Address at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Q&A
Washington, DC, 16 January 2007Thank you, Dr. Brzezinski, for those kind words. I feel it is I who should be praising you. You are rightly known around the world for your keen geopolitical instincts, and your uncanny ability to accurately predict world-changing events. I hope you and I can discuss this later, one to one, as a crystal ball could come in very handy in my job.
Let me also extend warm thanks to Dr. Hamre, and the rest of the CSIS family, for welcoming me today. I am honoured to be joined by such a distinguished group of experts, legislators, diplomats, opinion-makers and, not least, representatives of civil society -- key partners of the United Nations in shaping both policy and practice.
I come to you with many impressions after a full day in Washington -- my first visit here as Secretary-General of the United Nations. I have had very fruitful meetings with the President, Congressional leaders, and the media. I am deeply grateful for the warmth, openness and constructive approach with which I have been greeted everywhere.
But while these talks have focused firmly on the future, my mind has also walked down memory lane. Throughout the day, from the White House to Capitol Hill, I have been reminded of the inspiration I first experienced when I visited this capital 45 years ago.
In 1962, as an 18 year-old boy from rural Korea, I came to Washington for the first time. I was one of a group of lucky teenagers invited to the White House to meet President Kennedy.
That was a magical experience for a young person like me. It gave me something even more significant than the thrill of the moment. It offered me a personal connection to this country, and to the ideas and principles it stands for. And that, in turn, helped to inspire a life of public service.
There was also another personal connection that inspired me equally in my boyhood. As I was growing up in a war-torn and destitute Korea, the United Nations stood by my 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.
Both those experiences helped me make the journey to this podium today. For that, I am deeply thankful.
People look back on those early years of the United Nations -- the UN I came to know as a young boy -- as the Organization's golden era. They think of the idealism and unity that inspired the San Francisco Conference, and the signing of the Charter. They think of the creation of landmark documents, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They think of the brave pioneers who joined and shaped the Organization in its fledgling years.
And yes, those were indeed golden days. Since then, the Organization -- and the world as a whole -- may have come to appear more tarnished. The challenges confronting the international community have grown infinitely more complicated. The demands placed on the UN have become ever more complex.
But if you are an optimist, as I am, you will also know that this world of complex and global challenges is exactly the environment in which our United Nations should thrive -- because these are challenges that no country can resolve on its own. Today, I would like to share with you my agenda for the year ahead, what we must do to succeed, and my thoughts on the UN's special relationship with the United States.
Let me start by stating openly that the year ahead will be a deeply taxing one. I have already had to hit the ground running. On peace and security, I see a number of immediate priorities.
First, we must step up action to confront the tragedy of Darfur. The human toll of the ongoing crisis is unacceptable. After more than three years of conflict, Darfur is story of broken hope. In the coming days weeks and months, I will coordinate closely with leaders in Africa and beyond. I will work through my Special Envoy, Jan Eliasson, to secure the constructive engagement of Sudan, African Governments, and the international community as a whole. We must work to end the violence and scorched-earth policies adopted by various parties, including militias, as well as the bombings which are still a terrifying feature of life in Darfur. Life-saving humanitarian work must be allowed to resume, and civil society in Darfur must have a voice in the peace process. And we must persuade non-signatories to join, while building consensus for a UN-AU force on the ground. Next week, I will set off on my first overseas trip, which will take me to the African Union summit in Addis Ababa. Darfur will be at the top of the agenda.
Second, we need to make serious efforts for progress in the Middle East. That entails work on several broad fronts. Iraq is the whole world's problem. I pledge my best efforts to help the Iraqi people in their quest for a more stable and prosperous Iraq. The UN role can assist in building an inclusive political process, helping to cultivate a regional environment supportive of a transition to stability, and pursuing reconstruction through the International Compact.
On Israel and Palestine, I will work with my partners to make the Quartet a more effective mechanism for resolving differences in the region -- differences that carry such a unique symbolic and emotional charge for people far beyond the physical boundaries of the conflict. On that score, I welcome Secretary Rice's commitment to deepening the US engagement in the Israel-Palestine peace efforts.
And I will work to support Lebanon in everything from its physical reconstruction to its quest -- as yet incomplete -- for a peaceful, democratic and fully independent future. The only hope for stability lies in the path of reconciliation between the various communities inside the country. Today, almost 15,000 UN peacekeepers serve as an extraordinary important buffer in southern Lebanon. But they cannot stay there indefinitely. I look forward to attending the Lebanon donor conference in Paris next week to discuss how we can move forward.
Third, we need to invigorate disarmament and non-proliferation efforts. On North Korea, I will try my best to facilitate the smooth process of the Six-Party process, and encourage in any way I can the work for a de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. On the specific challenges of North Korea and Iran, the Security Council has acted by adopting important resolutions. I am encouraged by the commitment of all Member States to those resolutions -- and I look to them to show equal commitment to bolstering the overall non-proliferation and disarmament regime at the global level.
