11 July 2007

Address at the Royal Institute of International Affairs

Ban Ki-moon

Despite its universal outreach, the United Nations cannot be in all places, nor provide a solution to every challenge. But we can, and should, serve as a forum to set a global agenda and consensus. We can, and should -- given the necessary political resolve -- implement the clearly defined will of the international community. We can, and should, be visionary and pro-active.

Thank you, Lord Hurd, for those kind words. It is an honour and pleasure to be here.

When I left Brussels yesterday, it was 12 degrees Celsius and hailing. Here, it was 25 degrees and sunny. Talk about climate change. I don't understand why you British are always complaining about the weather.

I confess I am also a little intimidated, Lord Hurd, at being moderated by a veteran statesman of your distinction.

When I first accepted the gracious invitation to address this Institute, I was especially excited about the prospect of speaking under the Chatham House Rule. I understand the rule means the audience is free to use the information received at the meeting, but may not reveal the identity of the speaker, nor his affiliation.

I thought to myself, now there's a rule we should apply from time to time at the United Nations. I could get my message across, but keep a low profile at the same time. And conversely, those interested in grand-standing would have one less opportunity to do so.

But it was not to be. Having understood that this event is on the record, I will have to wait for another occasion to experience the Chatham House Rule at first hand.

Lord Hurd, you will know, from your time as Foreign Secretary, how I feel. So, as Moderator, you will forgive me if I sound a little… moderate.

Mr. Niblett, Director of Chatham House,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is truly a privilege to join such a distinguished group of experts and scholars, diplomats and opinion-makers, politicians and not least, representatives of civil society -- key partners of the United Nations in shaping both policy and practice.

They say the United Nations has a way of getting caught in the crossfire between its uncritical lovers and unloving critics. Here at Chatham House, I feel surrounded by true friends -- those best defined as loving critics or even critical lovers: well-informed allies of the UN, unwavering but no means unquestioning supporters.

That is of course to be expected, in this of all countries. Since the foundation of the UN, the UK has been a cornerstone of our support base. It may have been in San Francisco that the United Nations Charter was signed in 1945; but it was here in London, the following year, that the UN first saw light of day as a working Organization.

Just on the other side of St. James's Park, in Central Hall Westminster, the General Assembly met for the first time. Across the street from there, in Church House, the Security Council came into being. It was at Westminster, as London was rising from the ravages of World War Two, that my first predecessor as Secretary-General, Trygve Lie, was installed. He replaced the acting Secretary-General, who was a none other than the distinguished UK diplomat, Sir Gladwyn Jebb.

Already in the 1950s, Sir Gladwyn -- who by then had become the UK Ambassador to the UN -- was shrewd enough to spot the uncritical lovers versus the unloving critics. He did so by studying the newspaper cartoons of the day.

At one extreme of the cartoon spectrum, the UN was portrayed as an angelic figure, but not a terribly intelligent-looking one. She was sometimes labelled "Peace", and usually being assaulted by a brutal and uniformed aggressor. At the other extreme, the UN was a bald and middle-aged gentleman of dubious and obviously foreign appearance, wearing a top hat and long coat. He would be plotting with another gentleman of the same type over a green baize table. So one caricature suggested an idealistic international authority, constantly thwarted by the wicked manoeuvres of politicians; the other an evil international plot against national sovereignty.

Today, when people look back on those early years of the United Nations, they think of the promise the Organization held. 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 courageous pioneers who joined and shaped the Organization in its fledgling years.

In my country, too, those early years were associated with a steadfast sense of faith in the UN. 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. Its 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 torn apart by war, with a non-existent economy, into a regional economic power and major contributor to the Organization. That support helped me make the journey to this podium today. For that, I am deeply thankful.

Since then, the UN -- and the world as a whole -- have come to appear much complicated. So have the challenges confronting our Organization. The perception of us is no longer so black and white, and tends now to be drawn in various shades of grey.

But if you are an optimist, as I am, you will paint the UN in brighter colours. You will know that our 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. It is a world in which the UN can, and must, grow and take on new roles, develop and deliver on new fronts.

Allow me to outline a few of the most pressing priorities facing us today. They are huge challenges -- and every bit as defining and historic as those which confronted our founders.

