11 November 2003


NEW YORK, 10 November (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of remarks by the Secretary-General at a round table on “Renewal of the United Nations and the Global Situation” on Friday, 7 November:

Nane and I remember the great hospitality extended to us last time we came to Chile -- and it has been the same this time.  I had planned to try to look around Santiago this morning.  But when it was proposed that I spend this time with my two friends, President Lagos and President Halonen, to discuss this topic, I could not turn it down.

This is a large and important topic, and I am glad we have the chance to discuss it here at ECLAC.  I am particularly glad to discuss it with two strong supporters of the United Nations and good friends of mine.

When I addressed world leaders in the General Assembly in September, I said that I believed we had reached a fork in the road -- a moment no less important than 1945 itself, when the United Nations was founded.  And I called for renewal of the United Nations by re-fashioning the architecture of the Organization.  Let me explain why I did this, and what my thinking is.

As we all know, the cold war severely constrained the United Nations.  The Organization had many important achievements.  But the political division of the world around two poles of opposing power prevented it from playing the role that its founders envisaged.  The Berlin Wall did not only run through Berlin -- it actually cut across the Charter itself.

That divided, bipolar world has been replaced by a world which some characterize as unipolar and others see as multipolar.  But the real issue is not whether the power distribution today is unipolar or multipolar.  The real issue is how we will exercise that power.

I believe it can, and must, be used collectively.  This is an age of interdependence, of common threats and common dangers -- terrorism and poverty, weapons of mass destruction and disease, intolerance and injustice.  These threaten us all.  We cannot afford to ignore any them.  But if we act collectively to meet them, we can turn them into common opportunities.

If we fail to do so, many will feel that multilateralism is code word for inaction, and the promise of the United Nations Charter will remain elusive.  The most powerful may act unilaterally, while the resentment of the less powerful may increase -- and we see evidence of this all over the world.  The world may be even more deeply divided than it was in the past.

In the process, the values we have in common will be compromised, and the dangers that we face will grow.  This, of course, is exactly the kind of division which some terrorist organizations seek to bring about.  We must not let them.

The experience of Latin America and the Caribbean is in many ways an illustration of the link between poverty, inequality, and exclusion on the one hand, and extremism, conflict and division on the other.  The experience of this region also shows how challenging, but important, reform is -– and how it must be managed in such a way that all stakeholders share the responsibility and the rewards.  The same is true globally.

What does all this mean for the United Nations?  In my view, it means that we must try to reshape our international architecture so as to maximize the possibilities for effective collective action to meet the common threats we face -- whether they are the “new” threats of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction; the “old” threats of conventional weapons, large and small; the “hard” threats of war and armed conflict; or the “soft” threats of poverty, disease and environmental degradation.  By speaking about “soft” threats, I am not diminishing their importance at all.  You hear a lot about hard threats but things like HIV/AIDS are killing millions, and poverty and deprivation are major threats to human security.

Our architecture needs to combine the imperative of action with the need for legitimacy, and to focus our attention on all, not just some, of the threats to humankind.

I know that refashioning the existing architecture of the United Nations is a difficult task.  Reform of the Security Council, for example, has been on the agenda for a long time.  But I sense now a widespread feeling that we cannot keep putting this issue off.  Now is the time to take a hard look at our international organizations and our intergovernmental institutions -- not just the Security Council, but the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, and even the Trusteeship Council.

We should include in this the role of the United Nations as a whole in economic and social affairs, including its relationship to the Bretton Woods institutions.

President Halonen referred earlier to the Chief Executive Board, where the heads of all international agencies meet twice a year.  We met last week and these issues, particularly given developments in Iraq and other things too, were at the forefront of the agenda.  I should add that President Halonen co-chaired the Millennium Summit and played an important leadership role in advancing its agenda.

I have, just this week, appointed a panel of eminent persons, chaired by former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun of Thailand, to examine current challenges to peace and security, to consider the contribution that collective action can make in addressing these challenges, and to review the functioning of the major organs of the United Nations -- and I hope they may even put forward suggestions for radical change.


The Panel will focus primarily on threats to peace and security.  But it will also need to examine other global challenges, in so far as these may influence or connect with those threats.  And I hope it will recommend ways of strengthening the United Nations, through reform of its institutions and processes.

I have asked the Panel to report in time for me to make recommendations to the next session of the General Assembly.  But the ultimate decisions -- decisions to modify the rules of the system, or the institutions that manage it -- can only be taken by the Member States.

Please do not misunderstand me.  My call for reform and my appointment of the panel are not meant to suggest that the United Nations has been standing still or doing nothing about reform in recent years.  On the contrary, we have made far-reaching managerial changes, and I think we have the Organization working a little better.

In fact, the United Nations is more efficient, more effective, and more deeply engaged on a wider variety of fronts than ever before.  Here, in Latin America and in the Caribbean, it is active in the political, economic, and social spheres.

But I believe the times call for a more fundamental review, and the spirit of change needs to infuse and galvanize our intergovernmental bodies.  It is for that reason that I have issued my call, and why I am very pleased to be able to discuss this issue with you all this morning.

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