Ban Ki-moon's speeches

Address to the World Affairs Council of San Francisco

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, San Francisco (USA), 26 July 2007

This is by far the largest gathering which I have ever addressed in my seven months as Secretary-General. I'm very grateful for your presence here, in the birthplace of the United Nations, and for your support for our shared goals.

Ladies and gentlemen, my dear friends, to all a good evening. Thank you for coming. May I thank the World Affairs Council – especially Chairman George James and President Jane Wales – for hosting us in this splendid setting. I would also like to thank William Luers, president of the United Nations Association of the USA, and his team for helping to sponsor and organize my trip.

You know, this is a very special homecoming for me. We have Mrs. [Libba] Patterson and her son, my brother, Michael. This is exactly 45 years ago when I was an 18-year old high school boy and first set foot on American soil, the first time for me to leave my country, which at the time was ravaged by war.

After that, if I may quote Tony Bennett, I really did leave my heart in San Francisco. I'm still very moved by what Mrs. Patterson, her husband and their children did for me. They showered me with affection, love and kindness when I was just a very young Korean student who had never been in a foreign country. I was “adopted” by Mrs. Patterson. As I'm standing here as the Secretary-General of the United Nations you may imagine what I'm feeling at this time.

[Protestors raised a banner and yelled “Gay Rights are Human Rights”]

This is quite an unusual welcome for me. I recognize that gay rights is a very sensitive issue.

Now, I want to tell you a very interesting story: the Charter of the United Nations – the document itself – was considered so precious and important that, when it was flown back to Washington, it was strapped to its own parachute to make sure it would land whatever might happen. The interesting thing is that the poor man carrying this document did not have a parachute of his own, so he had to take his chances.

As for the UN itself, the infant organization was considered so important that Franklin Roosevelt considered stepping down as president in order to become its first Secretary-General. That is sincere testament to the UN's future.

I might add that, as you all know, his wife Eleanor Roosevelt went on to champion the United Nations – playing a central role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The founders created the UN to save humankind – to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” as the Charter nobly puts it. Today, six decades later, the big issues confronting us go far beyond the threat of war among nations. Threats of international terrorism and infectious diseases imperil hundreds of millions of people around the world. Climate change affects the Earth, and the divide has grown between those who go hungry across the world and those who have the good fortune to live well. Almost 60 per cent of the world's population live on less than $2 a day.

No organization is better suited to dealing with these issues. Global problems demand global solutions. However powerful, however resourceful a country may be it cannot address these issues alone. The United Nations will lead global efforts to address global challenges.

And the United Nations is, truly, the world's only global institution.

Unfortunately over the last six decades, even though the UN has been promoting human rights, peace and development, it has not enjoyed proper appreciation.

Polls show that two-thirds of Americans think the UN is doing a poor job. Yet these same polls show that even larger majorities (74 percent, to be exact) believe the United Nations should play a larger role in the world – whether intervening to prevent genocide or aggressively investigating human rights abuses. An equally healthy percentage of Americans believe that the nation's foreign policy should be conducted in partnership with the UN.

My friends,

This is truly heartening. I am disappointed, of course, by negative perceptions of the UN. But the gap between people's hopes for us, for the United Nations, and their dissatisfaction at how well we have delivered, to my mind represents an opportunity now. Better managed, and with Member States pulling together their resources and their wisdom, there's no reason at all why the UN cannot amply fulfill our hopes for it.

Shortly after in our conversation, about to begin, I will happily speak about my efforts to re-energize the UN, to update the UN culture and more fully deliver on our shared dream. I am very ambitious for our United Nations. Since day one I have set up my reform goals as my top priority, which includes putting this house in order to make the Organization more efficient, more effective and more relevant in the twenty-first century.

The UN is playing an increasingly important role – a decisive role – in coping with other world problems. On North Korea, we have a better framework for action since the country shut the reactor at Yongbyon. We are also working to tackle hunger and poverty in Africa, and on many other fronts.

As I see it, the world is changing in the UN's favor. For many reasons other than Iraq, there is today a new appreciation for multilateralism and diplomacy in coping with crises. Issues like climate change – the UN's natural turf – have risen to the top of the global agenda.

That is why I am so optimistic, every bit as much as the moment I stepped into this office. Those who founded the UN did not imagine that it would be swept up in four decades of cold war?so different from its original spirit and purpose. But today, I've come to feel, the UN has at long last become free to be what its founders envisioned all along. I wouldn't quite call it a new San Francisco moment. But it comes pretty close.

Thank you very much.