Fourth, we must not turn away from Kosovo. We must keep working for a conclusive resolution to the uncertainty that still hangs over Kosovo's status. If unresolved, this issue threatens to cast a shadow over regional stability in southeastern Europe.
Ladies and gentlemen, the challenges I have just outlined are daunting. But they must not be allowed to overwhelm the equally important challenges we face in other areas. Reaching our goals for development around the world is not only vital to building better, healthier, more decent lives for millions of people; it is also essential to building enduring peace and security worldwide. Poverty, illiteracy and despair breed a hopelessness that allows for neither mercy nor dignity. That hopelessness, in turn, is preyed on by zealots and extremists to advance their agendas and ambitions.
This year will have to see real progress on the Millennium Development Goals, agreed by all the world's Governments as a roadmap to a better world by 2015. If we are to make that target date, we have to see concerted action in 2007. In the Eastern Zodiac, this is the Year of the Golden Pig. It promises prosperity for all. Let us dedicate ourselves to fulfilling that promise for people everywhere.
At the same time, we will need to do far better in fighting climate change. All nations are vulnerable to its impact. This is an all-encompassing threat -- to health, to food and water supplies, to the coastal cities in which nearly half the world's population live. Acting on climate change will be one of my top priorities.
And we will need to strengthen the capacity of countries everywhere to confront the huge challenges in health. Those challenges -- from HIV/AIDS to avian flu -- are global, and respect no boundaries. They take their worst social and economic toll on countries that can least afford it -- some of them struggling with the impact of armed conflict at the same time. These health challenges also pose threats to peace and stability, in the devastation they wreak on capacity and governance.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Security and development are two pillars of the UN's work. We must make human rights our third pillar -- not only on the drawing board, but in reality, on the ground. This will require dedicated attention to the Human Rights Council, to ensure that it delivers on its promise, and shines a spotlight on the darkest places in the world. The stakes are high -- too high for the United States to sit on the sidelines. I sincerely hope the US will become a member of the Human Rights Council this year.
And we must take the first steps to move the Responsibility to Protect from word to deed. This concept was rightly hailed as a historic breakthrough in 2005, when all Member States expressed their will to act collectively, through the Security Council, in cases where a population is threatened with genocide, ethnic cleansing, or crimes against humanity, and national authorities fail to take appropriate action. The time has come to build consensus among Member States about how we can operationalize that will. I pledge my best efforts to this end.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Clearly, the UN is being asked to do more than ever before, and still more demands are sure to come. Two vital pieces need to be in place for us to succeed in the long term: we need to strengthen our capacity, and we need to change our working culture.
Peacekeeping is bearing the brunt of the escalating demands. The UN is engaged, in some form, in around 30 peace operations in the most difficult places in the world. We now have a historic high of almost 100,000 personnel in the field. I pay tribute to the valiant contribution these brave men and women make, under difficult and often dangerous conditions. And we are now faced with the possibility of a bigger UN role in other places. With all that in mind, I am consulting with Member States about ways to strengthen our capacity and meet the growing needs.
At the same time, I am convinced that it is not enough to strengthen capacity alone. There is also a need to change the working culture of the Organization itself. We must build a staff that is truly mobile, multi-functional and accountable, with more emphasis on career development and training. And we must hold all UN employees to the highest standards of integrity and ethical behaviour. On this, I have sought to set an early example, by submitting my financial disclosure statement to the UN Ethics Office, for standard external review by Pricewaterhouse Coopers. After the review is complete, I will make the statement public. But all the financial disclosures in the world will mean very little if we do not bolster our ethical standards -- and our implementation of them -- both at headquarters and in the field.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Clearly, we have our work cut out for us. But we are ready to get to work. In East Asia, where I come from, 60 years marks one full cycle. So as the UN has completed its first 60 years, we now enter a new cycle in the life of our Organization. We can build a new golden era for the United Nations, if we work collectively to make it so -- and if the United States is with us, wholeheartedly and consistently. We can do it only in partnership with your country -- key to our creation, crucial throughout our history, indispensable to our future.
But let me be clear: a constructive partnership between the US and the UN cannot, and should not, advance at the expense of others. Every one of our Member States has the right to be heard, whatever the size of its population or its pocketbook. And “We the Peoples”, in whose name the United Nations was founded, have the right to expect a UN which serves the needs of people everywhere. That is, after all, the only kind of UN they will respect.
Nor can our partnership flourish in a climate of fear and mistrust. With the US actively and constructively engaged, the potential of the UN is unlimited. And with the UN's potential fulfilled, the US can better advance its aspirations for a peaceful, healthy, prosperous world.
