Close Links in Interdependent Global Village Are Sources of Both Challenge, Hope, Secretary-General Says in Address at Saint Louis University

15 June 2009

Close Links in Interdependent Global Village Are Sources of Both Challenge, Hope, Secretary-General Says in Address at Saint Louis University

15 June 2009
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




(Delayed in transmission.)

Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s address at Saint Louis University, Missouri, on 12 June:

Thank you for that warm welcome.  It is a pleasure to be here in the American heartland.  Here in the land of Truman.  The land of Mark Twain and of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn -- characters I met as a schoolboy only in textbooks.  Now I am here.

The land of Yogi Berra.  My friends in New York -- Yankee fans -- insisted that I mention Yogi.  I also have a Missouri connection closer to home in New York.  One of my closest advisers is from your state.  So I know I should pronounce it Missour-ah, not Missour-ee.  I can’t think of a better place to talk about what the United Nations and the United States can accomplish together in pursuit of the goals we share and hold dear.

My visit here and around the United States is part of my efforts to promote understanding of what the United Nations is doing and must do for peace, security, development and human rights.  Strong cooperation with the United States is very important to me in carrying out my duties as Secretary-General.  It is impossible to think we can succeed without the support of the United States.

Just before coming to this university I visited the Gateway Arch.  It was very impressive -- a beautiful sight -- a timeless symbol of America’s expansion and its always-wide-open promise.  Saint Louis has long been a gateway city, a window onto new worlds.  It is a centre of aviation.  Its products and services reach all corners of the globe -- often on planes built by Boeing.  It is home to many immigrants.  People from all over the world have come here to live, work, study and enjoy the sights.  You have hosted both a World’s Fair and the Olympic Games -- an achievement few cities in the world can claim.

Your Gateway makes me think of other portals.  The ones I am thinking of are not quite so monumental.  But they are powerful, and they tie our world even closer together.  A small computer screen, for example, that brings medical information from a research centre here in Saint Louis to a patient in Sudan -- or a blogger’s account of life in a closed society that brings repression into the open.  Or consider a flu [outbreak] in one country that causes schools to close and sickens people in another.  Or a sack of grain bearing the stamp of the state of Missouri finding its way to a villager in Mozambique coping with flood or earthquake.  The food on our tables.  The movies we see.  Even the men and women you elect to the highest offices in this land.

They -- and we -- are all part of one great, global twenty-first century mix of peoples, traditions, products and ideas.  We are living now in a very wide-open world, but very closely connected.  We are living an interdependent global village.  This city’s Gateway symbolizes another era’s movement from east to west.  Today’s gateways take us in every direction -- East to West, West to East, South to North and vice versa.  Our world today is that intertwined.  Therein lies both challenge and hope.

Let’s take a closer look at that sack of grain.  Missouri feeds America, or at least a good part of it.  The bounty of your great state, and of this country, is the envy of many countries in the world.  But, as you know, many of the world’s nations, and their people, lack such bounty.  Some 1 billion of the world’s people -- I call them the “bottom billion” -- live on less than $1 a day.  Two billion live on less than $2 a day.  That means that one third of world’s people live on less than $2 a day.  Many, if not most of them, are children.  Hunger and undernutrition are their overwhelming daily reality.

Now imagine the price of food shooting upwards, as it has done and is still doing.  Last year, the prices of staple foods nearly doubled in the space of a few months.  For those such as the bottom billion, who already spend two thirds of their income on food, that was a tough blow.  Families ended up eating one meal a day instead of two.  Some family members got to eat, but not others.  Sometimes parents have to choose among their children as to who gets to eat and who doesn’t.  When that happens, children stop growing.  They are too hungry to learn.  When older, they are too weak or undereducated to work to their full potential.  Whole societies become weak.

Families that spend more on food have less for health and education.  And so the natural consequence is that a downwards social spiral begins from there.  The whole society goes down.  No one should face such choices.  No one should face such privation, not in a world of such wealth.  I travel to every corner of the world and meet people suffering abject poverty.  This is a humbling experience for me.

The food crisis has receded from the headlines.  But we have not yet resolved this issue.  The price spike was a reminder that world food systems have been in crisis for years, and fail to serve the interests of those most in need within poor countries.  It reminded us that investment in agriculture has been too low in recent decades.  And that too many farmers in poor countries are unable to get the credit, seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and technologies they need for optimum productivity.

