United Nations Should Be Powerhouse Platform for Debating Ideas That Can Benefit All Humankind, Secretary-General Says at Launch of Intellectual History Project

14 September 2009

United Nations Should Be Powerhouse Platform for Debating Ideas That Can Benefit All Humankind, Secretary-General Says at Launch of Intellectual History Project

14 September 2009
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

United Nations Should Be Powerhouse Platform for Debating Ideas That Can Benefit


All Humankind, Secretary-General Says at Launch of Intellectual History Project


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the launch of UN Ideas That Changed the World, published by the UN Intellectual History Project, in New York today, 14 September:

It is a great pleasure for me to participate in this very important event.  It is a pleasure to welcome you to today’s discussion on the United Nations Intellectual History Project and its latest volume, UN Ideas that Changed the World.

[Helen] Clark, the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, has kindly agreed to moderate this discussion.  Former Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Mr. José Antonio Ocampo will be the discussant.

I would also like to introduce to you the authors of this important body of work.  Sir Richard Jolly, Mr. Louis Emmerij and Mr. Thomas G. Weiss.  They will be sharing some of the book’s main conclusions.

Throughout its history, great ideas have emanated from this great Organization.  Powerful ideas, tumbling forth from brilliant economists, from debates in these and other conference rooms, from commissions, United Nations research institutes and other channels the world over.

Consider just some of them:  Human rights for all.  Sustainable development.  Women’s empowerment.  Human development.  The Millennium Development Goals.  The Responsibility to Protect.

The United Nations has provided a home for the genesis of these and other ideas that have been crucial in shaping the way the international community has sought to address the challenges of our time.  United Nations summits and conferences have helped turn ideas into policy, and have mobilized country-by-country action.

This contribution deserves to be far more widely known.  Media reports and histories have largely focused on the UN’s work in the political and peacekeeping arenas, yet our achievements and influence in the social and economic spheres are arguably just as significant.

We are gathered here today to celebrate the publication of a book that seeks to correct that imbalance and fill that historical gap.  UN Ideas That Changed the World is the seventeenth volume in a series published by the Indiana University Press.  It is the culmination of a 10-year research effort to trace the intellectual history of the United Nations.  It shows that ideas have been an important part of the UN’s contributions at every stage of the Organization’s work, since its very founding.

I thank the individuals, foundations, Governments and others that supported the UN Intellectual History Project, including my predecessor, Kofi Annan, and the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at The City University of New York’s Graduate Center.  I should stress that the project has been intellectually and financially independent of the United Nations.  Most of all, I pay tribute to the project’s three directors and authors of this volume:  Sir Richard Jolly, Louis Emmerij, and Professor Thomas G. Weiss.  I also thank all those who have written volumes or served as advisers to the project.

UN Ideas That Changed the World also highlights the importance of what the authors call the “Third UN” ‑‑ non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, independent commissions and other groups that have been essential to the pursuit of ideas.  Some of these actors are in this room today, and I thank you for your contributions.

We are at a pivotal moment in world affairs.  We face global crises the likes of which we have not seen in generations ‑‑ food, fuel, flu, finance and climate change.  And they are hitting us at once.  More than ever before, we need new ideas that will be able to steer our multilateral ship into calmer seas.

The French writer Victor Hugo rightly wrote that nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come.  Finding those ideas, and making them work for the benefit of all humankind, has been and should continue to be a central mission of the United Nations.  Some of the ideas we accept as common wisdom or even old hat today were controversial when first articulated.  Yet we fought for them and championed them.  And with so much still at stake, I am determined to continue doing so.

I want the United Nations to be a powerhouse of ideas, a platform for debating them, and a safe haven for honest exchanges.  I look forward to encouraging this process and building on this important United Nations tradition.

Congratulations again to all involved in making this book possible.  I hope it reaches a wide global audience.

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