Press Releases

    SG/SM/8264
    10 June 2002

    Globalization's Challenges Make Well-Organized States More Necessary, Not Less Says Secretary-General to Geneva Conference

    NEW YORK, 7 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the keynote address by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Conference on Globalization and International Relations in the Twenty-first Century, delivered on 7 June at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva:

    C'est pour moi un grand honneur et un grand plaisir de revenir, en tant que Secrétaire général de l'ONU, dans cet Institut dont les fondateurs, il y a septante-cinq ans, entendaient apporter un soutien intellectuel au travail de la Société des Nations.

    Un honneur, cela va sans dire. Mais un grand plaisir aussi, car cela me rappelle les beaux jours où je faisais moi-même mes études ici. Saint-Exupéry a dit qu'on était de son enfance comme on était d'un pays. Pour moi, c'est vrai aussi de ma jeunesse. Ici, je me sens un peu chez moi.

    Parmi les dettes que j'ai envers mon alma mater genevoise, ma connaissance de la langue française n'est pas la moindre. Cette connaissance, comme vous devez l'entendre, reste toute relative. C'est que cette grande école est vraiment internationale, et permet aux anglophones de continuer à s'exprimer en anglais sans complexe. Avec votre permission, je vais profiter de nouveau de cette tolérance exemplaire...

    In other words, I hope you will forgive me if I deliver the rest of this address in English.

    Your theme at this conference is one of great interest to the United Nations.

    Already, globalization has transformed the context of our work.

    The United Nations was founded in 1945 as the centrepiece of a new international order, in which it was taken for granted that nation-States were the main actors. It was assumed that the main threat to world order would come from the aggression of one State against another. And the international economy was made up of separate national economies trading with each other.

    The world of today is very different. In recent decades, far more people have been killed in civil wars, ethnic cleansing and acts of genocide than in conventional war between States. Even in the relatively prosperous and orderly parts of the world, what keeps people awake at night is less the threat of armed attack by another State than the fear of what might be done by a handful of fanatics -- perhaps armed only with box-cutters, like those who attacked the United States last September, or, even more frighteningly, armed with weapons of mass destruction, purchased in an illicit arms bazaar that largely ignores State frontiers.

    Similarly, the word "international" is no longer the best one to describe today's world economy. While international trade has increased spectacularly since 1945, it has been far outstripped by the growth of cross-border investment. As a result there are many companies, and a vast number of products, on which it is now hard to stick a meaningful national label. There really is a global economy.

    And the speed and ubiquity of modern communications -- with the same images appearing simultaneously on TV and computer screens throughout the world -- have also given us the beginnings of a global society and culture.

    All these phenomena are largely unimpeded by national frontiers. They challenge the authority, or even the relevance, of nation-States. That means that they also present new challenges to the United Nations.

    Some people imagine that the UN, as a global institution, is itself one of those global forces that are eroding the authority of States. But that is a misunderstanding. The United Nations, as its name implies, is primarily an association of nation-States.

    There is, therefore, no contradiction between my office and the thesis I wish to put before you today, which is that -- in spite or even because of all the globalizing forces I have mentioned -- the sovereign State remains a highly relevant and necessary institution; indeed, the very linchpin of human security.

    Look around you at this city of Geneva, which is so calm and prosperous. Do any of us imagine that it could be like that without the rule of law, enforced by a strong and effective State?

    You may think I have chosen the wrong or a bad example, since in Geneva many State powers belong to the city or the Canton, while the strictly national authority of the Swiss Confederation has rather limited power. Moreover, Switzerland, with its multiplicity of national languages, may seem an untypical nation-State.

    But I would argue the opposite. The only thing that makes Switzerland untypical is that it is unusually strong and successful. Over the centuries, the Swiss have forged a national identity that does not depend on sharing a single language or religion. And the confederal form of the State, which leaves so much power in the hands of the Cantons, is itself a central feature of that identity.

    Whether they speak German, French, Italian or Romansch, whether they are Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, or of any other religion, the Swiss are proud to be Swiss and to belong to a Swiss State. Like the United States of America, they have found strength and unity through diversity. It is entirely fitting that they have now decided to join the United Nations, and I am sure they will feel at home there.

    Now consider which people in the world are most unlike the citizens of Geneva, in the sense of being deprived of the advantages those citizens enjoy.

