22 October 2003


NEW YORK, 21 October (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Heinz Foundation Distinguished Lecture at the University of Pittsburgh, 21 October 2003:

Thank you, Mr. Johnson [Bill Johnson, Chairman of Heinz], for those very kind words.

It is a great honour for me to speak this afternoon to such a distinguished American audience, at this fine University in one of America’s great cities.

I want to use this opportunity to make something clear which I’m sure most of you here already understand, but which I sense is sometimes overlooked or obscured in the heat of debate about the issues of the day.

You quite often hear pundits talk, or you read in the newspapers, about disputes, or even conflicts, between the United States and the United Nations -- as though the United Nations and the United States were somehow rivals or opponents.

My friends, such talk ill serves the public, because it is based on a fundamental misunderstanding about what the United Nations is, and what it does.

The United Nations is an association of sovereign States, one of which is the United States.  In that association, for a number of reasons, the United States holds a unique position.

First, the United States is by far the strongest military power in the world.  Its economy is by far the biggest.  Its culture is admired, respected and imitated by many countries, even if admiration and respect are, inevitably, sometimes tinged with envy and resentment.

It follows that this super-Power is bound to play a leading role in any Organization that it belongs to.  The idea that a peaceful and prosperous world could be organized without the active engagement and cooperation of the United States is not credible.

Second, the United States has always been a country of practical visionaries -- a land of ideals, of looking to the future.  It is no surprise that we owe the very existence of the United Nations to a great American President:  Franklin D. Roosevelt.


FDR led the free nations of the world through an epic and terrible struggle against Nazi barbarism and aggression.  He was determined that neither America nor the world should ever have to go through such a conflict again.

Using as a foundation the alliance that had won the Second World War, he wanted to build a permanent global security system, which in the future would curb any tendencies towards aggression before they got out of hand.

He wanted a new organization that would be more robust and effective than the League of Nations, because the great Powers of the time, including the United States itself, would be founding Members with a special position in it, and special responsibilities.

He saw that United States interests would best be served by binding the other great Powers into a system of collective security, which would, as the Charter puts it, “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”.

That is why we have a Security Council with five permanent members.  And that is a further reason why the United States has special importance within the United Nations.  It is one of those five permanent members, with a veto over all decisions on peace and security.

Of course, Roosevelt did not set up the United Nations all on his own.  Sadly, he did not live to see the Organization come into existence.  But before he died, he had persuaded other world leaders to share his vision. 

No less important, he had persuaded his own countrymen to do so -- Republicans as well as Democrats.  The decision of the United States Senate to ratify the United Nations Charter -- by a majority of 89 to 2 -- was very much a bipartisan decision, taken with the enthusiastic support of Republican statesmen such as Arthur Vandenberg and John Foster Dulles.

Ever since then, American Presidents of both parties have worked with other countries, in and through the United Nations, to achieve things that were important both for America and for the world. 

The United Nations has been an invaluable forum for setting worldwide norms and standards, starting with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

In the field of peace and security, cooperation has not always been as easy as the founders hoped -- especially during the Cold War. 

But even then, compromises could be reached when rival super-Powers identified a common interest.  With patient and persistent diplomacy, it was possible to agree on landmark Security Council resolutions such as 242 and 338, which are still accepted by both sides in the Middle East conflict as the basis for peace; and to deploy peacekeeping forces in areas of tension around the world.

Yes, there have been some shameful failures, too -- in the field of peacekeeping, Bosnia and Rwanda, especially.  But I believe that the successes greatly outweigh the failures, and that we have learnt from our grievous mistakes.

The United States is the sole remaining super-Power. But with that power comes great responsibilities.  I sense widespread international acceptance of American leadership.  But leadership is most effective when it is pursued by means of persuasion.  This means the patient building of alliances through diplomacy.  For it is diplomacy, rather than the exercise of unchallenged military power, which is the true fulcrum that moves the world.

Persuasive leadership means recognizing that most Member States, big and small, much prefer cooperating on the great issues of peace and security through multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, which give legitimacy to such cooperation.  It means accepting that American power and dominance do not mean that others with a different view on any specific issue may not on occasion be right.  It means recognizing that leadership is ultimately based on common values.  Many people find it troubling and confusing when the United States appears to abandon the very international instruments that bear its mark and are so closely identified with ideals and objectives inspired by this country.

I believe profoundly that the United States and the United Nations need one another.  The United States needed the United Nations as an instrument to pursue peace in Cambodia, Mozambique, El Salvador, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, East Timor and many other war-torn countries.  I doubt if any nation -- even the United States -- would have been willing or able to shoulder these burdens on its own.  But, equally, the United Nations could never have played the role it did in all these countries without the United States.  The relationship must be seen as one of productive interdependence.

But interdependence has been broader than just peacekeeping and conflict resolution.  At a series of United Nations conferences, including the Millennium Summit in 2000, the United States has been able to agree with other nations on specific, time-bound goals for development.  We now know what needs doing, for instance, to halve extreme poverty and hunger in the world by 2015, to provide everyone with safe drinking water and primary education, and to halt the lethal spread of HIV/AIDS.

There is a link between these issues and international peace and security. 

Poverty and deprivation cannot explain terrorism, let alone excuse it.  But they do make it easier for terrorists to find recruits.  I think all of us now see, with chilling clarity, that a world where millions of people endure brutal humiliation and extreme misery will never be fully secure, even for its most privileged inhabitants.