Consider our agenda in peace and security:

First, we must step up action to confront the tragedy of Darfur. The human toll of the ongoing crisis is devastating, and the world can no longer accept further delays in the peace process. The tragic cycle of violence has been allowed to continue for far too long.

The African Union deserves enormous credit for stepping in when no one else would. Its mission in the Sudan has had a significant impact on the ground. But it lacks the capacity to protect civilians and build stability. I am encouraged that the Government of Sudan has accepted a joint operation, or hybrid, bringing together forces from the African Union and the United Nations. Once deployed, this challenging operation will be an unprecedented effort.

But at the same time, we must also seek to resolve the causes of the conflict. We are stepping up the political process, and hope to begin a new and conclusive round of negotiations as soon as possible. This should be supplemented by a serious development effort in the region, including ensuring access to water resources. And for Sudan as a whole, we need to take forward the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the north and the south.

Second, we need to make serious efforts for progress in the Middle East. That entails work on several broad fronts.

Throughout the region, and around the world, the Arab-Israeli conflict, with the question of Palestine at its core, remains an issue of deep concern. Yet I draw hope from some recent developments. The Quartet has demonstrated its commitment to find a way forward. The Arab League has underlined its commitment to peace with Israel, by stressing the continued relevance of the Arab Peace Initiative, whereby Egyptian and Jordanian envoys will visit Israel. I will continue to encourage movement towards the shared goal of all parties for a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.

On the ground, in Gaza, the UN has broad humanitarian responsibilities. The UN Relief and Works Agency remains the largest employer and provider of humanitarian relief, after the Palestinian authority. My priority now is to secure a permanent and reliable reopening of Gaza crossings, so as to allow in more commercial and humanitarian supplies.

In Lebanon, the UN is working to support the country in everything from its physical reconstruction, to its quest for a peaceful, democratic and fully independent future. Today, almost 14,000 UN peacekeepers serve as a buffer in southern Lebanon. It is a robust, effective and balanced force, which has already helped to achieve a number of key objectives. But they cannot stay there indefinitely. As the recent and deadly attack on our peacekeepers reminds us, the only hope for enduring stability lies in the path of reconciliation between the various communities inside the country.

In addition to a national unity government, Lebanon needs to see the successful establishment of a Special Tribunal to try the perpetrators of the Hariri assassination and other related crimes. We must put an end to impunity for such acts. In accordance with Security Council resolution 1757, I am taking the measures necessary for the Tribunal to be established.

Iraq is the whole world's problem. The UN can assist in building an inclusive political process to promote national reconciliation. It can help cultivate a regional environment that supports a transition to stability. And it can pursue reconstruction and development through the International Compact -- the initiative which the Iraqi Prime Minister and I co-chaired together, for a new partnership with the international community. I intend to keep pressing for real follow-up and implementation. Equally, the UN is helping to coordinate humanitarian efforts for the growing number of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons.

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 to encourage 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. Let us see the same commitment from Member States at the global level. We must mobilize more concerted efforts to overcome the current stalemate in non-proliferation and disarmament.

We face an equal challenge in terrorism -- one of acute concern to this country at this time. How do we work to prevent the global scourge of terrorism from posing an existential threat to humankind? Last September, the UN General Assembly took a historic step forward, by adopting the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

For the first time, Member States universally resolved to take concrete political, operational, and legal measures to combat terrorism in a coordinated manner. They pledged to strengthen the capacity of States and of the UN to do so. They agreed that we must address conditions that can be conducive to the spread of terrorism. And, of fundamental importance, they agreed that protecting human rights and the rule of law is central to the fight against terrorism. Now our challenge is to implement this landmark document -- both in letter and in spirit.

Ladies and gentlemen, these issues in peace and security are daunting. But they must not be allowed to overwhelm the enormous challenges we face in other areas.

Our agenda for development is equally pressing.

This year marks the halfway point for the time we have given ourselves to reach the Millennium Development Goals -- agreed by all the world's Governments as a roadmap to a better world by 2015. Let us keep the promise. To meet the target date, we have to take concerted action now.

And we have to make real progress on an issue I believe defines our collective future, more than any other: climate change. Friends, I am convinced that this challenge, and what we do about it, will define us, our era, and ultimately, our global legacy. It is time for new thinking. Leaders need to accept their historical responsibilities -- but look less at their historical responsibility to their ancestors, and more to their historical responsibility to their grandchildren. Will succeeding generations have to ask why we failed to do the right thing, and left them to suffer the consequences?