If I am to succeed as Secretary-General, I will need our partnership to be strong, deep, and broad -- politically, morally, operationally and, not least, financially. With demands exploding on virtually every front, from peacekeeping to humanitarian assistance to health, a sound financial base is not only a matter of survival for the Organization; it is a matter of life and death for millions of people around the world. Such a financial base requires the timely and full engagement of the United States Government -- Administration and Congress alike.
As with any large Organization, transforming the United Nations will require patience. It will require perseverance. It will require courage. We must not be discouraged by temporary setbacks -- and we must keep reminding ourselves that they are temporary.
Today, allow me to end where I started, as a young Korean boy who had the unforgettable privilege of visiting John F. Kennedy in the White House. A year later, on 20 September 1963, President Kennedy gave his last speech to the UN General Assembly, two months before his death in Dallas that November. He told Member States of the United Nations (and I quote):
“The value of this body's work is not dependent on the existence of emergencies -- nor can the winning of peace consist only of dramatic victories. Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures. And however undramatic the pursuit of peace, that pursuit must go on.” (end quote)
Times have changed; JFK's wisdom has not. I shall be inspired by those words in the years ahead, as I seek to gradually change opinions, slowly erode old barriers, and quietly build new structures. However undramatic, our pursuit of peace, development and human rights must go on. The United Nations' biggest challenges, and its best years, are still to come.
Thank you very much.
Q&A following speech
Q: Thank you for coming today and we are very honored to have you here. Secretary-General everyone who is here tonight wants a strong and effective UN. But in all honesty not everybody in Washington wants a strong and effective UN. My question, how do we, you as the Secretary-General, and we as supporters of a strong UN. How do we help restore a strong moral authority for the UN here in Washington?
A: Unfortunately the United Nations has been criticized, but if you look back during the last 60 years it is the United Nations which has been playing an instrumental role in preserving peace and security, prosperity and protecting human rights all around the world. I also understand that the United Nations during the last 60 years has not changed much. Therefore my reform agenda, in a nutshell, is to change the culture of the United Nations. Thus being able to regain trust from the major stake holders and member states of the United Nations. Now in that process what I would like to stress emphatically is that we need the strong support and active participation of the United States and particularly also citizens of the United States. The United Nations needs to be held up and appropriately appreciated for what we have been doing and what we will be doing. With strong support and appreciation of what we are going to do, I'll take care of all the reforms on my part as Secretary-General. I am fully committed to carry on vigorously. I have already taken the necessary measures. I have been in this job only 15 days. I have taken considerable amount of measures to send out strong enough messages to the world and staff of the United Nations. I need your support in my consistent effort to regain trust and confidence from them.
Q: I would like you to give me some guidance what is the role of the UN General-Secretary [sic] when it comes to the death penalty. There has been a discussion whether it is part of your role to criticize the death penalty or the circumstances of the death penalty in Iraq. Given the fact that a lot of your member countries have the death penalty while others have not, as in Europe where I am from where everybody is against it. What are the guidelines when you speak up and when you stay silent.
A: Among the eight Secretaries-General of the United Nations, I should be the only person who has not have even a single day of honeymoon with the press that started because of my remarks of death sentence, execution of Saddam Hussein. My position is clear. I believe that life is precious and that every human being has the right to live in dignity and their life should be respected and protected. At the same time I would like to remind you that there is a growing trend in international society, international law and domestic policies and practices to phase out eventually the death penalty and I recognize that trend and encourage that trend. As the member states of the United Nations continue to debate and discuss this very important and sensitive issue I also appeal to all the member states of the international community to comply with all the aspects of international humanitarian law.
Q: Mr. Secretary I would like to know, you briefly mentioned the need of some reform of the UN. How far are you willing to go? Does this include Security Council expansion?
A: As far as reform matters are concerned there is no limit. We will continue to proceed with these reforms. There are two areas of reforms, managerial reforms and institutional reforms. When it comes to institutional reforms, I think the United Nations last year has done major efforts in creating a Peacebuilding Commission and Human Rights Council. The most sensitive and most controversial and most difficult issue is reform of the Security Council. As you may remember the member states debated intensively on this issue during last year. But the member states were not able to find out a mutually acceptable formula. As Secretary-General recognizing and reflecting what has transpired during last year, during last, almost 10 years, since the establishment of working group on this matter. I will try my best effort as Secretary-General, with impartiality and objectivity, reflecting the wishes and ideals of the member state to facilitate the process so that the member states will be able to find the broadest possible consensus on this matter.
Q: I'm Sam Donaldson Mr. Secretary-General, from ABC News. Given that the charter acknowledges the right of a nation to self defense. To what extent do states have the right to not get attacked, to take preemptive action when they feel threatened? Specifically, if states feel that Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon threatens them to what extent do they have the right to prevent Iran, with military action, from acquiring one?
