Press Releases

         11 February 2005

    Today’s Threats – Terrorism, Poverty – Require Reformed UN, Collective Action, Says Secretary-General in London Address

    NEW YORK, 10 February (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s speech at the Banqueting House, Whitehall, in London, United Kingdom, 10 February:

    Thank you, Prime Minister, for that remarkable introduction. You have very lucidly provided the context for what I am about to say this morning.

    It’s a great honour to be invited to speak in this historic setting. The fact that you want to hear from the Secretary-General of the United Nations at this time, and that Prime Minister Tony Blair himself suggested this public exchange of ideas, suggests to me that both you and he are conscious of the remarkable moment in world history that we have reached.

    Indeed, today we face threats to world order and world peace of a kind and a scale that we have not seen since the height of the Cold War. But if we can agree on ways to respond effectively to those threats, we also have a unique opportunity to build a world that will be safer, fairer and freer, for all its inhabitants. I think you glimpsed that opportunity during the G7 finance ministers’ meeting here in London last week, with its welcome emphasis on measures to attack world poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

    What kind of threats do I have in mind?

    The most obvious are terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Many experts tell us the question is not whether, but how soon, the two will be combined -- and we see, for example, a “dirty bomb” detonated in central London, or some other major capital.

    The loss of life would be shocking, but as nothing to the social and economic effects. Disruption would be felt not only here but around the world. Millions in Asia, Africa and Latin America would lose their livelihoods, because of the impact on the world economy.

    People in those parts of the world already face many other, more immediate threats -- hunger, disease, environmental degradation, corrupt and oppressive government, civil and ethnic conflict -- threats to which the poor are always more vulnerable than the rich.

    Africa, my own continent, has the worst problems of all.

    The hopes of many African countries have been blighted by HIV/AIDS, which is devastating the most productive age-groups and the best educated social groups, slashing life expectancy, threatening to reverse decades of economic development.

    In some parts of Africa a combination of disease, starvation and deadly conflict is causing a disaster of tsunami proportions every few months.

    And in one part of Africa, Darfur, people continue to be driven from their homes by a brutal campaign of rape, pillage and murder. As the International Commission of Inquiry reported last week, these are war crimes, and may amount to crimes against humanity.

    In this age of global interdependence, you in London can no more afford to ignore such suffering than people in other parts of the world could ignore it if Whitehall and the City had to be evacuated because of a terrorist attack.

    We saw, in New York four years ago, how a poor and misgoverned country -- Afghanistan -- could become an incubator of terrorism, with devastating consequences on the other side of the world.

    And two years ago we saw how one infected traveller could unwittingly import a deadly virus from China to Toronto, in much less time than it takes the disease to incubate. Thanks in part to prompt action by the World Health Organization, the world had a narrow escape then.

    Next time we may not be so lucky. As long as we don’t have the means to coordinate security and health-care policies and budgets, in poor countries as well as rich, we shall all be more vulnerable to disease, whether it is spreading naturally or deliberately introduced by terrorists.

    That is one of the examples given in the report, “A More Secure World -- Our Shared Responsibility”, produced by the High-level Panel that I set up to study global threats and recommend changes in the international system. I’m delighted that you are holding a debate on that report here today -- and delighted to see two or three members of the Panel in the audience, Mr. Gareth Evans, Robert Badinter, Lord David Hannay.

    The overall message of the report is that the time is gone when each country, or even each continent, could look after its own security.

    The threats we face are threats to all of us. And they are linked to each other.

    We will not defeat terrorism unless we also tackle the causes of conflict and misgovernment in developing countries.

    And we will not defeat poverty so long as trade and investment in any major part of the world are inhibited by fear of violence or instability.

    That is why the “more secure world” report is so neatly complemented by the other major report that I commissioned -- the report of the Millennium Project headed by Jeffrey Sachs. That report, called “Investing in Development”, shows that we really can achieve the Millennium Development Goals -- halving extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, slashing maternal and infant mortality, turning the tide against HIV-AIDS and malaria, and the rest -- by the appointed deadline of 2015. And it shows how.

