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In Larger Freedom

Making the Case That the UN Still Matters

Kofi Annan photo

This report is part of "Security Check: Confronting Today's Global Threats," a radio documentary produced by the Stanley Foundation in association with KQED radio.

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On March 30, 2005, Keith Porter, Stanley Foundation director of communications and outreach, and program officer Kristin McHugh interviewed United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan about his newly released report, "In Larger Freedom." The interview was conducted in the secretary-general's conference room at UN Headquarters in New York.

Keith Porter: My first question for you, this phrase collective security, we use that; I'm sure you hear that a lot. But for the average American I'm not sure that term means much. What does collective security mean to you?

Kofi Annan: I think the best way to explain it is how we—as an international community or countries working together—protect ourselves. Because today now more than ever, we are facing threats and dangers that cannot be handled alone by any one country. We need to work together to be able to deal with them. Several examples are issues of terrorism. Governments have to cooperate to ensure that they are denied the opportunities, to ensure that they are denied support...exploitation of the financial system, to ensure that they are not given refuge by anybody.

You have other examples. Recently the tsunami in Asia, it became very apparent that the governments in the region, if they had come together and established an early warning system as we have in the Pacific, it would have really helped everybody. Now they are coming together with UNESCO and the UN system, working with them to establish a tsunami system. Another issue is the area of environment, which if we do not cooperate, we are going to endanger the planet, not just for ourselves, but our children and their children. So we need to work together. And we have also been able to work together even in areas of military, use of force. The international community came together: a good example, I think, is the first Gulf war. Everybody banded together and they said we cannot allow Saddam Hussein to just walk into Kuwait and wipe it off the face of the earth and we must go in and get him out. And we did.

Porter: Kristin and I were just in northern Uganda earlier this year and we went to see the civil war, went to visit the victims of this war, we wanted to explain to the people how this war affects the countries around it as well and how all of these are all interconnected. But when we come back, and we're sitting here in New York or our homes in Iowa, how do we explain to Americans why civil conflict in Africa should be a concern of theirs?

Annan: Now, I'm really happy that you went to northern Uganda, it's one of the forgotten crises. People are suffering, the war goes on, many people are killed or kidnapped, particularly children, but it's not on anybody's radar. We try with the UN armies—of the UN—to do a lot to help them.... But you are right, I often tell my African leaders, my African friends, that when a crisis begins in a country next to you, don't behave as if it's only that country's problem, because it will not stay in that country for long. It soon destabilizes the neighborhood, the neighboring countries, and causes problem[s] for the citizens of the countries concerned but also the neighboring countries.

And we've seen what happens when countries are allowed to fail. Failed states, if we abandon them and ignore them, can create problems for us. A good example was Afghanistan. Afghanistan was forgotten. Nobody paid attention or supported [it], and it became a haven for terrorists, who trained more terrorists and of course, we all know what happened here in this country on September 11. And these are the reasons we need to care about failed and failing states.

Porter: You mention civil conflict, failed states, terrorism. There is a connection between all of these things.

Annan: Absolutely. The report I've put before the member states makes it quite clear that there is a link between development and security. You cannot have development without security and you cannot have security without development, and all this should be embedded on the respect for human rights and the rule of law. So it all hangs together. And we all need to cooperate to make it happen.

Porter: The United Nations was created to safeguard the world, help the world come together to face those threats you've talking about. But we all know that there is a less than perfect track record and that the UN has been plagued by scandals, not just in the last year but over the course of its history. Is the UN still the best option for the world when it comes to tackling these problems?

Annan: I think the UN is an indispensable organization. We've done a lot for the peoples of the world. Like all organizations, institutions, governments, and corporations, we've had our problems. We've had our share of problems. But we've also had our share of successes. And let's not forget that over the past eight, nine years or so, UN has done lots of things from the Millennium Development Goals to the elections we've organized around the world, to our emphasis on human rights and democratization, helping governments to strengthen institutions. A whole range of things, but of course, those... that's not news. That's not news. But I think UN needs to adapt, it needs to improve. We need to strengthen our management, we need to be much more transparent, and we need to be able to restructure and adapt ourselves to face the challenges of today—and I think the proposals I have put before the members for reform will help us move forward in that direction.

Porter: What is your plan for getting past the events of the first part of this year, and how do you restore confidence both in your leadership and in the institution?

Annan: I think we are moving ahead. That's one of the reasons why I set up a very strong and independent panel, committee, to investigate the accusations that have been leveled against us and to get to the bottom of this, and asking everyone in the organization to cooperate fully. And I, myself, have cooperated very fully with the Volker committee. And I was happy that on the main issue of insinuation that I may have interfered with the contracting process. There's not an iota of evidence that I did. And that, I think, is clear and important—that the world out there gets to know that. It did criticize me that we hadn't done enough, a deeper investigation into allegations against a company, but an investigation was done. But they felt a deeper one should have been conducted and I accept that, in hindsight.