A: I have seen quite many times of you. This is the first time for me to engage in direct dialogue. It's my great pleasure to meet you in person like this. The United Nations Charter clearly says that all the issues should be resolved in peaceful manner, without resorting to military action. At the same time the charter also recognizes the right to self defense. As international community engages in much more complex and complicated critical and security issues. I am very much troubled by all these number of regional conflicts which we see at this time, even after the end of the Cold War. The United Nations member states should first of all, as a matter of priority and matter of principle, should engage to resolve all different opinions through peaceful means. Wherever and whenever there comes certain opportunities and circumstances that they should closely follow guidelines set out in the charter in close consultation with the Security Council. The Security Council has the primary responsibility for maintenance of peace and security. The concept which I referred briefly is responsibility to protect, is also a related matter. When a country fails to protect their own citizens from genocide, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, then there needs to be a certain measure for the international community to prevent this from happening. At this time as of now we have not been able to find out any operational framework except that the leaders of the world have agreed on recognizing this concept of responsibility to protect. As Secretary-General I'm going to concentrate on the ways and means, reflecting the member states positions, how we can operationalize this concept. This is very important.
Q: Preemptive action?
A: Preemptive action, again, that should be discussed with the Security Council.
Q: In your talks with President Bush and other US officials today, what specifically are you advising on Iran which is now building up into a crisis, by words and by deeds?
A: Of course I did discuss this matter with President Bush in my meeting. I in fact discussed many regional areas and I have also asked President Bush to provide strong support and I have asked him for United States' active participation and support for the United Nations. This Iranian nuclear development program has very serious and wider implications for not only the Middle East but also all around the world. The International community should prevent Iranian government from further acquiring these nuclear technologies. The Security Council has taken very important measure by adopting sanction measures through resolution. I urge the Iranian Authorities to fully comply with this Security Council resolution. At the same time I would urge the Iranian government to engage in diplomatic negotiations with countries, particularly European Union and members of the Security Council. That is what I have discussed. We were of the same position that this is one of the serious issues which threatens the peace and security of the world.
Q: [inaudible Quartet question] Do you foresee a special role for the United Nations in providing security in Palestine? And do you see an enhancement of humanitarian efforts you are already doing?
A: As one of the members participating in the quartet and as Secretary-General of the United Nations I would like to reenergize this Quartet process to discuss about this peaceful process in the Middle East. I have discussed this matter again with President Bush, and a few days ago I had discussions with Secretary Rice. We are now working on when to hold this Quartet meeting. The peace and security in the Middle East has again global implications. We need to engage all the players in the region with active participation of United States and other members of the quartet and myself as representing the United Nations will engage actively in the diplomatic process to resolve this issue.
Q: Ron Palmer, George Washington University. I'd like to look back at your ideas about changing the working culture and your set of challenges. You are going to be very busy. I wonder if it might be worthwhile to have someone look at the workings of the eminent persons group in ASEAN. As a source of ideas that don't come directly from the foreign ministries?
A: Of course I will continue to rely on wisdoms of many distinguished people around the world in carrying out, not only reform measures, but also carrying out all policy matters including regional issues. In fact, my predecessor, Secretary-General Kofi Annan had during his term initiated many important panels composed of many distinguished wise men, eminent persons from around the world. He had submitted his own report on reform measures, including High-Level Report of System Wide coherence and Investing in the United Nations. We are now in the process of implementing, carrying out important recommendations contained in those high-level eminent persons report and whatever and wherever it may be necessary. I am also willing to create such kind of advisory board or panel but at this time I am very much concentrating on implementing those recommendations whichever applicable and can be put into practice.
Q: Security Council expansion? And what African countries should join?
A: As I have already answered your questions I may not have much to add to my previous answer. I am fully aware of the aspirations and wishes of those four countries who really want to be represented as permanent members of the Security Council. At the same time there are also other member states who want to see the form of the Security Council to be more representative more democratic and more transparent rather than giving this permanent seat to a few member states. There are very different opinions, drastically different opinions so at this time I think we need to continue dialogue among the parties concerned.
Brzezinski: Mr. General-Secretary, perhaps on that note we are to end. I know that your time is very limited. So I again reiterate our deepest thanks and best wishes [applause].
Statements on 16 January 2007
- New York, 16 January 2007 - Secretary-General's video message on the Fifteenth Anniversary of the El Salvador's Peace Accords
- New York, 16 January 2007 - Secretary-General's MESSAGE TO THE SEVENTH SUMMIT ON THE SAFETY AND SECURITY OF UNITED NATIONS STAFF AND ASSOCIATED PERSONNEL - Delivered by Mr. Vijay Nambiar, Chef de Cabinet