Our struggle to end civil wars around the world, to control the traffic in small arms, to eradicate poverty, to protect our common environment and uphold human rights, democracy and good governance is not really separate from our struggle to confront the so-called “hard threats” of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. 

But the United Nations is involved directly in that struggle, too.  The International Atomic Energy Agency, a branch of the United Nations system, is on the front line of the battle to check nuclear proliferation, just as the World Health Organization is on the front line of the battle to check the spread of infectious diseases like SARS.

As for terrorism, immediately after 9/11 the Security Council imposed strict requirements on all countries to cooperate in the search for terrorist organizations, and in clamping down on their sources of finance.  This work continues, as it must, under the supervision of a special committee of the Security Council.

The United Nations has also been very much engaged in helping the Afghan people to rebuild their State and their society since the overthrow of the Taliban.  And we are ready, if circumstances permit, to bring people of Iraq.

Indeed, we began doing that during the summer, when I sent Sergio Vieira de Mello to Baghdad as my Special Representative.  Sergio was a man with unique experience of helping to build new institutions in war-torn societies, and he took with him a team of some of the United Nations’ most talented civil servants.

Tragically, Sergio himself and key members of his team were among the 22 people who died in the atrocious bomb attack on our Baghdad headquarters on August 19th.

We remain determined to do whatever one can to help the Iraqi people.  But, after that experience, and a second attack last month, I have to be very careful about risking the lives of United Nations workers in Iraq.

Differences of opinion on how best to manage such a difficult and dangerous situation as Iraq are perfectly normal.  But let us not mistake tactics for substance.  All of us share a common objective -- namely, to restore to the people of Iraq, as quickly as possible, full charge of their own affairs under an internationally recognized, representative government.

Whatever view each of us may take of the events of recent months, or about precisely what needs to be done now, it is vital to all of us that the outcome is a sovereign, independent and democratic Iraq -- at peace with itself and with its neighbours, and contributing to stability in the region. 

As you know, the Security Council last week adopted a new resolution, under which the United Nations is asked to strengthen its vital role in Iraq, as circumstances permit, including by providing humanitarian relief, promoting economic reconstruction and conditions for sustainable development, and advancing efforts to restore and establish institutions for representative government.

I shall do my utmost to implement this mandate, while taking all due precautions to protect the lives of my staff, as any responsible manager must.

The latest resolution on Iraq also illustrates a point I was trying to make earlier.  The United States sought, and ultimately achieved, agreement in the Security Council on a common approach to dealing with Iraq.  I believe it did so because it recognized the need to engage with others and listen to their concerns -- in a forum whose legitimacy is recognized, and where responsibility is shared.

Peace, stability and democracy in Iraq are undoubtedly in the common interest.  Such goals are more likely to be attained when States make common cause, than when their efforts are fragmented.

Iraq provides us with an immediate, graphic illustration of a challenge where the United States wields immense power, but where the difference between success and disaster may nevertheless hang on the degree of global cooperation.

But there are many other challenges that just as urgently call for a global response that combines the legitimacy of the United Nations with the power and leadership of the United States. People everywhere stand to gain from this marriage of principle and pragmatism.

Can any one nation by itself tackle the problem of global warming or protecting the environment?  Can any one nation advance the cause of human rights and bring to justice those guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity?  Can any one nation by itself win the war on terrorism, or prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction or stop the trafficking in illegal drugs? 

Indeed, there is a widespread fear in the international community that some of the key assumptions on which international order has been based since 1945 may be breaking down.  The war in Iraq upset a great many people, because they saw two permanent members of the Security Council taking military action without the support of the Council as a whole, or of the wider membership of the United Nations.

They are afraid that precedents are being set for others, and that systems which have served us well for decades are being unravelled.  They fear that we might be moving back to the world as it existed before 1945 -- a world in which any nation with the power to use force felt free to do so, whenever that seemed to suit its interests.

I myself share those concerns, as do many people around the world.  But what I have also been saying -- and I said it quite explicitly in my speech to the General Assembly last month -- is that “it is not enough to denounce unilateralism, unless we also face up squarely to the concerns that make some States feel uniquely vulnerable, since it is those concerns that drive them to take unilateral action”.  It is up to all those who believe in a collective system of security to show that these concerns, such as the fear of terrorists using a weapon of mass destruction, can still be addressed more effectively through collective action.

I believe we can find collective answers, even if it requires a hard look at the international rules, starting from first principles -– and that is the exercise that I have urged all Members of the United Nations to embark on.  I will soon name a high-level panel of experienced men and women, drawn from all parts of the world, to consider the threats we face and how our rules and institutions might need to be adapted to cope with them.

Finding the answers to these questions is of crucial importance, as much to the American people as to those of every other nation.  And I know the American people will want to play their full part in this great global discussion.

There can be no enterprise more worth engaging in at this time.  To my mind, it is unthinkable that we should resign ourselves to the lack of a global consensus.


I believe we have to agree on common rules, so that humanity can continue its march towards what the United Nations Charter calls “better standards of life in larger freedom” -- a secure world in which all nations will be free to exchange goods and information and ideas with each other, to learn from each other’s experience and benefit from each other’s solidarity, and in time all human beings can live a safer, fuller and more rewarding life.

To some audiences, that might sound a utopian vision.  But to live in America is to be an optimist, to know that all things are possible.  So to an American audience, I know that it rings true.  And I feel confident that all of you will do your utmost to make it come true.

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