In Africa, the 500 million farmers produce 80 per cent of the food.  But their counterparts in other countries produce more with less.  We must address the challenge of food security now.  Those sacks of grain I mentioned are an essential emergency stopgap.  It is good that the United Nations World Food Programme enjoys excellent ties with the United States and its farmers, including some of the organizations I had the pleasure to meet with this morning.

The food crisis is bad enough.  But it was followed by a world economic crisis.  I know Saint Louis has not been immune.  No countries, no companies have been immune.  Manufacturing has suffered.  Demand for the products of Missouri’s labours has diminished.  Here, too, it is the poorest of the poor around the world who suffer most.  People need jobs.  Societies need safety nets.  And yet there are more crises, all weighing most heavily on those who can least adapt.

Climate change threatens agriculture and the world’s food supply.  It threatens coastal areas where most of us live.  I know a state like Missouri might not worry about coastal flooding, but you know about flooding.  Dustbowls lie in wait, too, as does extreme weather.  You are no strangers to that, either.  But imagine what you know multiplied by 2, 10, or even more.

Our planet is warming much faster than everybody may think.  We must be very sensitive.  We must take urgent action.  Scientists around the world, including America’s top scientists, are changing the predictions they made just two years ago.  The situation is much worse than they had thought.  The world’s leading economists are nearly unanimous in warning that the costs of acting now will be far less than what it will cost to play catch-up later.

These challenges -- food, finance, energy and particularly our overdependence on fossil fuels -- contain the seeds of instability and social unrest.  We cannot let things get to that stage.  The world is already coping with extremism, terrorism and a possible cascade of nuclear proliferation.  We do not want a world erupting in conflict over the environment and shrinking resources.

I haven’t come to Saint Louis looking for company in hard times.  I am here to enlist your help.  If we are smart about it, if we drive at the connections among these problems, we can find smart answers.  We face serious troubles. The world is experiencing multiple crises.  Food.  Energy.  Flu.  AIDS.  Finance.  The whole world has been shaken.

But if we look carefully, we can see some common denominators.  If we take one thread, and see the connections, solutions to one can be solutions to all.  This is what world leaders are looking at.  On food, we need to strengthen agricultural infrastructure, increase productivity and do away with unfair terms of trade.  We need a new green revolution in Africa, where the suffering and needs are most acute.  We are working with the Gates and Buffet foundations, and I hope the farming community will do its part.

On the economic crisis, the United Nations is pressing major economies to agree on a global plan to restore growth and lending.  We continue to sound the alarm so that recovery does not neglect the poor and the vulnerable.

On climate change, crucial negotiations have been taking place.  Today, the first round of negotiations concluded in Bonn.  Things are moving.  We all have a stake in fighting climate change.  That is why I ask you to help us push political leaders to seal a deal in Copenhagen in December.  I am encouraged that President [Barack] Obama has taken a forward-looking, positive point of view.  We need the United States to be part of this effort.  The United States and other developed countries have a political and historical responsibility to act.

That is why I ask mayors and governors in the United States to do their part.  The policy may come from the President, but what needs to be done should also be done by the governors, county executives and mayors.  It needs to be top-down and bottom-up.  So I am counting on the leadership of the United States Government at all levels.  This morning, I met with Boeing.  I don’t need to tell you how important Boeing is when it comes to aeronautics and technology.  I encouraged Boeing to focus on green energy, green growth and the green economy.  This is exactly what we need to do at this time.

The United Nations fights on many other fronts, as well.  Our development and humanitarian workers span the globe.  They feed and vaccinate children.  They give shelter to refugees and displaced persons.  Our peacekeepers -- more than 100,000, the most ever --- are deployed in Darfur, Kosovo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- and 15 other places, too.

We are delivering aid to millions and millions of people displaced by internal conflicts in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Somalia.  We are helping Haiti rebuild from four devastating tropical storms.  We have helped Iraq and Afghanistan stage free and fair elections, and we are pushing Israelis and Palestinians back towards the Middle East peace process.  And it was under United Nations auspices that the first global anti-terrorism strategy was adopted.  We are making progress.  But we want to do more.  We need your material, moral and political support.

