For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No:  UNIS/SG/2580
Release Date:  29 May 2000
Secretary-General Delivers Commencement Address at Paul Nitze School
Of Advanced International Studies, John Hopkins University

NEW YORK, 25 May (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the commencement address delivered Thursday, 25 May, by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Washington, D.C.:

It is a great privilege for me to join you today, and to receive an honorary degree from an institution that is not only global in mission, but also global in character.  

I say this because nearly one half of the graduating class has come from abroad to study at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and because fellow graduates of yours are working in more than 160 countries. 

These numbers testify to the global appeal of the SAIS programme.  Even more important, they testify to the commitment of SAIS graduates to engage the world, and -- in the great tradition of Paul Nitze -- to use foreign policy to make it a better and safer place.  It is a record of which you can be deeply proud, and a record that should be a model for every institution of higher learning in today’s world.

I am grateful for the reception that I have received here today.  I believe it is evidence of a new, more open and more constructive relationship between the United Nations and the United States.  Even more, I believe it reflects a growing recognition of the potential of the United Nations in the twenty-first century.  This audience, in particular, understands the promise and perils of multilateral cooperation.  As a community and as a university, you have long been a bridge of understanding between cultures and peoples.  

As graduates, you will now have a special privilege and responsibility to continue this work in your own lives and careers.  You are the global citizens of tomorrow, and you have a chance to affect the world in ways that would have been unthinkable to your parents’ generation.  

You are entering an era with almost unlimited opportunities for global action.  Where once only diplomats were able to act as global citizens, today there is an extraordinary range of organizations, companies and institutes that are transforming the meaning of global action.  

Whether you are interested in exploring links between the private sector and development, or between non-governmental organizations and the promotion of human rights, or between international organizations and the struggle to restore peace in Africa and elsewhere, the world needs your commitment and your creativity.  

Neither national governments nor the United Nations have a monopoly on the use of global action to improve relations within and between States, or to promote peace and prosperity.  A world of new actors has opened up a world of new possibilities -– to serve, to explore and to improve the lives of your fellow men and women.

We at the United Nations are seizing upon this world of new actors and new opportunities to renew our commitment to making the international community live up to its name.  It must be truly a community of peoples, dedicated to upholding common standards of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.  

There is no greater challenge to our community than keeping the peace and preventing conflict.  

In my report to the forthcoming Millennium Summit of world leaders that will take place at the United Nations in September, I have sought to place the concerns of the peoples of the world at the heart of every mission for peace and prosperity that we undertake.  

The United Nations was founded to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.  While the United Nations is an Organization of Member States, the Charter nevertheless obliges us to advance the rights and dignity of the individual.  Herein lies a key tension.  

In a world where the security of the individual can come into conflict with the sovereignty of States, how does the United Nations react?  Whose rights do we defend?  And given that States are our masters -- that their decisions determine whether we are able to fulfil our mission -- what guidance and what means should be at our disposal?

Today, I wish to explore with you some of the dilemmas and difficult choices that are inherent in our pursuit of peace and security.  In the post cold-war era, the threats to peace and security are increasingly directed not at States or standing armies, but at defenceless civilians.  

Since 1990, the world’s wars have been mainly internal, between rebel groups, militias and warlords, and not between States.  They have also been brutal, claiming more than 5 million lives.  Humanitarian conventions have been flouted; civilians, peacekeepers and aid workers have become strategic targets; and children have been forced to become killers.  In the wake of these conflicts, a new understanding of the concept of security is evolving -– one that places the security of the individual first, and one that recognizes that national sovereignty can never serve as a shield for gross and systematic violations of human rights.  

The scope and seriousness of these challenges require us –- and very soon, you, the global leaders of tomorrow -– to think creatively about how we adapt the systems and structure of international relations to a new era defined by the dignity of the individual.

What is clear is that the role of third parties such as the United Nations has only become more important, as conflicts become more complex and seem to threaten less directly the interests of the great Powers. 

It has been said that the United Nations cannot ensure peace, it can only keep it.  I am indeed of the view that peace enforcement -– that is, the use of force to impose a peace without the consent of the parties –- is an activity best left to multinational operations, or “coalitions of the willing” as in Bosnia or Kosovo.  But that does not mean that the United Nations can only keep the peace between angels.  Where a peace agreement is signed but one or more of the parties are tempted to violate it, the United Nations needs a credible and robust presence in order to deter and discourage potential violators.  

