In new century, world at crossroads between horrors and hopes of past – Annan

23 June 2003
Secretary-General Kofi Annan

Declaring the world at a crossroads between a return to the horrors of the first half of the twentieth century or the burgeoning hopes of the second, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on the international community today to rise to the challenge of his vision of a new century blessed with a caring humanity, cooperation and free and fair markets.

Addressing world business and political leaders at an extraordinary session of the World Economic Forum on the shores of the Dead Sea in Jordan, Mr. Annan said the new century must build on, and adapt, the achievements of the later twentieth century, which he called “a world of increasing openness and freedom; of growing mutual confidence; above all, a world of hope.”

This had not happened by accident, he added, but “because, in and after 1945, a group of far-sighted leaders...determined to make the second half of the twentieth century different from the first” had “founded a network of institutions in which different nations could cooperate for the common good,’ with the United Nations in a central role.

The Secretary-General warned that further violence in the Middle East was “all too likely,” but urged the international community to help Israelis, Palestinians and Iraqis “put their painful past behind them.” He predicted that if this happened they would look back on 2003 as “a positive turning point” in their history.

“The day when Iraqis govern themselves must come quickly,” he said – quoting from the resolution passed last month by the UN Security Council – and he went on to urge the world, “following the strong lead given by President [George W.] Bush,” to hold the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers to the peace pledges they exchanged at Aqaba, Jordan, on 4 June.

Mr. Annan said the twentieth century offered two models for the twenty-first: that of its first half, “when almost the entire planet was devastated by two world wars, and freedom everywhere was threatened by the rise of totalitarianism.

“Horror was heaped on horror, until we reached the Holocaust and Hiroshima. Had things gone on like that, our lives now would be bleak indeed”, he declared.

Then there was the example of the second half, “which was not perfect, by any means, but was still a vast improvement.” Notwithstanding the “atrocities, including even renewed genocide,” the “many brutal wars,” and the “appalling violations of human rights,” there was “some incredible progress…amazing technical changes.

“With improvements in education and primary health care, child mortality was reduced. Literacy spread,” he added.

“The peoples of the developing world threw off the yoke of colonialism, and those of the Soviet bloc won political freedom. Democracy is not yet universal, but it is now more the norm than the exception.”

His own vision of the future, Mr. Annan said, involved “humanity building on the achievements of the second half of the twentieth century, adapting them, and carrying them much further.”

“I see human beings caring for each other,” he declared, “and states sharing responsibility for the safety and welfare of all people, wherever they may live.

“I see markets that are truly free and fair. The poor will be able to improve their lot by producing and selling, without facing trade barriers or unfairly subsidized competition.

“I see all peoples working together to care for their common home, the earth, ensuring that its riches are preserved for future generations.

“And I see decisions that affect the global interest being taken in global institutions, starting with the United Nations. All members will respect each other’s views, and strive honestly to reach agreement.”

Mr. Annan referred to the terrorist attack on New York City in 2001, and acknowledged the need for change, “including change in our institutions,” when “new challenges require new responses.”

He said he hoped UN Member States would “judge the value of change by the improvements it can bring in security and freedom, justice and prosperity for all.”

Recalling that he had described the 11 September attacks as “a gate of fire” to the new millennium, he concluded by proclaiming that “the gate of fire need not lead into a waste land.”

“Let our children look back on this time,” he declared, “and say that here, by the shores of the Dead Sea, we entered a living land – a land of hope.”


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