17 March 2004


Press Release



Following are Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s opening remarks in conversation with Richard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, for the David A. Morse Lecture:  “The UN and global security in the 21st century”, in New York, on 16 March:

Thank you very much, Richard, and let me start by saying what an honour it is to be asked to give this lecture in memory of David Morse and in the presence of his wife Mildred.  Mr. Morse is remembered with great affection and respect in the UN system, as an inspired and inspiring leader of the International Labour Organization.

I do hope none of you will feel short-changed because you are getting a conversation instead of a formal lecture.  Personally, I almost always find it more interesting to hear two people exchanging ideas rather than one person droning on for half an hour, and I think this way you can all rely on Richard to keep me focused on the issues that you want to hear about.

Let me just begin by repeating something I said in the General Assembly last September:  I think we may have reached a fork in the road -– not just in the history of the United Nations, but in the history of the world since 1945.

No one is pretending that everything went smoothly until the last year or two, but there were certain broadly shared understandings, based on the United Nations Charter.  States were supposed to use force only in self-defence, or by a collective decision that it was necessary to use force in order to keep the peace.

When force was used in circumstances other than those, it was generally condemned, or at least the people doing it felt they had to explain and justify it as something exceptional, which they would not normally do.

Now we have a different situation, where one group of States, led by the United States, is saying that some threats –- particularly terrorism and weapons of mass destruction –- are so dangerous that they dare not wait until they are attacked, or until there is agreement in the Security Council, before taking action.  Another group, meanwhile, is saying that it is even more dangerous to have States using force at their own discretion -– and also that, for most people in the world, these threats are not the most dangerous anyway.  Most people are much more directly threatened by such things as extreme poverty, hunger, disease, environmental degradation, or by low-tech violence when order breaks down in their country, or civil war breaks out.  We saw what happened in Somalia, we saw what happened in Rwanda, and we know what we are confronted with to some extent in Haiti.

That is why, last November, I appointed a High-Level Panel of very experienced people to try and help us forge a new consensus –- first, on what are the main threats that humanity faces in this new century; and secondly, on how our policies and institutions can be adapted and improved to deal with those threats.

I hope this Panel will help forge a new global consensus on what the threats are, so that we can get away from the idea that some, such as terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, are of concern only to the “North”, while poverty and hunger only affect people in the “South”.  I think we need a clear global understanding of the threats and challenges that we all have to face, because to neglect any one of them might fatally undermine our efforts to confront the others.

But I also hope the Panel will go further, and recommend specific changes in our policies and institutions, including the UN itself, to enable us to forge a really convincing collective response to these challenges.

One of the members of the Panel is Brent Scowcroft, who is well known to many of you here.  The others are similarly experienced and knowledgeable and distinguished people, drawn from all parts of the world.  They will report to me before the end of this year, so that I can then make recommendations to the Member States of the United Nations. 

It is those Member States, through their governments, who will ultimately make the decisions.  But people like those in this audience, and institutions like the Council on Foreign Relations, have a vital contribution to make.  You can feed your ideas and suggestions into the work of the Panel, and then, when the recommendations are made public, you can help generate interest in them -– and, I hope, support for them –- to make sure that decision-makers, both in this country and elsewhere, take them seriously and make a real effort to reach agreement on the changes needed.

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For information media. Not an official record.