Press Releases

    SG/SM/8048
    30 November 2001

    "MULTILATERAL DIPLOMACY OFFERS WAY TO PURSUE
    NATIONAL INTEREST WHILE MAKING COMMON CAUSE WITH
    OTHERS", SECRETARY-GENERAL SAYS

    NEW YORK, 29 November (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of an address by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the American Academy of Diplomacy upon receiving the Academy’s "Excellence in Diplomacy" Award in Washington, D.C., on 28 November:

    Thank you for this warm welcome and those kind words of introduction. It is a great pleasure to join you today, and to see so many familiar faces in the audience.

    Thank you, also, for the honour of awarding me the Academy’s "Excellence in Diplomacy" award. I know I follow a long line of distinguished honorees. At the same time, I see the tribute as being paid less to me than to the work of the United Nations. On behalf of my colleagues around the world -- from clinics to ceasefire lines, from conference rooms to refugee camps –- I thank you warmly for this recognition.

    Let me also congratulate David McCullough for winning the Academy’s award for distinguished writing on American diplomacy.

    High-stakes diplomacy is unfolding at this very moment, as United Nations officials, Afghan faction leaders and others meet in Bonn in an effort to usher in a new era of peace for the people of that long-suffering nation. Thus it seems timely to share with you some thoughts about diplomacy -- how it has changed, and most importantly how it can serve us in the 21st century.

    The business of using envoys to conduct negotiations between states dates back to antiquity. The farthest reaches of recorded history in China, Egypt and India all show signs of practices governing relations between neighbours, states, and kingdoms. Indeed, the late Harold Nicolson, perhaps the foremost authority on the subject, suggested that even the earliest pre-humans had to work out suitable arrangements for living in adjacent caves and sharing hunting territories.

    Since then, diplomacy has developed machinery, techniques, language, conventions and professional ethics. You in this room, seasoned diplomats with combined experience spanning several generations, know how daunting the tasks are that diplomacy is asked to tackle; and how difficult it can be to make progress -- whether it is a peace agreement you are negotiating, or ground rules for world trade. But I think you will agree that without the tools of diplomacy, and without the skills and the will to use them, the world might be an even messier place than it is.

    Still, the world is changing rapidly, and we, the practitioners of diplomacy, must adapt.

    Diplomacy was once confined largely to the arena of political relations between states, with the primary goal of preventing or resolving conflict. Today, conflicts are more often within states than between them, rendering the diplomat’s task that much more complex.

    The talks in Bonn illustrate one of the key roles of this new diplomacy. It is not for the United Nations or anyone else to impose any particular arrangement on the Afghan people, but rather to assist them in seizing the opportunity offered by this meeting, at this moment in Afghan history. Here and elsewhere, it is the parties themselves who must break the cycle of misery and violence, who must place the interests of their people first, who must choose the path of compromise over conflict -- a path that has proved singularly difficult in the past decade.

    It is essential now to create credible institutions, and for any new Afghan government to respect and uphold human rights and ensure that previously excluded groups, particularly women, are full participants. It is also clear that a massive programme of relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction is going to be needed over many years if Afghanistan is to get back on its feet. Much diplomacy will be required to put together this intricate mosaic.

    But even more significant than this change in style has been a change in substance: diplomacy has expanded its remit, moving far beyond bilateral political relations between states into a multilateral, multi-faceted enterprise encompassing almost every realm of human endeavour.

    Not that the need for diplomacy outside the realm of pure politics is entirely new. After all, the Bretton Woods institutions are as old as the United Nations itself, and some of the specialised agencies, such as the International Labour Organisation and the International Telegraphic Union, are even older.

    But the accelerating pace of globalization and economic integration compels us to take this diplomacy to a new level. This year alone, we have seen three striking examples:

    -- In June, after some very difficult negotiations on issues of great cultural sensitivity, the General Assembly reached agreement on a global strategy to combat HIV/AIDS;

    -- In September, very soon after the terrorist attacks on the United States, the Security Council adopted a wide-ranging resolution aimed at ending the financing of international terrorism; and

    -- Earlier this month, in Qatar, the World Trade Organisation agreed to open a new Round of trade negotiations -– a Round in which, I hope and believe, developing countries will for the first time be well equipped to defend their interests.

    In all those developments the United States has been fully engaged, and has made a vital contribution to the outcome. In some other areas, such as the Kyoto Protocol and the International Criminal Court diplomatic progress is hampered, though not completely blocked, by American opposition. I hope in time this will change. More immediately, I hope the United States will play an active part in the coming Conference on Financing for Development, to be held in Mexico next March. This could be decisive for our efforts to achieve the halving of extreme poverty in the world by 2015 -- and other goals which were set in principle by the Millennium Summit last year, but can only be achieved if Member States apply real financial and political muscle to the task.

    I do not mean to suggest that multilateral diplomacy is an automatic recipe for harmony and progress. No doubt there will always be times and places where interests prove irreconcilable, cooperation falters, or the age-old competition for power and advantage prevails. Yet the more we advance, the more we are aware of our common interest in maintaining a viable way of life on this planet. Multilateral diplomacy offers a way to articulate and pursue one’s national interest while making common cause with others. In fact, when it comes to dealing with problems such as pollution, the drug trade or terrorism –- none of which respects sovereignty or national borders –- I find it hard to imagine real success being achieved in any other way.

    Diplomacy is still regarded with scepticism in many quarters. Some see it as capable of attaining only the lowest, slowest common denominator; others think it is preoccupied exclusively with protocol, rank and ceremony. Most depressingly, and I believe unjustly, many believe it lacks a moral compass.

    Certainly diplomacy has had its shameful moments in history, and –- like any other profession -- it has its flawed practitioners. But to think in stereotypes is to ignore not only the need for pragmatism in many cases, where the ideal is simply not achievable, but also the core principles and values that must underpin that pragmatism.

    Properly conducted, diplomacy can help us avoid finding ourselves amid the ruins of war, wondering what went wrong. It can help parties in dispute to draw back from the abyss before it is too late; to confront each other across the table instead of the battlefield; to seize opportunities instead of squandering them; and to see that by threatening each other they threaten themselves. Among my hopes for the new century is that all countries will recognise diplomacy, both bilateral and multilateral, as their first line of national defence -– and therefore to give it as high a priority as they give defence when they allocate their financial and political resources.

    Thank you again for the award you have given me today. And thank you for your commitment to the United Nations. Our Charter was a triumph of diplomacy, including American diplomacy. But we shall realize its goals only with your commitment and support.

    Thank you very much.

    * *** *