    Taken together, these two reports contain an agenda of decisions which, if governments take them promptly, and act on them, really do give us the chance of a better, fairer and safer world in this century.

    For instance, the “more secure world” report calls for a comprehensive global strategy to fight terrorism; a stronger non-proliferation regime; a new Peacebuilding Commission, to stop countries from sliding back into war and chaos after peace agreements have been reached; a clear acceptance by the Security Council of our collective international responsibility to protect people against genocide and other comparable crimes, when sovereign States prove powerless or unwilling to do so; and clear criteria of legitimacy for the Council to use when deciding whether to authorise or endorse the use of military force.

    And the report on investing in development calls for a clear bargain between poor countries and rich ones. Those developing countries that are well governed, and are making the fight against poverty their top priority, need help -- and are indeed entitled to expect it -- in building up their capacity to produce and to export, which, of course, depends on having the right physical and social infrastructure in place. To make the needed investments, they must be freed from the crippling burden of debt, and they need new resources on top of that. And their exports must have full and fair access to rich-country markets, and not have to compete on world markets with subsidized rich-country products.

    Many donor countries, including the United Kingdom, have now pledged to increase their official development aid, over time, to the long-agreed target of 0.7 per cent of gross national product. That is very welcome, but if we are going to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 we need the increase in spending right away. That is why ideas like the International Finance Facility are so important.

    The report also identifies some “quick wins”, where a relatively small expenditure could produce spectacular improvements in a very short time. I am delighted that you, Prime Minister, have already endorsed and adopted one of these -- the free mass distribution of malaria bed-nets and effective anti-malaria medicines in regions of malaria transmission by the end of 2007. This could save the lives of up to a million African children each year.

    But the central point is that aid can make a difference, when it is directed to countries that are well governed and capable of absorbing it. The report says that many countries already qualify in these respects, and suggests that, in 2005, donors should take action by identifying at least a dozen of them as “fast-track” countries, which should receive a rapid scale-up of official development aid. I strongly support that recommendation.

    And I firmly believe that this September’s summit at the United Nations offers us a unique opportunity to bring all these issues together. Next month I shall issue my own report, drawing together the threads and suggesting an agenda of major decisions to be taken. That will include, of course, suggestions for the improvement of the United Nations itself.

    You see, the world does need a forum for collective decision-making and it needs an instrument of collective action. Our founders intended the United Nations to be both those things. Our task is to adapt and update it so that it can perform those functions in the twenty-first century.

    Perhaps not everyone realizes how much the United Nations is already moving with the times. Twenty years ago the world could still be categorized, rather crudely, into democracies and autocracies. It would have been practically unthinkable for the UN to take sides between the two, or seek to intervene in the internal affairs of its Member States.

    Today, by contrast, almost all Member States accept democratization as something desirable, at least in theory. Rather than being divided into two camps, they are strung out along a continuum. Some, like Britain, are fully fledged democracies of long standing. One or two others are still unashamedly autocratic -- or worse. Many have made the transition to democracy since the end of the cold war, and many more are still on the road -- definitely more open and tolerant than they used to be, but still subject to hesitation and backsliding.

    Democratization, in other words, is a process. Credible elections are an important staging post, but not the finishing line.

    And in that great process, the United Nations is playing an important role. Our Development Programme no longer confines itself to narrowly economic issues. It focuses increasingly on questions of governance, which we all now realize are decisive for development, as I was saying earlier.

    United Nations human rights staff are now posted in some 39 countries, and dozens more have benefited from technical and advisory missions or from visits by special rapporteurs and other human rights experts.

