Press Releases

    SG/SM/9179
                                                                                                                                                                    3 March 2004

    Clear Consensus Needed on Global Threats, Challenges Says Secretary-General,
    In Remarks to Brooking Institution Board

    NEW YORK, 2 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following are Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s remarks at dinner with the Board of Trustees of the Brookings Institution in New York, 1 March:

    Thank you, Strobe, for that charming introduction -– and welcome, everyone, to United Nations Headquarters. Nane and I are deeply honoured that you are holding your Board meeting outside Washington for our sake. But you know, New York does have other attractions -– and I think you may be setting a trend. When Brookings comes, can the G.O.P. be far behind?

    Mr. Thornton [chairman], let me also thank you for your kind remarks earlier –- and let me congratulate you on two counts:

    First, on taking on the chair of this illustrious Board. Everyone knows how important think tanks are in the policy-making process in Washington; and everyone knows that Brookings is the very prototype of an influential Washington think tank. So for a successful businessman like you to accept the responsibility of supporting and guiding it is an excellent example of public service and public spirit.

    And secondly, I’d like to congratulate you and Strobe on the priority you are giving to international issues, and to opening up your Institution to people and ideas from outside the United States. In this age when your country wields such unrivalled power, it is more than ever important that influential people in Washington should understand the world, and be fully aware of what people are thinking in other parts of it. You have obviously understood what a significant role Brookings can play in making that happen.

    But enough compliments. I know you want to hear something about how I see the world, and hear something about the role of the United Nations at this difficult time. I still think it is a potentially promising moment in world history. Despite the difficulties, there are opportunities, which, if we exploit them creatively, will propel us forward and make the Organization be what it ought to be in the twenty-first century.

    Perhaps I could start from something that happened here at UN Headquarters just three and a half years ago: the Millennium Summit. Political leaders from all countries assembled here and adopted the Millennium Declaration, a joint statement of their ambitions for humanity in the new century.

    Of course they didn’t solve all their differences, but they were able to agree on shared values and principles, and on a common vision of the kind of world they wanted their children to live in: one in which differences could be resolved or managed without war, through multilateral institutions and processes; in which the UN itself would be more effective; and in which there would be a concerted effort, by rich and poor countries working together, to ensure that all human beings have the chance to live in conditions of basic human dignity.

    In the area of development and poverty reduction, they even set themselves precise targets, to be achieved by 2015 -– what we have come to know as the Millennium Development Goals.

    I believe those aspirations are still generally shared, but in the intervening period some dramatic events have blurred that common vision, and distracted attention from the effort needed to achieve those Goals. I am thinking especially, of course, of the 11th of September and the war in Iraq.

    Because of those events, many of us have had to focus on dangers that now seem much more immediate than they used to –- terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the nightmarish possibility that the two will be combined.

    As if that were not enough, we also have to focus on what I might call secondary dangers -– by which I don’t mean that they are less important, but that they arise from the reaction, or sometimes over-reaction, to those first ones.

    I am thinking of the very sharp divisions we have seen in the international community over when it is legitimate or necessary to use force, and who has the right to take such decisions.

    I am thinking of the difficulty of protecting our wonderfully complex and varied modern societies from terror without sacrificing the very freedom and diversity that makes them so dynamic and enjoyable.

    And I am thinking of the challenge we face, as an international community, in helping the people of countries that have been devastated by war and oppression to rebuild their States and societies in such a way that they can live at peace with themselves and their neighbours, and not sink back into the anarchy which allows terrorists and drug-barons to use them as bases.

    That last challenge is one we already faced in the 1990s -- from Cambodia to the Balkans to many parts of Africa. But we now face it in especially acute form in Afghanistan and Iraq. The stakes in such undertakings have become very high for all of us.

    And we have to face all these challenges without losing sight of other threats that are much more immediate for most of our fellow human beings: the threats of poverty and hunger, and the many ills to which poor and hungry people are especially vulnerable –- from disease through environmental disaster to exploitation, violence and oppression.