This is what we had in Eastern Slavonia, where we had every reason to doubt the good faith of the parties.  There, we deployed a force of heavily mechanized infantry and helicopter gunships, and by showing force in order not to use it, we successfully fulfilled the mandate. 

The plain fact is that as peacekeepers, we can only perform our duty if the parties cooperate with us, and if the parties honour their own agreements.  Where they fail to cooperate and work with us -– given the consent-based premise of peacekeeping -– our chances of success are far slimmer.  

And in these instances, it is the parties themselves who must be held responsible for the consequences -– not the peacekeepers and peacemakers who seek to foster peace and alleviate the suffering of innocent civilians.

There are certainly times when the international community is able to summon the will to enforce the peace, such as in Desert Storm.  However, there are also times when the will is not there, and United Nations peacekeepers are sent in, even though the conditions call for peace enforcement.  In these cases, an unrealistic mandate is thrust on an ill-equipped mission in no position to fulfil its aims.  

Peacekeeping cannot be a substitute for the lack of political will on the part of the international community.  In the past, when we were dealing with inter-State wars and established States with government leaders who were susceptible to international pressure, one could say:  

“If you don’t agree to a ceasefire, we will cut off your weapon supplies, we will not trade with you, you will not receive any development or financial assistance, and your country will not be recognized by the community of nations”, and this could change their behaviour.  In many of today’s wars, however, when the combatants are led by warlords and militia-leaders whose only aim is power and personal enrichment, the threat of international isolation or condemnation has little or no effect.  

What do these instruments of the established community of States mean, for example, to a rebel leader like Foday Sankoh in Sierra Leone?

Here we are faced with the dilemma of seeking to protect a people against their own leaders who are so insular, whose vision is so narrow, and their concerns so focused on their own power and survival, that the people’s interests are neglected.

Given the enormity of these challenges –- and the fact that in many cases, if the United Nations doesn’t take them on, no one will -– we are taking a hard look at how and under which conditions we carry out peacekeeping missions.  

We have had to reconsider some of the most basic assumptions about neutrality, the good faith of the parties, and the non-use of force that were the basis of the successful operations of the cold war era.  

While the peacekeeping environment may have changed, the basic requirements for success have not.  There is no substitute for sufficient means, robust mandates and the willingness of those States capable of doing so to provide first-rate military and logistical support.  The best peacekeeper is a well-trained, disciplined and well-equipped soldier.  

I have established a high-level panel of independent experts and asked them to provide a thorough and comprehensive analysis of all aspects of peace operations.  I intend to publish the panel’s findings prior to the gathering of world leaders in New York for the Millennium Summit.  I hope that Member States will act on its recommendations if they are truly committed to seeing United Nations peacekeeping succeed in the future.

On this wonderful day of celebration, I have spoken to you about the dilemmas inherent in fulfilling the United Nations responsibility to prevent and halt conflict because I believe that our mission in the new century is more urgent and more necessary.  In too many parts of the world, the very existence of groups and societies depends on the willingness of the international community to act, and to act promptly and effectively.  

As an instrument of this community, the United Nations has a unique role in helping to keep the peace in distant and destitute nations outside the spheres of power.

What we have no monopoly on, however, is the role of prevention, which, as you all know, is preferable to cure.  In a world of many actors and many parties, prevention is the responsibility of us all.  And here I include you.  Regardless of which path you choose, you can become agents of prevention.  Should you choose the private sector, you can join the many firms that are embracing a wider definition of corporate citizenship and helping to prevent conflict by strengthening economic development around the world.  

Should you choose to serve in non-governmental organizations, you will join a “new diplomacy” of groups and actors determined to prevent conflict through peaceful means outside the traditional channels of power.  Or should you choose to join your foreign service, or even the United Nations, you can help transform traditional means of peacemaking and peacekeeping by helping us summon the will to act with foresight and imagination in order to prevent the new century from repeating the tragedies of the last one.

I wish you the best of luck as you go into the world.

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