking to you for leadership. How can we help to provide a state for those that are stateless, and how can we help those that are in the process, as you were, of crossing from one cultural divide to another in order to develop global citizenship?
SG: Thank you very much. As you may know, both my wife and I worked for the High Commission for Refugees some time ago, and I have always taken a keen interest in refugee issues. When I became Secretary-General one of the first things I did, realizing that we need to strengthen our humanitarian activities, was to create the new office for humanitarian coordination. Because in all these crises the key is coordination. If you do not have effective coordination from the moment the crisis strikes, your effort to deal with it is likely to go wrong. I think we have shown how effective this office can be, not only working with refugees but we led the tsunami recovery; we led the coordination of the Kashmir earthquake. On the refugees, you are absolutely right, that we have millions of refugees in the world today. Not only millions of refugees – we define refugees as people who are forced to live outside their country, to protect themselves because of fear of their lives. But we also have millions of people who are internally displaced within their own country. In fact, when we look at Darfur, we have been feeding three million internally displaced people. We have 14,000 humanitarian workers working in that theatre. But with refugees, first of all we need to resolve some of the conflicts, national conflicts that forced them to leave home in the first place, and help them return. I have always felt that if we could focus on resolving all these conflicts – whether they are in Africa or Asia – and get people to focus on the essential work of economic and social development, we would all be better off. But for the refugees, it means if they are able to return home, they are able to make choices – whether they stay where they are, or to go home – and from my experience when the situation at home changes, refugees go back very quickly. We saw it last summer in Lebanon – about a million people were displaced. The moment the cessation of hostilities took hold, almost all of them went back in a very short period.
In some situations the war or the conflict may end, but the insecurity may persist, and the refugees may not wish to go back. But what I will urge is that governments should be generous. They should be kind to these refugees, take them in, and some of those who are not able to go back, and who may not be able to go back should be integrated. But we need to continue solving the conflicts to send them back home. In the meantime, we need millions of dollars - the High commissioner for Refugees – to support these millions of refugees who unfortunately have been forced out of their homes. And I hope the international community will be generous. We often have to struggle to get the money to support them, and so I urge you – use your influence to get those in a position to contribute to do so, and do so generously.
Q: My name is Linda Vogel I am on the Board of the International Relations Council, and am regional health administrator at the US Department of Health and Human Services. Thank you for mentioning CDC. They are wonderful. My question has to do with UN peacekeeping forces that may be in various countries. There have been allegations in the press about the role that these forces had sometimes played in abusing local individuals, and particularly women. So, in effect, they become part of the problem. Do you feel that there are some practical solutions to this?
SG: Let me, first of all, start by saying that we have 90,000 UN troops deployed in 18 operations around the world. The Security Council is considering other additional operations, and if that were to be approved, the numbers could go up to 120-140,000.
The vast majority of these peacekeepers, these men and women who have gone into situations of conflict to help, acquit themselves admirably. They are honest, they are decent, and they do their work without blemish. But we have a few peacekeepers – and you are right – who have been engaged in sexual exploitation of women, and in some situations – tragically – even children. We have a policy of zero tolerance, and we have been very firm. In fact, over the last year we have investigated over 300 cases and more than 60 per cent have been dealt with – disciplined. Some of the soldiers have been evacuated and gone home. The civilians have been dismissed or dealt with. We had a conference last week – it is interesting you asked that – on this very topic, in New York, which I opened, and which brought together NGOs, humanitarian NGOs who also work in the field, UN peacekeepers, and UN agencies, for us to discuss and share experiences – how do we work together to deal with this. We have no troops; the UN doesn't have a standing army. We need to borrow them from governments. And so when they do something wrong, we don't have the authority; the only way we can discipline them is to send them back home, and request the government to discipline them and to deal with them. I think the measures that we are taking, and in each peacekeeping operation today we have an adviser who works with the head of the mission to ensure that the peacekeepers understand what is required of them, and to monitor to ensure that they are not getting involved in situations where they take advantage of those we are there to help, who are often the most vulnerable, and it is inexcusable and cannot be tolerated.
