New York

11 October 2006

Secretary-General's remarks at public lecture by Stephen Schlesinger, author of "Act of Creation - the Founding of the United Nations"

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear Friends,

This is a period of transition for the United Nations. The handover from one Secretary-General to another is approaching. Many assessments of our work are being written and debated. At such a time, I thought it would be good for us to go back to the beginning, and hear about our origins. For the circumstances of birth -- whether of people, institutions or ideas -- can be quite illuminating, especially if re-visited from the vantage point of age and experience. And as you will see, there is far more to the story of our Organization's founding than most of us know.

Our guest today is Stephen Schlesinger, the author of “Act of Creation: The Founding of the United Nations”. Stephen is an acclaimed historian and expert in foreign policy. In the 1990s, I am pleased to say, he was one of us, serving as an advisor to Habitat. Today he runs the World Policy Institute at the New School University here in New York.

His book on the United Nations almost didn't see the light of day –not for lack of effort on his part, but because it took two years to find a publisher interested in our Organization. That is all the more remarkable because this book takes us where no historian has fully gone before. Many books have contained chapters or passages on the San Francisco Conference. Some participants have mentioned it in their memoirs. But there has never been a comprehensive account dedicated solely to this landmark effort. “Act of Creation” is that book, filling a major gap and giving us the riveting story of our own Organization.

We learn, for example, of the intrigue and suspicion that permeated the proceedings -- an early manifestation of an emerging superpower cold war confrontation. We watch a ballet of venerable diplomats and younger figures seeking to make their mark. And we see how perilously close the conference came to failing.

But let me not steal Stephen's thunder. Before giving him the floor, let me make just one more point. His book is the work of a scrupulous, masterful historian. But it is also written with conviction –a firm belief that despite all the flaws and limitations that were evident even in San Francisco, the United Nations remains an essential presence in our world that must be preserved and improved.

Thank you, Stephen, for that support and for joining us this afternoon. We look forward to hearing more about your, and our, “act of creation”.