    All these are global problems. Each country has to muster its own resources to deal with them, but they concern all of us -– and many countries do not have sufficient resources, whether financial or institutional, to confront them on their own. So the question inescapably arises: are our global institutions capable of rising to the challenge, of galvanizing and coordinating the common effort that is needed?

    Or I could put it another way. Does the answer lie in creating new institutions? Or in adapting and improving the ones we already have? Or simply in making better use of them?

    I think most of us are leery of creating new institutions, since we are already choking on an alphabet soup of global acronyms. Indeed the way things are going we might need a new institution simply to regulate those acronyms -– to decide, for instance, whether the initials “ICC” rightfully belong to the International Chamber of Commerce, the International Criminal Court, the Inter-agency Consultative Committee, the International Cricket Council, or the Inuit Circumpolar Conference. I thought I might call the new body U-NAME-IT -– the United Nations Acronym Management Executive Integrated Taskforce.

    Yes, there are times when new institutions are needed. A more serious recent example is the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which I believe is filling a real gap by providing a rapid and reliable channel from donors to effective programmes and projects in the countries where funds are most needed. I only hope that donors will understand this, and that the Fund receives money on a scale commensurate with the problem, the problem we are trying to tackle.

    But in most cases I believe we shall do better to focus on improving, and making better use of, the institutions we already have. It is with that in mind that I recently appointed a High-Level Panel of experienced men and women from all parts of the world, to consider “threats, challenges and change”.

    I have asked this Panel –- which includes a very distinguished American, General Brent Scowcroft -– to report to me by the end of this year, so that I can make recommendations to the General Assembly in the course of its next session.

    I hope it will help forge a new global consensus on what the threats are, so that we can get away from the idea that some, such as terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, are of concern only to the “North”, while poverty and hunger only affect people in the “South”. I think we need a clear global understanding of the threats and challenges that we all have to face, because to neglect any one of them might fatally undermine our efforts to confront the others.

    But I also hope the Panel will go further, and recommend specific changes in our institutions, including the UN itself, to enable us to forge a really convincing collective response to these challenges. I believe the main reason why some countries resort to unilateral action is that they do not have confidence that a collective response would be timely or effective. That, above all, is what we have to change.

    The answer –- or part of the answer –- may be some kind of new compact between the United States and the rest of the world, comparable to that forged by the Great Powers in 1945.

    But I won’t go into greater detail now. I have wise men and women who are sitting together now trying to give me advice. I should leave them time and space to do their work, without me telling them what to think. And I want to leave all of us some time this evening for questions and answers. So I wouldn’t want to go into too long detail on the work of the Panel. But they will have to go into some very difficult questions and I think the Iraqi crisis brought it to a head.

    Let me just conclude by saying that neither the Panel, nor indeed the governments of the world, are going to be able to solve any of these problems on their own. Panels and governments alike are the product of much broader social processes. They can only do their work usefully if they are in touch with the societies around them, and on the look-out for new opinions and new ideas.

    That is why an institution like Brookings is so important. You are one of the great laboratories in which ideas can be examined and refined into a form on which panels and governments can draw. Let me say again how glad I am that you are making a conscious effort to broaden your agenda, and put your skills at the service of the global community.

    I know you heard earlier today from Mark Malloch Brown how much we value your Global Poverty Reduction Initiative, and I’d like to thank Mr. Richard Blum for his generosity in funding it. Let me add that we also greatly value the work on internally displaced persons that Roberta Cohen is doing with my Representative on that topic, Francis Deng.

    And in the context of my remarks tonight I should particularly like to thank Jim Steinberg and his team for the work they have been doing on the issue of “force and legitimacy”. I know the High-Level Panel are following this with great interest through their research director, Steve Stedman.

    These are very encouraging examples, and I’m sure there are many more things we can do together. My advisers will continue to be in close touch with you to explore new opportunities.

    But I’ve already given you more of a speech than any audience should be subjected to after dinner. Let me stop there, and let’s use the rest of our time for a free discussion of some of the topics I have raised -– or others that you may have on your minds.

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