Press Releases

    SG/SM/8600
    12 February 2003

    Secretary-General Says United Nations Has Duty to Exhaust All Possibilities of Peaceful Settlement Before Resorting to Use of Force

    NEW YORK, 10 February (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the address delivered by Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 8 February at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia:

    It is a great honour for me to receive this honorary degree -- and all the more so to share it with General Zinni and Mr. Brinkley, whose contributions to global peace and prosperity richly deserve this recognition.

    It's also a great pleasure for Nane and me to be with you on this special day.

    My only sadness -- which I share with all of you -- is that this year your celebration is muted by last week's Columbia Shuttle tragedy, and especially by the loss of one of this college's most outstanding sons, David Brown, as we heard from the President earlier.

    As you know, his fate was shared by equally brilliant colleagues of diverse backgrounds, including two from India and Israel. The exploration of space transcends all boundaries, and the loss of Columbia is a loss for all humankind. Indeed, it is one of those moments when we are reminded that we all belong to a single human family.

    Today, that family faces a time of acute anxiety. There is deep unease about escalating violence in the Middle East, nuclear proliferation and the possibility of new terror attacks. And, of course, there is a great anxiety, in this country and throughout the world, about the prospect of war in Iraq.

    Many people are asking what the United Nations is doing to avert that prospect.

    Was our Organization not founded "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war"?

    Yes, it was. Our founders had lived through two world wars. They knew well the terrible devastation and suffering that war brings with it, and they were determined to spare the world from experiencing such agony again.

    We must never lose sight of that vision. War is always a human catastrophe -- a course that should only be considered when all other possibilities have been exhausted, and when it's obvious that the alternative is worse. If war comes to Iraq again, it may cause terrible loss and suffering to the Iraqi people, and perhaps to their neighbours too. We all -- and, first and foremost, the leaders of Iraq itself -- have a duty to prevent it if we possibly can.

    But our founders were not pacifists. They knew there would be times when force must be met with force. And, therefore, they wrote into the Charter of the United Nations strong enforcement provisions, to enable the world community to unite against aggression and defeat it.

    Twelve years ago, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, the Security Council and the United Nations did just that. First, the Security Council gave the invader a clear alternative of peaceful withdrawal. Then, when he rejected that offer, the Council authorized the use of force.

    It was a grim choice, but a necessary one. The Security Council did not shirk its responsibility. Under its authority, a broad coalition of forces was patiently assembled under United States leadership. No less than 11 of the 26 countries that sent forces to help free Kuwait were Muslim countries. There is a lesson there that remains highly relevant today.

    Unfortunately, Iraq has still not complied with all the obligations it accepted in 1991, under the terms of the ceasefire. In particular, it has not yet satisfied the Security Council that it has fully disarmed itself of weapons of mass destruction.

    This is an issue not for any State alone, but for the international community as a whole. When States decide to use force, not in self-defence but to deal with broader threats to international peace and security, there is no substitute for the unique legitimacy provided by the United Nations Security Council. States and peoples around the world attach fundamental importance to such legitimacy, and to the international rule of law.

    One clear example of such a broader threat is the horror threatened by weapons of mass destruction. This is an issue of the utmost gravity -- by no means confined to Iraq -- which obliges the whole international community to re-examine, very carefully, the foundations of its security.

    It is vitally important that it does so in a united way -- so as to achieve greater security by strengthening, and not weakening or undermining, the multilateral treaties on disarmament and non-proliferation. Only a collective, multilateral approach can effectively curb the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and make the world a safer place.

    Nothing, of course, would undermine that goal more fatally than the actual use of weapons of mass destruction. I must, therefore, solemnly warn all parties to forswear any use of such weapons, in Iraq or anywhere else. Any person who ordered or took part in their use would incur the gravest responsibility.

    But let us hope such fears will prove baseless. As the United Nations, we have the duty to exhaust all possibilities of peaceful settlement, before resorting to the use of force.

    Just three months ago, the Security Council adopted resolution 1441, giving a new, more authoritative and robust mandate to the United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq. This resolution was negotiated with patience and persistence, and as a result was adopted unanimously. That gives it even greater authority -- an authority based on law, collective effort, and the unique legitimacy of the United Nations. This was multilateral diplomacy at its best, serving the cause of peace and security.

