22 October 2008


22 October 2008
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

‘bold’ action, global solidarity needed to secure common good for all in time

of ‘intense crises’, Secretary-General tells Harvard School of Government


Following is the text of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s address, “Securing the Common Good in a Time of Global Crises”, delivered at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, yesterday, 21 October:

It’s a great honour and pleasure for me to be back to the John F. Kennedy School.  This is a really great opportunity for me, in my new capacity as Secretary-General of the United Nations, to return to visit my old school.

I must start by expressing my great regret at having had to postpone my visit here this past May.  There was the very serious and devastating Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, so I had to rush to talk with the Myanmar authorities.  With my direct intervention, fortunately, people have been able to receive all humanitarian assistance, and even until today, this humanitarian assistance is flowing.  Thank you very much for your understanding for that postponement.

Now, I am pleased to say how much I am honoured to be back again, meeting with my professor, Dean Allison.  I even have here my professor, who used to be my teacher.  Looking at the faces of the young students reminds me of my school days, which I still regard as the golden times of my life.  I have never had such a great time in my previous life.  I have been always busy, but that does not mean that I did not study much.  But it was a real golden time for me.  Last time I visited the Kennedy school was in September 2005, when I was Foreign Minister.  At that time, I brought some “good news” of the very historic announcement of the Six Party Talks Agreement.  At that time, I brought some very good news, as well as some answers.  But this time, unfortunately, I have to bring you some questions and a call to action on our common challenges.  These are some things that I would like to discuss with you today.  Of course, I will state what I think in my capacity as Secretary-General, but I am here to learn more from you, to learn some very fresh, creative ideas from young students, as well as professors.

I have had a two-hour long -- I think almost three-hour long -- discussion with the very distinguished prominent professors of Harvard University on major issues pertaining to our common challenges -- the global financial crisis, climate change, global health issues, terrorism and disarmament.  All these are the common issues, the common global problems which we have to address together.  That is exactly what I am going to discuss with you today.

Let me briefly recollect how I have really enjoyed now going back to my old days.  It was ’83 and ’84, the class of ’84.  At that time, Dean Allison was a very legendary dean for many, many years.  And at that time, I couldn’t even have easy access to him, not because he was a bureaucrat but because of so many students -- I was just one of the “JFKs” -- Just From Korea.

Now talking about JFK, I had a very inspiring, a very brief moment of meeting then President John F. Kennedy at the White House, which inspired me to think what role, what I should do, in the future.  At that time, I wanted to become a diplomat, serving the nation.  Now I am much more honoured to serve beyond the nation, beyond the national boundary of Korea, the whole international community, as UN Secretary-General.  So I am very grateful both to President Kennedy and the School of Kennedy for the excellent teaching you have given me.

And I would like to also take this opportunity to express my sincere congratulations to all Mason Fellows who will soon be celebrating the fiftieth anniversary next month.  I have been very proud as part of the Harvard community, as part of the Kennedy School and, more importantly, as a member of the Mason Fellows.

Among Mason Fellows, I understand that several have become ministers and there are at least four or five Heads of State or Government at this time, and one, in no small part due to excellent teaching, has become Secretary-General of the United Nations, and I am very much grateful for this honour.

As I said, we come together today at a time of intense crisis -- unrelenting waves buffeting the world’s people and institutions.  Many months ago, I spoke of a “triple crisis” -- soaring food and fuel prices, climate change, and also development emergencies.  Now all these triple crises have been compounded by the global financial crisis.  Today, with increased evidence of the effects of all three crises around the globe, compounded by the ongoing shock waves of the financial crisis, my call to arms now seems distant and all too modest.

Now, more than ever, we must be bold.  In these times of crisis, when we are tempted to look inward, it is precisely the time when we must move pursuit of the common good to the top of the agenda.  Global solidarity is necessary and in the interest of all.  Pursuing the common good will require addressing a set of global challenges that hold the key to our common future.  I would like to highlight five issues:  ensuring global financial stability as an intentional first step towards prosperity for all people; addressing climate change; advancing global health; countering terrorism; and ensuring non-proliferation and disarmament.

