Washington, D.C.

07 May 2012

Secretary-General's Remarks at the Atlantic Council, "The Great Transition" [as delivered]

Dr. Kissinger, thank you for that very kind introduction.

The world has looked to your wisdom and experience for many decades now, and your contribution has been great.

I thank you, Dr. Kissinger, for your very strong support for the United Nations and for myself as Secretary-General.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me join in congratulating the other honorees this evening: Anne-Sophie Mutter, Paul Polman, enlisted men and women of the United States armed forces, and his Royal Highness Prince Harry. This is really distinguished company indeed.

Gen. [Colin] Powell,

Dr. [Rajiv] Shah,

Maestro [Andre] Previn,

Honourable Members of Congress, Excellencies, members of the diplomatic corps, distinguished participants.

Ladies and gentlemen:

Thank you, as well, for your warm welcome. And thank you to the board of the Atlantic Council … also your chairman, Sen. Hagel, and President Frederick Kempe … for this extraordinary honour.

I take it as an eloquent symbol of our partnership: the United States and the United Nations. And on behalf of all the staff and peacekeeping operations staff and I humbly accept this honour.

Seldom, if ever, have our principles and shared purpose been more relevant. Seldom, if ever, has this partnership been more vital than at this moment.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We just celebrated and commended the enlisted men and women of the US armed forces. As the Secretary-General of the United Nations, my thoughts are with more than 120,000 UN peacekeeping operations staff — from more than 120 troop contributing countries —who work day and night under very difficult and dangerous circumstances for peace and stability around the world. They have my deepest admiration.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Our world is a rough place.

Let us cast our eye across the geopolitical landscape.

In Syria, the violence still continues. We are in a race against time to prevent full-scale civil war — death on a potentially massive scale.

Tensions between Israel and Iran remain dangerous.

The DPRK recently launched another missile and appears to be contemplating another nuclear test, in defiance of the international community.

We see famine coming in the Sahel. Military coups in Mali and Guinea Bissau. Sudan and South Sudan on the brink of conflict that not long ago claimed two million lives.

Add to this the crisis in the euro area. Climate change. The pressures of a growing population of seven billion on our increasingly fragile planet.

Almost everywhere we look, it seems, we see growing insecurity … growing injustice … growing social inequality.

If I were to speak like an economist, I might say we have an over-supply of problems — and a deficit of solutions. A deficit of leadership.

That partly reflects the great changes transforming our modern world. Power is shifting. The old order is breaking down, and we do not yet know the shape of the new.

Twenty years ago, at the end of the Cold War, the United States and its traditional allies could be counted on to lead the world through uncertainty and change.

Today, that is much more difficult.

And yet, tonight, I want to say clearly: we need leadership and your leadership.

In these times of deep uncertainty … during this era of change and transformation … we need the sort of leadership that has long distinguished this venerable Atlantic Council.

A leadership dedicated to the common good — a global common good. A leadership of nations acting in concert as we have seen — in truly global stewardship.

This is the leadership that created the United Nations and its founding Charter. And this is the leadership that will keep its principles alive and strong.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As you may know, I lived through the Korean War, as was eloquently introduced by Dr. Kissinger. The United Nations led by the United States helped us through that dark hour. They came to us to rescue on the brink of collapse. Forever after, the UN for me has been a beacon of hope — and it still is for billions of others around the world.

Whenever I see all of them who are looking to the United Nations, I am humbled, just thinking of what kind of support I can bring to them.

Today … as then … I believe the United Nations can — and must — be the solution to the world’s great challenges.

Engagement through the UN is the way forward — to share the costs and responsibilities of leadership … to uphold universal values … and to steer the world through this Great Transition.

That is why in January, as I began my second term, I set out a road-map for my five year second term as Secretary-General. They are, in effect, five imperatives for collective global action — five generational opportunities to create the future we want:

— How to fight climate change and chart a new path of sustainable growth and development…

— How to prevent conflict and better respond to natural disasters and other humanitarian emergencies…There are many man-made tragedies, man-made crises.

— How to create a more just, secure and equitable world grounded in universal human rights…

— How to support nations in transition for democracy, where many people still in Arab and North Africa are struggling for their rights and for their legitimate aspirations. Legitimate rights for human dignity…

— And how to give the world’s women and young people greater voice and opportunity.

