05 July 2008
Dear young friends,
I am delighted to be here for this Model United Nations. Thank you for giving me such a warm welcome. Looking out on this sea of young faces, I feel transported many years back in time – nearly half a century, in fact!
When I was a freshman in college in 1962, the world was very different. Instead of communicating by text message, we used to pass notes. Television had only a few channels – all in black and white. Telephones all plugged into the wall, and we hardly ever got to use them. Music came from round discs of black vinyl. There were no computers, and we couldn't even dream of a world with the Internet.
But we did have aspirations and idealism. My generation had lived through war, but we cherished great hopes for peace.
We believed that anything was possible with enough hard work and study. I experienced that for myself when I was just sixteen and I decided to enter a Red Cross essay contest. I had to write in English, which was very difficult, but I won, and they sponsored me to travel to America. One minute I was someone who had only seen the President of the United States on television; the next minute I was shaking his hand in the White House. If I had to pinpoint what set me on the course of my diplomatic career, it would be that moment. More important, it confirmed for me that persistent efforts can make dreams come true.
There's another good example of this. You all know Han Seung-Soo as the Prime Minister of our country, but he wasn't born into a powerful family and his success did not come easily.
I had the privilege of working for Dr. Han when he was President of the United Nations General Assembly. And that's when I learned about his struggle to reach that position based on a strong desire to serve the international community.
When he was a young boy, he lived in Chuncheon. This was before Korea was even a member of the United Nations, but he was very aware of the Organization. In fact, he dreamed of someday becoming President of the General Assembly. It was extremely difficult for him to go to school every day because he had to travel for miles and even cross two different rivers each way. But he persisted in his studies with the dream that he might someday become President of the United Nations General Assembly.
Looking at this logically, we can conclude that it was almost completely impossible for one anonymous boy to become General Assembly President, especially coming from a country that was not even a UN Member State. But after years of study and hard work, he was elected as General Assembly President.
I share these examples with you because I believe that Koreans of my generation grew up understanding about how much the United Nations had done for our country. As we were growing up in a war-torn and destitute Korea, the United Nations stood by our people in our darkest hour. The UN gave us hope and sustenance, security and dignity. For the Korean people of that era, the UN flag was a beacon of better days to come. And in the course of my own lifetime, with the assistance of the UN, the Republic of Korea was able to rebuild itself from a country ravaged by war, with a non-existent economy, into a regional economic power and major contributor to the United Nations.
The experience made people like Dr. Han and me want to pay back someof our debt of gratitude through public service. And I'm sure the same instinct makes all of you take part in this Model UN today.
You are growing up in a stable and prosperous country. It would be easy to just be comfortable with your circumstances. But your presence here shows that you are able and willing to look beyond individual and national boundaries. I am heartened by your interest, because I strongly believe that even though the path I have chosen is not easy, it is the most rewarding in the long run.
You may not get rich or famous doing this. But you will feel privileged to be doing work that is helping to make the world a better place. When a peace agreement is negotiated, when refugees return home, when a country holds free and fair elections for the first time, when farmers are able to grow their crops and children get the vaccinations and schooling they deserve, we all benefit.
Even if you don't join the civil service as such, there are so many ways to contribute. The United Nations needs all partners -- business leaders and non-governmental activists, academics and artists, lawyers and scientists.
Right now, for example, I am pressing Governments to take action on climate change. At the same time, I'm looking more broadly, encouraging corporate executives to help us usher in a new era of “green economics”. We need business to develop and provide solutions for clean technology, renewable energy, efficient products, and sustainable goods. And the good news is that what is good for the environment also turns out to be good for the bottom line.
Dear young friends,
You are the future leaders of our country and our world. Whatever path you chose, I hope you will continue your interest in the United Nations and work to see how you can support its lofty goals.
This conference is a great training ground. You will have to represent countries in talks with States that have policies you may not agree with. It will train you to be open-minded and flexible. To analyze all of the positions, even those that you oppose. To propose constructive solutions that will benefit all parties.
Developing these diplomatic skills will help you as you prepare for leadership in the future. Such skills have never been more important, as we grapple with challenges ranging from AIDS to climate change, from food security to poverty to terrorism, the major threats we face have two things in common: all of them are international, and they cannot be solved by any one country – no matter how powerful. And all of them are connected.
We will never eradicate poverty unless we deal with health problems, like malaria. We will never stop violence against women unless we raise their status in society. We cannot hope to halt human trafficking unless we take action in sending and receiving countries. And if we do not eradicate poverty, the hopeless and frustration that fuel conflict will only fester.
I could cite many more examples, but I'm sure you get my point. Countries and people must come together to find common solutions to our shared problems. And the United Nations is the best place to make this happen.
There is a growing global awareness of this fact. When I travel, whether I am in a king's palace or a refugee camp, I find people turning to the United Nations for help.
That's why the United Nations now has more peacekeepers deployed around the world than ever before in our history, with more than 110,000 personnel in hotspots around the world.
That's why the United Nations set the Millennium Development Goals, a set of eight targets to address major social and economic ills like poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy and environmental degradation. We are racing to reach these objectives before the deadline of 2015.
And the clock is ticking on our plans to negotiate a climate change agreement. The UN is working to facilitate a successful negotiation among parties, help achieve progress on existing mandates, and spearhead a revolution in global consciousness and behaviour.
At the same time, we are addressing security threats, promoting human rights and carrying out other activities across a range of human concerns, from weapons of mass destruction to mosquito-born malaria.
These issues are daunting. But the United Nations has proven, time and again, that it can rise to new challenges. I am personally determined to create the kind of United Nations that the world can always count on.
Your support is crucial. Your energy and intelligence are what is needed most in today's world. You can be catalysts for change by creating social networks in support of our work. You can come up with innovate approaches to the help confront the challenges facing the global community.
To all of my friends I say, you are the future. I offer my deepest thanks to every one of you for your commitment, and I wish you all success in the years and decades ahead.