    Are they not the people who live in the weakest States, where order has completely broken down and even the most rudimentary social services, such as primary health care and education, are lacking -- like Somalia, for instance, which, despite having a single language and culture, has sadly become the textbook example of a "failed State"?

    Or are they, perhaps, the people who have been completely deprived of their own State's protection and driven into exile in other States, where they are not citizens -- and which therefore recognize few if any of their obligations towards them?

    Whichever is the most unfortunate group -- those who have fled their own country and become effectively stateless, or those who remain trapped in a country without an effective State -- I do not think the citizens of Switzerland, or any other well-organized State, would wish to change places with them.

    Indeed, those who are most cheerful about globalization are invariably people who themselves enjoy the security of citizenship and the rule of law in a well organized and effective State. They may perhaps be living outside that State, and they may congratulate themselves on the freedom to roam the world that globalization has brought them. But they do so with a national passport in their pocket, and the knowledge that, if things get rough, they have a State of their own to go back to or to go home to.

    I say that, not as a critic of such people, but rather as one of them myself. I do believe that globalization represents a great opportunity for the whole human race, and I have said so to many audiences who are less ready to accept that message than you here today.

    But, I always say in the next breath that at present the benefits of globalization are far from being equitably shared. There are many, many people in the world who are not enjoying them, and one reason for that is that they do not live in well-organized States that are capable of managing the process.

    Globalization makes well-organized States, if anything, more necessary, not less. But even the best-organized States are not finding globalization easy to manage. That is because globalization challenges their ability to perform their historic function of providing security to their citizens, in all three of its aspects -- physical security, economic security, and psychological security.

    This is most obvious in the case of economic security. Globalization is only partly the result of technological change. Equally important have been decisions, taken by States, to reduce the controls and restrictions they formerly imposed on the economic life of their citizens.

    On balance, and in the long term, I have no doubt that this move away from State control is beneficial. But its immediate effect is to deprive States of many of their traditional instruments for protecting vulnerable groups. It has become more difficult to finance social expenditure by raising taxes, or to enforce standards in such areas as environmental protection, working conditions, and even basic human rights, without being accused either of obstructing the free flow of trade, or of imposing unfair conditions on your own exporters, in a highly competitive global market.

    But, globalization now challenges the ability of States to protect and provide the physical security of their citizens, too.

    Weak States in the developing world -- especially in Africa -- find that they are no longer able to monopolize and control the flow of weapons in their societies, because groups within those societies are able to bypass the State, financing weapons purchases on the global market through sales, on the same global market, of illicit crops or illicitly mined natural resources. For these countries, globalization represents a return to some of the worst features of the pre-colonial or early colonial era.

    But, the same phenomena, or related ones, are also undermining security in developed countries. Neither crime nor terrorism is a new problem. But, increasingly, they are global problems, from which no country can feel safe.

    In addition, few States can fully protect either the economic or the physical security of their citizens against environmental problems, which increasingly cut across frontiers -- from acid rain and other forms of pollution to climate change, not to mention competition for water and other scarce resources, as population pressures increase and cultivable land shrinks.

    As if these threats were not bad enough in themselves, their effects are magnified by a loss of psychological security. In many countries people feel that their traditional way of life, even their identity, is threatened.

    Transmitted around the world, images of the ease and plenty enjoyed by a few societies can stimulate new appetites and temptations, new patterns of consumption, and new relationships. They can become a siren song, undermining family structures and challenging religious authorities.

    And in many countries -- especially, perhaps, those of the developed world -- population movements bring people of different cultural backgrounds into formerly stable communities, prompting questions about how inclusive a nation should be, and what its identity is based on.

    I believe all these different types of insecurity were reflected in recent election results in several European countries, where many voters supported fringe groups of right or left, or failed to vote at all. These voters were expressing their disillusionment with the failure of those in power to protect them against new threats.

    Even the strongest States look weak, to many of their citizens, because they seem unable to respond to the challenges of unemployment, deteriorating services, rising crime levels, and intrusive social change. And so those citizens voice their nostalgia for what they remember, or imagine, as the good old days of the nation-State. Yet, following the programmes of the fringe parties, or reverting to traditional methods of control, will not bring those good old days back.