I will not go into these here. But let me say a few words about the common thread that weaves through all of them:

That is the importance of putting people first … the role of justice and fundamental freedoms … and the essential quality of human dignity. This is what the United Nations and I as Secretary-General are trying to achieve. Putting people first.

Ladies and gentlemen,

During the past year, our collective values were severely tested. To a degree greater than we might realize, the international community responded with courage, decisiveness and unity.

When an incumbent president refused to stand down after having lost an election in Cote d’Ivoire … when he threatened his people with civil war in order to preserve his own power, illegal power … we stood firm for democracy and human rights. Today, Laurent Gbagbo is awaiting trial in the International Criminal Court in The Hague — and a legitimate president, Alassane Ouattara, is in office.

When Muammar Qaddafi of Libya threatened to kill his own people, we acted. In doing so, we gave force to a fundamental new principle — that is the “Responsibility to Protect.”

And in each case, it is important to recognize that we acted, collectively, under an umbrella of legitimacy provided by the United Nations and regional organizations — the African Union, League of Arab States and others.

Gen. Brent Scowcroft, who has been such a strong leader of this Atlantic Council, said himself that this is the way of the future. I could not agree more.

Few events in modern memory have been more inspiring — or more challenging — than the Arab Spring.

From the outset of this transition, transformation, I called, the United Nations have called on leaders to listen to their people, carefully and sincerely, what their challenges, what their concerns are, what their aspirations are … and to enter into an inclusive dialogue with them … to act before it was too late.

Now, we must help these nations in transition. That is one of my priorities.

In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere, we are working for solutions that focus on people — building democratic institutions, helping to promote human rights, creating jobs and economic opportunity, especially for women and young people.

The challenge in Syria is especially difficult. 

The government continues to assault its people. Every day, unfortunately we see the most appalling images — troops firing in city centers …innocent civilians dying, even children.  Security forces are arresting and torturing people with great brutality.

Meanwhile, attacks by the opposition and other armed groups have escalated.

As of today, the United Nations has deployed 59 UN monitors. And we will expedite this number. By Thursday this week we will have more than 130, and by May 15 we will have more than 230. And we are accelerating to implement Security Council resolutions to deploy the full complement of 300 military supervisors and approximately 100 civilians by the end of this month.

Our most immediate goal is to save human lives, to see the end of this violence. The presence of UN monitors has in some cases reduced the intensity of violence in Syria.  But the situation is still very precarious and fragile. We also seek to create an opening for political engagement between the government and those seeking change.

Let me say clearly: this is a difficult mission at a difficult moment … a very dangerous mission. We know the security risks to our brave UN observers. We know that Syrian citizens could face punishment for even speaking with them. And we know the nature of the regime, which could well use the presence of the mission to prepare for further violence.

The efforts of our Joint Special Envoy, Kofi Annan, embody a hard-headed strategy to deal with these challenges.  Once again, I call on the Syrian government to uphold its responsibilities under the six-point plan — fully, without further delay.

As ever, strenuous partnership is indispensable — the UN and regional organizations such as the League of Arab States … the UN and nations represented here tonight.

We cannot predict how this will end. But we do know that there can be no compromise on fundamental principles of justice and human rights, in Syria or elsewhere. No amount of force can squash people’s aspirations to live in dignity and decency.

Twelve days ago, Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia, was found guilty by our special tribunal for Sierra Leone. Today I say: no leader, anywhere, anytime, should imagine that he — or she — enjoys impunity for crimes of atrocity.

Those responsible for such acts — in Syria or elsewhere — must be held accountable by the international community.

Ladies and gentlemen:

I began these remarks with a call to action — a call for global collective leadership that puts people first.

We need to create a more humane world, a world of real solutions for ordinary people. A world of greater justice … with more robust and proactive protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms … with greater security and equity for all.

As I see it, justice and dignity are not abstractions. They are not mere aspirations. They are rights of people— they are the responsibilities of governments to deliver.

None of these ideas are alien to anyone here this evening. They are core American values … they are core trans-Atlantic values … increasingly widely shared around the world.

Our challenge is to continue to spread these principles all around the world — and this universal code. And that takes leadership, your leadership.

If I could leave you with one thought, it would be this: the Atlantic Council has always stood firm for justice and equal rights in larger freedom.

Now is not the moment to lose heart … or change course.

And I thank you very much for this honour and thank you for your leadership and commitment. Let us work together to make this world better for all.

Thank you very much.