4 December 2003
SECRETARY-GENERAL, ADDRESSING WORLD AFFAIRS FORUM, UNDERSCORES NEED FOR COLLECTIVE ACTION TO FACE GLOBAL CHALLENGES
NEW YORK, 3 December (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s address to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council yesterday, 2 December:
I really do feel at home seeing some old friends, Warren Christopher and his wife. I recall our last visit here and how well they took care of us.
My wife Nane and I are very happy to be among friends here in Los Angeles, and to join the World Affairs Council as you celebrate your fiftieth anniversary.
For 50 years, you have carried out a noble mission. You have brought leaders, politicians and diplomats -– from this country and around the world –- to California, so that they can speak to Californians about world issues, as well as hear and absorb Californians’ distinctive ideas.
For many people around the world, California epitomizes the United States. Yours is a land of openness, creativity, diversity and confidence in the future.
Indeed, every time I come to California I leave refreshed and reinvigorated. I find myself saying: “I'll be back!”
I have chosen tonight to speak about a topic that is very close to my heart -– the importance of the United Nations to the future of the world.
That leads me back to the half-century before the founding of the United Nations in 1945 -– an era that was one of the most cataclysmic and terrifying in history. Twice in a generation, the human race was engulfed in world war. No continent escaped untouched. Large parts of Europe, Asia and Africa were devastated.
Horror was heaped on horror, until we reached the Holocaust and Hiroshima. Had things gone on like that, the future would have been very bleak indeed.
Happily, things did not go on like that. The victorious allies of the Second World War resolved to build a world organization that would be a bulwark to prevent further suffering, and that was equipped to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.
In this, they were led by President Roosevelt. FDR drew an important lesson from the failure of the League of Nations. He did not conclude that international organization was bound to fail. Nor did he think that the United States should retreat once more into isolation and rely solely on its military power.
Instead, he decided that it was in the interests of this country to help build a new international organization that had the strength and credibility to curb any tendencies towards aggression. He wanted an organization in which the Great Powers of the day had a special role, and through which they could exercise world leadership in a legitimate and collective manner.
His vision was shared by many distinguished statesmen from around the world. And it came to fruition here in California. In San Francisco in June 1945, the representatives of 50 nations, including President Truman, signed the Charter of the United Nations
The commitment of the United States to the United Nations was not a product of party politics. The ratification of the United Nations Charter was one of the great bipartisan acts of United States history. The Senate voted by 89 to 2 in favour, with the enthusiastic support of Republican statesmen such as Arthur Vandenberg and John Foster Dulles.
Truman's Republican successor, President Eisenhower, was equally committed to the United Nations. In one of the most visionary acts of modern statesmanship, he made the “Atoms for Peace” proposal to the General Assembly, which helped contain the rapid spread of nuclear weapons capabilities. And it was Eisenhower who insisted on the primacy of the United Nations during the Suez Crisis in 1956.
From its creation, therefore, the United Nations bore the hallmark of the United States, and American leaders regarded it as vital to the security of this country.
Its record has been far from perfect. The Security Council was not able to prevent horrendous atrocities -– the rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, genocide in Rwanda.
Nor could it stop many brutal colonial wars, terrible civil wars, and several very bloody international ones.
To paraphrase another American, Henry Cabot Lodge, the United Nations did not take humanity to heaven. But it played a vital role in saving it from hell.
Despite the precarious balance of nuclear terror, under which all humanity could have perished at almost any moment, the entire world was not engulfed in conflict, as it had been twice in 30 years.
The United Nations helped to deal with many security issues and created a layer of protection against a drift towards nuclear holocaust. It provided a vital forum for discussion and exchange of views –- including during the Cuban missile crisis.
But it was also a vehicle for action against North Korea, and against Iraq following the invasion of Kuwait, to defend the peace and reverse aggression.
Through the United Nations, peace was brought to many lands -– including, in the last decade and a half, Cambodia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mozambique, Namibia, Sierra Leone, and East Timor.
In many disputes that are still unresolved, the principles of a solution have been articulated and won broad acceptance through the United Nations. None is more important than the Middle East conflict, where Security Council resolutions remain the accepted basis for a two-State solution.
The United Nations has also brought relief to millions affected by fighting, famine and floods.
In the economic and social sphere, the United Nations family of organizations helped to achieve a remarkable half-century of progress.
The world economy not only recovered from the devastation of 1945. It expanded as never before. There were amazing technical advances.
Even in the developing world, where billions of people still live in extreme and degrading poverty, there was spectacular economic growth. Child mortality was reduced. Literacy spread.
Smallpox was eradicated. Air traffic was made safer. We began to reverse the depletion of the ozone layer.
An international bill of rights was embodied in treaties and mechanisms which became indispensable in the fight to protect and promote the human rights of all.
Women's rights were advanced in many parts of the world. So were those of oppressed racial and ethnic groups.