While these challenges may seem quite different at first blush, they share an important set of common characteristics that are all interconnected.  That was confirmed by all the distinguished professors at Harvard University in our meeting today.  These global public goods distinguish themselves from other issues of concern because:  they endanger all countries -- whether rich or poor, big or small -- and all their people; they cross borders freely without respecting national geographic borders and are highly contagious; and they cannot be resolved without action by us all.  And these challenges must be addressed by all.  However powerful and resourceful a country may be, for example the United States, even the United States cannot address this alone.  But the United Nations can mobilize all the resources and means of Member States, of the whole international community.  That’s where the United Nations is very well appraised.  That’s where the Secretary-General stands.

In the recent boom years brought about by increasing globalization, it became all too easy for us to take for granted global financial stability and the prosperity it facilitated.  But the same threads of globalization that united us in the good times are now biting deep in the bad times, especially for those who can least afford it.  While recently we have heard much in this country about how problems on Wall Street are affecting innocent people on Main Street, we need to think more about those people around the world with no streets.  Wall Street, Main Street, no street -- the solutions devised must be for all.

At the UN, we focus daily on the “for all” part.  This is what I have been emphasizing all the time on many issues.  We have to crisis-proof our agenda, especially in the area of development.  In particular, we cannot allow the financial crisis to turn into a prolonged human crisis.  That is why the race to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), by the target of 2015, has become even more pressing.  Last month, I convened a high-level summit meeting on the MDGs at the United Nations where Member States committed $16 billion in one day.  That was very encouraging and very generous.  Those generous pledges now need to be kept, and all the new partnerships formed to achieve the MDGs need to forge ahead.

I would now like to turn to climate change, a truly defining issue of our era.  Climate change is the ultimate global and existential threat.  Its impact is documented with new evidence from around the globe every day.  And its consequences will not be evenly felt.  The irony is that those countries who have least contributed to the current phenomenon of global warming will be the hardest hit, and do not even have any capacity to address the situation.  The United States and other industrialized countries, while they have contributed most, still they have capacity.  They have resources.  Their condition is much better now.  Particularly developing countries, least developed countries, landlocked countries and small island developing countries do not have any resources to deal with these issues.  And, as so often, it will weigh heaviest on the most vulnerable, who have neither the resources nor the capacity to cope.

Last year, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore for a decades-long effort, which established that climate change was not only occurring, but accelerating.  Now, it is scientifically clear that climate change, global warming, is happening.  It is no longer a theory.  It has become a fact of our lives and has become an imminent threat to all humanity and to this planet Earth.  We cannot afford to delay action any further.

Professor John P. Holdren, whom I met this afternoon -- regretfully, I think he must be lecturing now -- vividly described the current situation as “being in a car with bad brakes driving toward a cliff in the fog”.  As the fog of scientific uncertainty has been lifting -- no small part due to many of this University’s outstanding scientists -- we increasingly see what lies ahead.  And we surely know what we need to do.  Steering clear of the cliff will require immediate actions by all, including Governments, the business community, UN bodies, civil society, and individuals like you and me.

This summer I launched “Cool UN”, a very small initiative to help reduce our carbon footprint.  I asked to only raise the temperature from 72 to [77 degrees] Fahrenheit.  It resulted, you may be surprised, in a reduction of 300 tons of gas emissions, which will be equivalent to 710 round trips across the Atlantic.  Everybody was advised not to wear ties because the room temperature had gone up.  We gave some small considerations to the Member States, the delegations, who were attending important negotiations and conferences.  We made it just one or two degrees cooler for them than for the staff.  This small initiative has resulted in very great substantive results.  This is leading by example.

I am very glad to see that Harvard also believes in leading by example.  Harvard’s sustainability initiative, which includes the target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent during the next eight years, is very welcome.