That support should come quite naturally to you in the heartland.  You are generous.  You are practical.  You know good value when you see it.  At the same time, I know we have to earn it.  That is why I am committed to United Nations reform.  I know, too, that much of what the United Nations does can seem remote to some of you.  Whatever I do, what our peacekeepers do, may seem remote to you in the heartland.

I am always conscious of America’s dues -- that it pays 22 per cent of the budget, and 27 per cent for peacekeeping -- and that I have to be accountable to United States taxpayers.  I am conscious that every single dollar must be spent in an accountable way -- spent for the purposes for which the money is given.  That is my commitment to the people of Missouri.

It is United Nations agencies that set standards for air travel, telecommunications and shipping.  It is the United Nations that establishes the norms that protect intellectual property.  We help make possible life in the global village.  We are also always on the alert for new and emerging global threats.

When avian flu appeared in 2005, we knew another flu challenge would not be far behind.  We put in place a system of coordinated global response.  And indeed, yesterday, the World Health Organization announced an elevated alert level, from phase 5 to phase 6.  We have a pandemic situation, the first time in 40 years.  Fortunately, the virus has not been so severe, and death rates have been low.  But we must be watchful.  People in rich countries should be ready to help others get vaccines and whatever else they need.

Our response is bringing results for global public health.  But it is also showing a new kind of global cooperation and problem-solving at work.  I call it a new multilateralism.  It operates through stronger partnerships and alliances, not just among Governments, but with the private sector, civil society, foundations and others, including institutions such as this university.  All these partners should coordinate with each other.  Such cooperation has brought us close to eliminating deaths from malaria.  Polio is close to eradication, like smallpox before.  Even HIV/AIDS is coming under control, slowly, but steadily.

We want to see similar cooperation on all the other global challenges.  No one country can address these challenges on its own.  When dealing with energy, climate change and the economic crisis, we need to be resourceful.  We need global responsibility, global leadership and a new multilateralism, together with resources, in order to deliver global goods for people around the world.  To do this, one can’t find any better organization than the United Nations.

I speak highly of the United Nations, not just because I am its Secretary-General.  I know this from personal experience.  When I was a small boy, in first grade, during the Korean War, I experienced first-hand what hunger looks like -- the fear and threat of being alone, and of not being taken care of.  I went to school in the open air.  There were no walls; only rubble.  There was not much to eat.  The United Nations, led by the United States and other countries, provided massive economic and social assistance.  They helped rebuild my country.  That is why today Korea enjoys prosperity and democracy.

Ever since, for me and my country, the United Nations, the flag itself, has been a symbol of hope, a beacon of hope.  For many hundreds of millions of people, it is so today.  When I travel, I am humbled, and try to determine how much I can do for them.  I start every day as if it was first day, always committed to working for them.  That is why I see it as my responsibility to be a champion of the poor and the powerless.  I work for the poorest.  I work for the voiceless people, the defenceless people.

Let me go back to President Truman.  Sixty years ago, he laid the cornerstone of our Headquarters in New York.  In doing so he said:  “These buildings are not a monument to the unanimous agreement of nations on all things.  But they signify one new and important fact.  They signify that the peoples of the world are of one mind in their determination to solve their common problems by working together.”

In a sense, already here he had set out the concept of the new multilateralism.  Those words offer guidance for our times, too.  We are about to refurbish the United Nations Headquarters that President Truman was so instrumental in bringing into being.  I have to vacate my office for several years.  This is an act of necessity.  After 50 years, our electrical and other systems are woefully out of date.

But it is also a deliberate act of renewal.  We hope to lead by example in building an environment-friendly complex.  Most of all, we hope to revitalize our work, with fresh approaches and fresh thinking about global challenges.  Our focus must be on results.  Every day, on every challenge.  Real results that help people live better lives and move our world towards peace.

That is my philosophy.  I know it is yours, here in the “show-me” state.  I think you should show me what you can do for the United Nations.  I am sure we can be a good team, a powerful team, Missouri and the United Nations.  I come to you as an advocate.  And now I ask you to become advocates for us.

Saint Louis has always looked outwards -- through the Gateway, up and down your great rivers.  The United Nations also has its eyes on the horizon -- for common threats, but most of all for common opportunities.  I look forward to working with all of you in seizing them, for the benefit of all, for the benefit of all humanity.

Thank you again for inviting me to this great city and renowned university.  I am very grateful for your hospitality.

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