The peoples of the developing world threw off the yoke of colonialism -– a process in which the United Nations played a vital role. As a result, the United Nations has truly become a global institution, and now has 191 Member States.
And from South Africa to the Soviet bloc, billions eventually won political freedom.
Over time, largely due to these and other achievements, people of different nations and cultures came to look on each other, less as subjects of fear and suspicion, and more as potential partners, able to exchange goods and ideas to their mutual benefit.
It was a world of increasing openness; of imperial contraction making way for economic expansion; of growing mutual confidence.
Above all, it was a world of hope.
That sense of hope was not inevitable or automatic. There are many reasons why it developed –- and the United States, of course, can claim a large share of the credit.
But the successes of this era required cooperation and interaction among the governments and peoples of the world in a manner never before seen. Much of that occurred through the United Nations.
Indeed, many of the high points came when the United States worked with other countries in the United Nations to agree upon, and achieve, common goals.
Just three short years ago, world leaders gathered at United Nations Headquarters in New York. In the Millennium Declaration, they set out their common objectives for this new century.
They were agreed that the United Nations needed to become more, not less, actively engaged in shaping our common future.
They saw the new century as a challenge and an opportunity: an era in which humanity could make measurable progress towards peace, security, disarmament, human rights, democracy and good governance. They vowed to protect the vulnerable and meet the special needs of Africa. They called for truly free and fair trade.
And then came the horrific terrorist attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001. They threatened to end this new era of hope and confidence, just as it was starting.
As we paid our respects at Ground Zero, just a few miles from United Nations Headquarters, many of us saw that there could be a quite different twenty-first century –- more like the first half of the twentieth century, yet perhaps even more dangerous.
We saw the dangers of a world threatened by violent extremists who are difficult to detect or deter, and who might gain access to weapons of terrible destructive power.
But we also saw other dangers. We were concerned that borders would close; that people would again regard those of different faith or culture as potential enemies; that long-cherished freedoms would be curtailed or suppressed; that the march towards democracy and human rights for all would be halted or even reversed; that the need to resolve long-standing disputes and injustices might drop off the radar screen; and that measures taken in self-defence might eventually lead, directly or indirectly, to even more destruction.
Practically all the governments of the world immediately understood that the best way -– perhaps the only way -– to prevent this happening was to confront this threat together.
At the United Nations, governments expressed solidarity with the United States. They recognized its right to take action in self-defence under Article 51 of the Charter. They agreed to take joint action to apprehend terrorists and bring them to justice, and to cut off their sources of finance. After the defeat of the Taliban, the United Nations led the way in the creation of a broadly accepted interim Afghan Government.
Almost never in history has the world been as united as it was in the months after the attacks of 11 September –- and it was unified with the United States of America.
Today, we see new divisions. We see disputes between the coalition that acted in Iraq and the many governments who opposed that action.
We see too many unnecessary misunderstandings between some in the Islamic world and some in the West.
We also see divisions between North and South over the failure of world trade talks at Cancun.
Nations are increasingly deaf to each other's concerns. Indeed, they are in danger of missing good advice in their determination to shut out those who disagree.
Amidst this acrimony, the relevance and importance of the United Nations has, in some quarters, been called into question.
Yet, to my mind, recent events have only underlined the need for the United Nations. Collective action is needed to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and to rebuild shattered societies.
In the same way, it takes collective action to advance human rights and democracy, to stop global warming and the destruction of the environment, and to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS -– an issue on which President Bush has taken encouraging steps.
There are real dangers out there, and real enemies who must be confronted. However, perhaps our biggest enemy is fear. If we allow fear to be our guide, and if we sow division in the process, we will lose much of the cherished achievements of the last half-century.
But if we are guided by our confidence in each other, and by our determination to live in a world governed by shared values and common rules, then I believe we can fight the politics of isolation and despair that terrorism seeks to create, and bring the collective power of nations together to defeat the enemies we face.
Obviously, leadership is essential. The United States is the sole remaining super-Power. With that power comes great responsibility.
I sense a widespread international acceptance of American leadership. But I also sense that its leadership will be more admired than resented, and indeed that it will be most effective, when it is exercised within a multilateral framework, when it is based on dialogue and the patient building of alliances through diplomacy, and when it is aimed at strengthening the rule of law in international affairs.
These are the very principles on which, thanks in part to the United States, the United Nations is based. They are more important than ever before –- when our globalized world has become so small, when people in the remotest places feel the impact of the actions of the powerful, and when extremists threaten the peace by trying to take us back to a lawless past we need that United Nations.
In 1945, the United States led the way in an act of creation. That act gave us an institution to cherish, and a reason to hope.
The United Nations is not perfect, but it is precious. Indeed, it is indispensable to the security and progress of all nations -– including this one.
Let us use it, and let us make it work better. If we do, I believe the forces of law, freedom and peace will prove vastly more powerful than the forces of war, tyranny and terrorism.
And I believe that we can offer, to men and women, rich and poor, in nations large and small, a future of hope.
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