But in order to avoid Professor Holdren’s precipice, we must conclude a new comprehensive deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which will expire in 2012, by the end of next year.  We must agree on a universally acceptable, inclusive, balanced and ratifiable treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol.  We took the first major step in Bali in December last year.  The Member States have set out a very good road map, and we are now heading towards the Poznan conference in December this year.  Our next test will be in just two months, and I may extend it by the end of next year.  We need to come out from this Poznan conference in Poland this December with a strong political signal on strengthening financial and technology transfer mechanisms to help developing countries with adaptation and mitigation.  We need a shared vision of what a new agreement will look like, including on the question of institutional architecture, as well as a concrete work plan for 2009 that will enable parties to engage in very serious negotiations without delay.

Global health is another great challenge of our time.  But also one with an immense scope for solutions.

With increased travel, migration and urbanization, a paradigm shift has occurred in the way we look at global health.  Diseases and pandemics are spreading across borders today faster than ever before, and -- if not controlled effectively -- these can have devastating impacts.

HIV/AIDS, avian flu and SARS, are only a few examples.  We also need to focus on the so-called “neglected tropical diseases”, which affect the poor all over the world.

We have the tools and resources to treat and control many of these diseases, and we have the know-how to build health systems that serve all.  Moreover, global health is receiving unprecedented attention and resources from new and powerful actors.

At last month’s MDG summit meeting, our development partners came together to announce significant projects and pledges to combat tuberculosis and malaria.  Our global malaria campaign has brought us within range of containing a disease that kills a child every 30 seconds.  This gives us hope -- and just as importantly, a model for achieving the other goals.

We will be able to soon see the eradication of polio on the earth, and my target, my ambition, is that by 2015, we will be in much better shape in terms of eradicating malaria.  I have set a target of 2010, by which time [inaudible] a significant decrease in the number of people killed by malaria.  My campaign to eradicate malaria is moving very well, and I’m also working very hard on tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.  I have been attending many international conferences and trying to mobilize the necessary resources and assistance. And on HIV/AIDS, we must really help people so that they can get care and treatment and support and all this necessary assistance.

All these commitments are very generous and I am very much encouraged and grateful for all Governments, and particularly business communities’ strong support in global health issues.

I welcome this heightened activity by the international community.  But it carries some risks.  The global health sphere is increasingly complex and fragmented, and there is no systematic approach to ensuring coherence of action.  In addition, transaction costs are high.  Capacity is severely strained.

We need to work in a more coordinated manner, each according to our comparative advantage, to strengthen health systems.  We must move from building silos to building systems; systems that work for the poorest and most vulnerable.

I believe that the United Nations has an important role to play in the current fragmented health landscape:  namely to be a convener and advocate for greater coherence and accountability among health actors.  That is why I have been convening 40 global health leaders over the last year to develop an action plan to address some of the most urgent health priorities facing the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.

Terrorism is another threat that can affect anyone, anywhere, at any time.  We have seen so many devastating, tragic, brutal terrorist attacks against all the people around the world.  Combined with the threat of weapons of mass destruction, it is perhaps the most serious threat to international peace and security.

Terrorism is deeply personal.  It kills our sons, daughters and mothers, our fathers, grandparents, all our friends and families.  This was made powerfully clear at the United Nations last month when I hosted the first Symposium on Supporting Victims of Terrorism.  Eighteen victims -- including Madame [Ingrid] Betancourt, came to New York to share their stories, their challenges, and explain what short‑, medium‑ and long-term support was needed to slowly rebuild shattered lives.  But they also gently scolded us that, too often, still it is the perpetrators -- and not their innocent victims -- that receive all our attention.

Two years ago, the General Assembly adopted the first Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.  It was a milestone:  the first time all 192 UN Member States agreed together to formulate a comprehensive, collective, and intergovernmentally approved plan to counter terrorism.  This was the first time they agreed that conditions exist that can be conducive to the spread of terrorism and that, to gain ground, they must address these conditions.

Last month, our Member States came together again in New York to review the implementation of the strategy.  We have come a long way, but we surely cannot stop now.  I urged Member States to take multilateral counter-terrorism cooperation even further.  For this, I outlined three principles.

First, we must be more innovative in developing our tools.  We cannot shy away from promoting non-traditional approaches to security.  Military force is rarely enough to bring an end to terrorist violence.