    Under this resolution's authority, United Nations inspectors returned to Iraq after an absence of four years. Inspections can work -- as we know from the experience of the early 1990s. Then, United Nations inspectors destroyed many more weapons and facilities than all the bombing had done.

    Today, it is thanks in large part to the firm challenge issued by President Bush -- and the pressure that followed it -- that the inspectors are back in Iraq.

    On 27 January, they gave the Security Council their first report, and they will give a second report next Friday. There is total unanimity as to what Iraq must do. Iraq must disarm, and must do so proactively. That message has been conveyed by a united Security Council, by the Arab League, and by Iraq's neighbours.

    There is also universal confidence in the two chief inspectors, Dr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei. They are doing a very professional job. This weekend, they are back in Baghdad, making clear to the Iraqi authorities, once again, what it must do to comply, in both the spirit and letter, with its obligation to disarm. The strong presentation by Secretary Powell in the Security Council last Wednesday has undoubtedly strengthened their hand.

    If we succeed in getting Iraq to comply fully and disarm, by effective and credible inspections, then the prize is great. Iraq would no longer be a threat to its neighbours, and we would send a very powerful message to all other countries that are tempted to develop or acquire weapons of mass destruction. We would strengthen the non-proliferation regime throughout the world.

    In resolution 1441, the Council decided to convene immediately if any further material breach of Iraq's obligations, or any interference by Iraq with inspection activities, is reported to it. The Council also recalled, in that context, that it had repeatedly warned Iraq that it would face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations.

    Thus, if Iraq fails to make use of this last chance, and continues its defiance, the Council will have to make another grim choice, based on the findings of the inspectors -- a choice more complex, and perhaps more fateful, than the one that faced it in 1990. And when that time comes, the Council must face up to its responsibilities.

    In my experience, it always does so best and most effectively when its members work in unison. The Council should proceed in a determined, reflective and deliberate manner. Its measures must be seen as firm, effective, credible and reasonable non only by the Council members, but by the public at large.

    If the Council stands united -- as it did in adopting resolution 1441 -- it will have a greater impact, and a better chance of achieving its objective, which must be a comprehensive solution that brings the Iraqi people, who have suffered so much, fully back into the international community.

    Success in diplomacy means maximizing one's base of support. In current circumstances, it means enhancing the authority of the Security Council and reinforcing world order, particularly in the area of peace and security.

    That is important because what happens in Iraq does not take place in a vacuum. It has implications -- for better or worse -- for other issues of great importance to the United States, and to the world. For instance, it will greatly affect the climate in which we conduct our struggle against international terrorism.

    The broader our consensus on Iraq, the better the chance that we can come together again and deal effectively with other burning conflicts in the world, which you heard recited earlier this morning. These conflicts cause untold suffering and urgently need our attention: from Israel and Palestine to Congo and Côte d'Ivoire, not to mention our efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.

    Even beyond that, we have a wider international agenda, which all the world's leaders set up for us when they came together at the United Nations, during the Millennium Summit in the year 2000.

    They adopted the Millennium Declaration, setting themselves clear targets -- not only for peace, security and disarmament, but also for development and poverty eradication, especially in Africa; for protecting our common environment, fighting HIV/AIDS, promoting education for boys and girls alike, particularly girls, helping refugees and displaced persons, and upholding human rights, democracy and good governance.

    It is by our success or failure in fulfilling those Millennium Goals, and not just in Iraq, that the role of the United Nations in the twenty-first century will be assessed.

    We all need to understand that the United Nations is not a separate or alien entity, seeking to impose its will and agenda on others. The United Nations is us: it is you and me. It is a global alliance of 191 States, all of which have their own contribution to make. Among them, your country, the United States, is not only the most powerful but also the one that played a leading role in founding the United Nations in 1945, and in its collective action ever since.

    When there is strong United States leadership, exercised through patient diplomatic persuasion and coalition-building, the United Nations is successful -- and the United States is successful. The United Nations is most useful to all its Members, including the United States, when it is united, and works as a source of collective action rather than discord.

    I ask all Americans present to keep this in mind -- and especially you, the students of this great College, with its long tradition of community service. Many of you are about to choose your career. I hope a good number of you will go into the public service. You may not earn much, but you will be happy and fulfilled. But I hope all of you, whatever your profession, will be seeking to serve the public, and to contribute to the welfare not only of your country but of all your fellow human beings -- especially those who live in poverty and misery on other continents, and yearn for lives free from want, and free from fear.

    * *** *