The only way to achieve the key principles of international relations – collective responsibility, global solidarity, the rule of law, mutual accountability and multilateralism – is by “making the best possible use” of the United Nations, the departing Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today.
In a speech to the Truman Presidential Museum and Library in Independence, Missouri, his last to an American audience before he steps down on 31 December, Mr. Annan outlined the main lessons he has learned in his decade at the helm of the world body.
The Secretary-General also offered a challenge to the current and future leaders of the US to live up to the example set by former President Harry Truman, one of the founders of the UN, and to follow his credo that great States have a responsibility to serve and not dominate the peoples of the world.
“More than ever today Americans, like the rest of humanity, need a functioning global system through which the world’s peoples can face global challenges together,” he said. “And in order to function, the system still cries out for far-sighted American leadership in the Truman tradition.”
When the US remains aloof from global institutions, they cannot accomplish much, he said. But when the country is fully engaged, “the sky’s the limit.”
Mr. Annan said the first lesson he learned was that “the security of every one of us is linked to that of everyone else,” adding that is especially true today in an era when threats such as terrorism or avian flu “can be carried across oceans, let alone national borders, in a matter of hours.”
He stressed that this includes the shared “responsibility to protect” – a principle enshrined at last year’s World Summit – civilian populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
A second lesson is that “we are also, in some measure, responsible for each other’s welfare,” pointing towards the importance of achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the set of eight targets for ameliorating social and economic ills, all by 2015.
“It is not realistic to think that some people can go on deriving great benefits from globalization while billions of their fellow human beings are left in abject poverty, or even thrown into it.”
Another lesson, Mr. Annan added, is that security and development ultimately depend on respect for human rights and the rule of law.
The US has “historically been in the vanguard of the global human rights movement. But that lead can only be maintained if America remains true to its principles, including in the struggle against terrorism. When it appears to abandon its own ideals and objectives, its friends abroad are naturally troubled and confused.”
Turning to the fourth lesson, Mr. Annan said “governments must be accountable for their actions in the international arena, as well as in the domestic one.”
He argued that the current system is highly skewed so that poor and weak States are easily held to account because they depend on foreign assistance, while large and powerful States “whose actions have the greatest impact on others, can be constrained only by their own people, working through their domestic institutions.”
The fifth lesson, the Secretary-General concluded, follows automatically from the other four: “We can only do all these things by working together through a multilateral system, and by making the best possible use of the unique instrument bequeathed to us by Harry Truman and his contemporaries, namely the United Nations.”