Second, multilateral counter-terrorism efforts must be undertaken in partnership with regional and subregional groupings, but also civil society organizations.  Academic institutions can play a very important role in helping shed light on the multifaceted and evolving phenomena of terrorism and political violence.

Third, we need to better leverage our collective strengths.  While most resources and capacities for counter-terrorism are found at the national level, the collective approach of the United Nations gives multilateral efforts a great advantage that we should maximize.

I am now coming to a final, but also very important, serious subject.  The world is facing acute challenges in the area of disarmament and non-proliferation.  I come from a country that has experienced first-hand, in my lifetime, the ravages of conventional war and the threats of nuclear weapons from North Korea, and other weapons of mass destruction.

Such threats are, of course, not unique to my region.  There is widespread support throughout the world for the view that nuclear weapons must never be used again.  We need only look at their indiscriminate effects; their impact on the natural environment; their profound implications for regional and global security.

Some now call this an emerging nuclear “taboo”.

Yet, if these arguments are so strong, why do such threats persist?  Why has disarmament remained only a noble goal, rather than becoming an historic achievement?

The answer requires a little historical context.  Disarmament entails the physical elimination of certain weapons, as opposed to the regulation of armaments.  Both goals are found in the UN Charter.  In 1959, the United Nations adopted a resolution, a very historic resolution, on “general and complete disarmament under effective international control” -- also known by its acronym GCD.  This resolution combined the two goals of eliminating weapons of mass destruction and regulating conventional arms.  In 1978, the first special session of the General Assembly adopted GCD as the “ultimate objective” of States in the disarmament process.

As important as it is, however, GCD is not an end in itself.  It serves an even broader global good:  international peace and security.  Unfortunately, I fear that few understand what this term GCD actually means.  And I see little evidence that States are taking steps to ensure that their laws, policies, budgets, and bureaucracies are oriented to fulfilling this goal.

Part of the explanation no doubt lies in the many misunderstandings of the term.  Critics caricature it as an attempt to eliminate literally every weapon on Earth.  They have dismissed it as utopian.  They have interpreted it as implying that disarmament must await the prior achievement of world peace.  And they offer alternative approaches to international peace and security, including those based on the endless pursuit of military superiority, the balance of power, doctrines of deterrence, technology restrictions, and other such measures.

All of these, however, have their own weaknesses.  Typically, they advance the interests of only specific States, rather than the welfare and security of all.

The great advantage of the GCD concept is that it recognizes that the ability to achieve a WMD-free world will require both the elimination of such weapons and additional changes in the way that States produce, develop, transfer, and use conventional weapons.  In many regions these are very closely related issues.

The United Nations has long stood for the rule of law and disarmament.  Yet it also stands for the rule of law in disarmament, which we advance through our various statements, resolutions, and educational efforts.  We promote key treaties -- like the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty [CTBT] -- that have been signed but not yet entered into force.  It was in 1999 when I served as Chairman of the CTBT Organization.  But still, after nine years, we have still not been able to see the CTBT come into effect.  We still have many countries who have not signed and have not ratified this very important convention.  The Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions have still not gained universal membership.  The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is facing a crisis of confidence.

The United Nations -- notably through its General Assembly resolutions -- has also been developing criteria for inclusion in disarmament agreements.  In his speech to the General Assembly in 1961, President Kennedy recognized the need for such standards, saying, “For disarmament without checks is but a shadow, and a community without law is but a shell.”

Yet there are still gaps in the law.  Some key treaties remain to be negotiated.  And new efforts are needed to create additional nuclear-weapon-free zones, especially in the Middle East, and to bring existing zones fully into force.

At a time when the world is focused on other, more immediate crises, let us never forget that we must press our efforts to address the potential existential crisis which confronts humanity.  It would not be responsible to do otherwise.  I am pleased to see leaders stepping up to move us in the right direction.  I applaud the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament announced by the Prime Ministers of Australia and Japan recently.

America’s great educator, Horace Mann, summoned humankind to “be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity”.  Achieving disarmament is one such goal.  Achieving financial stability and prosperity for all, addressing climate change, global health and international terrorism are others.  Let us ensure we are equal to the task.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.