I will ensure that the UN plays its role to the full. The Group of Eight agreed last month that the UN climate process is the appropriate forum for negotiating future global action. To build on the current momentum, I am convening a high-level meeting on climate change in New York in September, at the start of the General Assembly. I hope the leaders there will send the following message, loud and clear, as they look ahead to the negotiations on the UN Framework Convention in December: business as usual is no longer an option; me must reach concrete agreements.

I know that you at Chatham House are playing your part, including through your new independent research project on EU-China cooperation on climate change and energy security.

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. And it will require moving the Responsibility to Protect from word to deed. We must build consensus among Member States about how we can make this concept operational, when a population is threatened with genocide, ethnic cleansing, or crimes against humanity, and national authorities fail to take appropriate action. I will appoint a Special Advisor to move that process forward. I have already appointed full-time Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

If we are to meet the challenges before us, we must put our own house in order. I am taking a range of measures to strengthen our capacity, and change our working culture.

Peacekeeping is bearing the brunt of the escalating demands. The UN is engaged, in some form, in 18 peacekeeping operations in the most difficult places in the world. We now have a historic high of almost 100,000 personnel in the field. And we are faced with a bigger UN role in other places – including and especially Darfur. I am heartened that the General Assembly has now approved my proposals to restructure the Secretariat, so as to strengthen our capacity to manage and sustain peace operations.

We are also striving to perform better in the areas of development, humanitarian assistance and the environment. We are following up on the far-reaching recommendations of the High-level Panel on System-wide Coherence, of which Gordon Brown was a key member, while he was Chancellor of the Exchequer . I hope we can build consensus among Member States to implement many of the proposals. This is especially true of the recommendation to strengthen our gender architecture, so that we can better empower and protect the rights of women around the world.

In our humanitarian work, we are already working overtime to anticipate natural and man-made disasters, so we can act before an emerging concern erupts into a full-blown crisis. We are ensuring sufficient and predictable funding, and building up humanitarian leadership in the field. Sir John Holmes of the UK, as our new Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, is providing dynamic leadership in moving forward on all these fronts.

Throughout the Organization, it is not enough to strengthen capacity alone. There is also a need to change the working culture itself. That means building a staff that is truly mobile, multi-functional and accountable, with more emphasis on career development and training. And it means holding all UN employees to the highest standards of integrity and ethical behaviour, both at headquarters and in the field.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The United Kingdom has a unique role to play in advancing our work. This country is a global leader on many of the issues I outlined.

On Darfur, we look to the UK's leadership in securing a Security Council resolution to authorize the deployment hybrid force -- and in helping to ensure contributions once it is established. Until then, we rely on the UK and other key donors for continued support of the African Union force.

On the Middle East, we appreciate the loan of your distinguished former Prime Minister to help Palestine build the foundations of statehood. But we will also need the active support and leadership of Her Majesty's new Government.

On the Millennium Development Goals, I know the Prime Minister will carry forward the exceptional commitment he has long displayed, as Chancellor, on aid, trade and debt relief.

And on climate change, I know he will provide just the kind of statesmanship we need. He has rightly defined climate change as an issue for finance and economic ministries, as much as for those of energy and environment. And he is effectively advancing new global partnerships, based on the international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions beyond 2012. I know we can rely on the Prime Minister's continuing leadership within the EU, the G-8, and beyond. On the United Nations, he will be ably assisted by Mark Malloch Brown, who must surely possess the greatest UN expertise of any Government minister anywhere.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Despite its universal outreach, the United Nations cannot be in all places, nor provide a solution to every challenge. But we can, and should, serve as a forum to set a global agenda and consensus. We can, and should -- given the necessary political resolve -- implement the clearly defined will of the international community. We can, and should, be visionary and pro-active.

In this, we need dialogue and patience, resources and reform -- empowering us to serve the common good, equipping us to do what we do best, from peacekeeping to development, from humanitarian work to human rights.

And we need the continued support the United Kingdom -- of all of you, our loving critics and questioning supporters. I'm sure you will live up to that description now, as I seek to answer your questions.

Thank you very much.

Ban Ki-moon