    One of the lessons of the twentieth century is that a strong State is not the same thing as a coercive State. States that were extremely coercive, like Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, looked terrifyingly strong for a time, while liberal democracies appeared weak and decadent. But, at the end of the century it was the liberal democracies that proved resilient. So, it would be a tragic mistake if, as the new century begins, States tried to assert themselves mainly by coercive methods.

    Please understand: I am not advocating a passive approach. It was not through laissez-faire policies, nor yet by unilateral disarmament, that the liberal democracies outlasted Nazism and communism.

    States need robust policies. They must have the capacity to resist aggression, to detect and punish crime, to protect their citizens against terrorism, and also to provide basic services and safety nets. And for all these things they need to raise revenue through taxation.

    But they must reassert themselves by tapping new sources of legitimacy and strength. They need to broaden the base of their support.

    Many of their objectives today can be achieved only by engaging other actors, not unwillingly but as true partners. The private sector, voluntary agencies and pressure groups, universities, research institutes, think tanks, foundations, and individuals -- all will do much more to deliver what the community needs if they are inspired, cajoled, negotiated with -- and, of course, listened to -- than if governments attempt to coerce them.

    The same applies even more clearly on the international level. There, too, States need to work with all these various non-State actors, and also with each other. Often they can do so most effectively at the regional level. Here, Europe provides a shining example. The peace and cooperation that Europe has established since the Second World War have allowed European states to de-emphasize defence, and invest in social progress.

    Unfortunately, Europe's record seems to shine less brightly in the eyes of its own citizens than in the rest of the world. The lesson here, surely, is that the member States of the European Union need to explain the advantages of European cooperation and integration more convincingly to their electorates. And they need to ensure that people's real concerns are voiced, and answered, in Europe's decision-making bodies.

    But many challenges, in the age of globalization, can only be met at the global level. What is needed is a kind of ladder of institutions, rising through many steps from the village or district council to the United Nations itself. Through these institutions, individuals must be able to express their many different identities, and link up with each other in an emerging world community.

    Just as States remain relevant and necessary at the national level, so the United Nations and its Charter are more relevant than ever at the global level. Fundamental principles enshrined in the Charter -- sovereign equality, good faith, and the peaceful settlement of disputes -- must form the core of any viable international community.

    Of course the UN is not, and does not aspire to be, a world government. But it is a kind of parliament, in which all sovereign States are represented. That gives it unique legitimacy, in the age of globalization, as a source of international law and a convener of global action.

    So it was encouraging that, in response to the shock of last September, States immediately came together in the United Nations, not only to express their condemnation but also, through the Security Council, to coordinate their vigilance against terrorism and its sources of finance. I believe there is scope for more action of this type. It is only through close cooperation and sharing information that States have any real hope of preventing further international terrorist attacks.

    Multilateral cooperation, and rigorous observance of international treaties, also offer the most promising route for halting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and preventing them from falling into the hands of terrorists.

    And multilateral cooperation is essential in the work of building or rebuilding effective State structures where they have broken down.

    As Afghanistan has shown us, such breakdowns can have disastrous consequences, not only for the country concerned, and for its neighbours, but also for the wider world order. Afghanistan is only one of many countries where endemic conflict has flourished in conditions of poor governance, disease, ignorance, extreme poverty, and climate change. Each of these problems makes others harder to solve. We need to tackle them all at once.

    The world's political leaders need to recognize -- and they did recognize this two years ago, when they adopted the Millennium Development Goals -- precise targets for a series of indicators to be achieved by 2015, as the first milestone in humanity's effort to make this century one of social as well as technological progress, extending the benefits of globalization to the poorest people of the planet.

    States must work together to achieve those targets. But -- abroad as at home -- they may be able to achieve more by cooperation than by regulation and enforcement. They will need willing partners, and again the same list comes to mind -- commercial companies, non-governmental organizations and pressure groups, philanthropic foundations, universities and institutes like this one -- and, in all of these and outside them, creative and dedicated individuals.

    The United Nations must be a forum where States come together with each other and these other actors.

    Non-State actors cannot and should not usurp the proper role of States, which is to take binding decisions and make binding agreements on behalf of all their citizens. But the dialogue between States and non-State actors can be richer and more constructive than it has been so far. Many more creative partnerships can be formed.

    To facilitate such partnerships has been one of my prime objectives since I became Secretary-General, and I remain firmly dedicated to it.

    Et je ne doute pas de trouver, dans cet Institut de hautes études internationales, un partenaire de choix!

    * *** *