Q: Mr. Annan, let me start by saying that it is an honour to hear you speak in person. My name is Sarah [inaudible]. I am here with my model UN Director, Mr. Gates from the [inaudible] High School. From the perspective of a model United Nations delegate, I was wondering, from your point of view, what Millennium Development Goal are you closest to achieving by 2015, and what goals still need to be put forth ahead of the others?
SG: We monitor the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals. Let me say very honestly that their results are mixed. If you look at the raw figures, you will say that we are achieving the Millennium Development Goals. But this is because Asia has been able to lift millions out of poverty – China, India – they have really done well. We are doing well in the education of girls. Enrollment has gone up in most countries in the primary school. That is mainly because of enrollment of girls in schools. We are doing a bit better on clean drinking water. But there are countries that will not meet the Millennium Development Goals at the current pace, unless we do something dramatic to accelerate their implementation and give them the support necessary to be able to achieve it. I think one of the major contributions of the Millennium Development Goals, apart from the goals themselves – it has been accepted as common framework for development – a common framework to fight inequality and poverty – all the UN agencies, international organizations, NGOs, government and the man and woman in the street understand what it means, and they have all embraced it, so it has given us a new energy and impetus to press on and focus on development. I hope that the countries that have fallen behind – quite a few of them, most of them in the least developed countries in Africa and elsewhere will be given the necessary support to catch up. UN agencies are working with them to draw up their plans. Once those plans are drawn up, we need the donor community to work with them and us to meet those goals.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, my name is Dennis [inaudible]. I represent the third congressional district of Kansas, right across the state line, and I want to follow up on Congressman [inaudible]'s question about the situation in Iraq. It seems in retrospect that the easy part was the military victory, that is, taking out Saddam Hussein. I have heard your statement, and I certainly agree with you that we need to involve the international community, and especially Iran and Syria. But there is a history in Iraq of centuries of difference - political and religious differences – between the Shiites and the Sunnis. How do we resolve those centuries of differences to bring them together, because my fear is, if we don't find a political solution within Iraq, and it's not one the United States can impose, that's doomed to fail. It has to be by the people of Iraq, and if we can't get the Shiites and the Sunnis to come together, then how are we going to get this to work?
SG: Now let me say that peace indeed must come from the people, must come eventually from the Iraqis. One cannot impose peace, one cannot make a peace for them and one cannot want peace more than they do. So they really have to become energized and active in this process but the international community can help them and work with them in doing this. You remember the example of Afghanistan. We brought them all out and sat with them in Bonn, in Germany, where the UN envoy Laktar Brahimi worked with them to get a political agreement and then they went to implement it.
I think the same has to be possible for the Iraqis, I believe, with a third-party assistance, although at this stage I'm not sure all of them accept to really resolve their differences. I also believe the Shia-Sunni divide that you have referred to. It is not limited to Iraq. There is a regional dimension. And the region, over the past fifty years or so, has lived with this – side-by-side the Shia and the Sunnis. Of course, apart from Iran, all the other regimes in the region are Sunni. I think that we need to also bring them in to work with us and encouraging the Iraqi political forces to move in the right direction and reconcile. Without reconciliation, and a political give-and-take, it is going to be very, very difficult. This is why, I believe, if we engage the region with the support of the international community – because everyone has an interest in it – if we were to get Iraq wrong and God forbid were the conflict to spread to the region, it will have an incredible economic impact, because it is one of the main sources of oil supply. It will not only affect the region, it will affect the global economy. And so, nobody is doing anybody a favour by coming together to try and work to resolve this. As I said, even with the Iranians and the Syrians, there is a coincidence of interest - they would want a peaceful Iraq on their border. Syria has 750,000 refugees from Iraq; Jordan has thousands of refugees. This is why I often tell governments 'you cannot have a crisis in your country and tell you neighbours and international community – don't get involved, this is an internal problem.' These problems in today's world do not remain internal for long. In a relatively short time they throw up refugees, they destabilize the neighbourhood, and they scare away investors. And so we all have an interest in trying to ensure that the kinds of violent conflicts that occur in a country is dealt with very quickly – preferably before it explodes. But even after it has exploded we should not shy away from wanting to work with them in resolving it.