    And one of the main divisions of our Department of Political Affairs, these days, is devoted to Electoral Assistance. And we have here in the room Sir Kieran Prendergast -- Head of the Department of Political Affairs. In the past 13 years it has either organized elections, or helped and advised local organizers, in 95 countries. Most recently, we are very proud of the role we have played in helping the people of Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq take significant steps on the long, hard road to democracy.

    Indeed, the latest developments in all three countries are encouraging.

    In Afghanistan the elected President’s authority is increasingly respected, and the country is now preparing for parliamentary elections later in the year.

    In Palestine and Israel, there is a real sense of opportunity: that forward momentum can be generated and maintained. Elected leaders on both sides have just announced a cessation of violence, after four years of death and suffering. There is a chance for the peace process to resume at last. We owe it to both Palestinians and Israelis to do everything we can to help ensure that this precious opportunity is not lost. The conference which you, Prime Minister, have convened on 1st March here in London could not be better timed. I look forward eagerly to attending it, as well as the accompanying Quartet meeting, which I hope will be an occasion to relaunch the Road Map.

    And in Iraq, the success of last week’s elections provides us with an exciting moment of opportunity, in which the world can and must come together -- whatever its past disagreements -- to assist the Iraqi people, under new, elected leaders, in their effort to cast off the bitter legacy of war and dictatorship and move towards a stable and democratic society, at peace with itself and with its neighbours.

    It matters greatly that Iraq’s transition should be a success. I am determined that the United Nations must play its full part to help the Iraqi people achieve that.

    No one can fail to have been moved by the Iraqis’ display of courage at the polls. The United Nations is very proud of the assistance it was able to give them, both in developing the political base for elections, and in the technical preparations. I believe we can also help in the next stage -– the very delicate one of building a constitution. And there too, our help must be both political and technical.

    Politically, my Special Representative Ashraf Qazi is already engaged in efforts to reach out to those groups -- mainly Sunni Arabs –- who stayed away from the elections, for whatever reason, but are willing to pursue their goals through peaceful negotiation and dialogue. Success in this is crucial, since inclusiveness is the key to a successful transition.

    Technically, we can give valuable advice, if asked, on the drafting of the constitution. And we can help the Independent Electoral Commission organize the referendum on the draft constitution, and the subsequent parliamentary elections, as we worked with them in preparing last week’s election, and are still working with them to tabulate and verify the results.

    We are already helping with reconstruction, development and humanitarian assistance -- rehabilitating Iraq power stations, for instance, and providing vulnerable Iraqis with potable water. These activities are funded by the International Reconstruction Fund Facility, which we set up with the World Bank to help donors channel their resources to the Iraqi reconstruction effort. So far, 24 donors have committed about one billion dollars. We must see that these commitments are honoured, and the money properly spent. As circumstances and funding allow, we look forward to helping Iraqis improve their daily lives in many tangible ways.

    Iraq is in a complicated region of the world, and has had a tortured recent history in every sense. It also has a very diverse society. But I firmly believe that, with the help of the international community, such a society can use democratic institutions to build itself a stable and prosperous future.  That is the hope and the vision behind which the international community must come together, from now on, supporting the Iraqi people in their great experiment. We have a mandate from the Security Council to take the lead in bringing that support together, and we intend to do it.

    I said two years ago that this might be the most decisive moment for the international system since the United Nations was founded in 1945. I still believe that. We are living through a time of danger, but also of great opportunity. The question is, will governments muster the will to seize that opportunity, and decide on a package of reforms offering protection against threats of both kinds -– from terrorism and WMD to poverty, hunger and disease. By tackling them all at once we can make sure that no one -– North or South, rich or poor –- will feel left out, and that everyone will feel an interest in implementing the whole package.

    The time is ripe to bring economic and military security back into a common framework, as our founders did at San Francisco 60 years ago. They expressed their determination not only to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” but also “to promote social progress and better standards of living in larger freedom”. Until now, that aspiration has been at best only partly realized. Let’s resolve, this time, to do better.

    * *** *