But I think we are moving ahead. We're improving our management. We are taking steps to ensure that peacekeepers do not get involved with sexual exploitation. And we have taken very concrete steps to strengthen training of peacekeepers, to make sure the governments cooperate with us, to make sure the governments will allow us to set up a court martial—court martial some of these troops in the country where they are serving. As of today, we have no control over these troops. We borrow them from governments, and if there's wrong-doing, we repatriate them back home and the government concerned is suppose to discipline them. Some do, others don't. But if we can do it, in theater, and have a court martial by the army, I think it will help us a lot. And we've also dealt with some of the civilians who've been involved with this, and we are determined to do that.

Porter: In March, you released a report that called upon the nations of the world to take certain actions between now and the September summit. What do you want to happen in world capitals between now and the September 60th anniversary?

Annan: I would want them to take a very critical look at my report and discuss it among themselves—and in fact, that process has started already here. And I'm also in touch with some of the leaders around the world, engaging them. And I've been attending summits. I was at the Arab summit last week to talk to them about reform. I've been to the African Union summit. I've been to the European Union summit to talk to them about the reform.

And there's some interesting things in that package. We talk about terrorism and how to deal with it and how to cooperate. There's very clear definition of terrorism that I've put forward. We are concerned about nuclear terrorism and we make proposals for containing that. We are strong on nonproliferation proposals. We also have the proposals that will strengthen the Human Rights Commission, and make it smaller and much more effective and be able to assist governments, but focus on the human rights rather than politicization that we see today. There's also a proposal to expand the Security Council from 15 members to 24, because the 15-member composition, quite frankly, reflects the geopolitical realities of 1945. We need to bring it in line with today's realities—make it more democratic and more representative, and I believe if we do that, it will gain in greater legitimacy.

On the issue of economic development, we encourage each country to come up with a poverty reduction strategy by 2006. And the countries that are able to formulate a good strategy, and are ready to move ahead, we think they should be fast-tracked, and the donor governments should give them the assistance required to do it. They should improve the governance; they should strengthen their institutions and regulatory system. From the developed world, we would want to see increased development assistance. We would want to see successful negotiations of the Doha round that will help the trade of these countries. But as a first step, we are asking them to waive tariffs for all goods coming in from least developed countries into their markets, 'cause really these are small quantities, but it's very important for those countries. And, of course, there's also talk about looking for innovative sources of funding. We believe that almost every country can meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, if we all do the right thing; the developed countries doing the kinds of things I explained, the strategy, the poverty alleviation strategy, strengthening their governance which they can get help to do. And the developed world giving them the resources and assistance, so it's a partnership, it's a partnership and a consensus we arrived at in Monterrey.

I'm saying let's respect the Monterrey consensus and let's show some international solidarity here, because we are all in this together and I think the question you asked about the failed state is a case in point. Because it may be a failed state, thousands of miles away from where we are sitting; but left alone, if the terrorist get a hold of it and use it as a base, we are going to pay a price. So we have to help them develop; we have to strengthen their institutions and make sure that we're all moving on the right path.

Porter: Is there anything specifically that you would like the United States to do between now and September?

Annan: I think the United States has a natural leadership in this organization. And their involvement and cooperation on the reform proposals is extremely important. I have spoken to President Bush since my report came out and also Secretary of State Rice, and they have both indicated to me that they will support and work with me on that reform. Obviously, they don't accept everything in the report, but there are lots of good things in the report that we can all embrace. So I'm looking forward to working with them.

Porter: The high-level panel report said that the erosion of the nuclear nonproliferation process in the world was nearly irreversible or may be irreversible. What can we do to protect this?

Annan: I think we need strengthen the inspection regime. I hope the Additional Protocol would become general and everybody would adhere to it. I hope it would strengthen the NPT. We're going to do a nonproliferation treaty regime, which is going to be looked at. And also the countries that have not joined the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, should be encouraged to do it. But I also believe that the nuclear powers should take the lead by demonstrating new energy or seriousness about disarmament, to dissuade others, that it's no use going...it doesn't help you to go in this direction. What's the point of building up weapons, spending lots of money, if you're going to have to dismantle it?

Porter: I'm wondering about your personal motivation in this job. You know, it seems that every time something bad happens in the world that no one wants to deal with, they bring it to the United Nations. And it seems like everyday when you get out of bed, you must know that when you get to work, on your desk there will be a new problem that is awful and no one wants to deal with.... What motivates you to get out of bed every morning?

Annan: You're absolutely right that sometimes I go to bed wondering what I'm going to wake up to in the morning, and what we'll have to deal with. And invariably, there's always something that we need to deal with, something that affects the UN agenda when you wake up in the morning. And it's been a tremendous challenge for the past eight, nine years, and also we have lots of problems around the world. But each time I feel that I'm able to make a little difference that affects an individual's life or improves the situation a little bit. And as someone who believes in the ideals of the United Nations, it keeps you going.

And I think you'll remember that when I took this job, one of my first reactions was that we should bring the UN closer to the people, work with the NGOs, the universities, the private sector. And some people ask me, 'Why is the SG opening up and going to the private sector?' and I said, look at the Charter. It starts with "We the peoples" and the peoples are out there. They are not in this building. So let's go there and work with them and try and make a difference in their lives. This is what we are here for. We need to put the human being at the center of everything that we do. So if I'm able to help one individual and I feel that what I have done has made life a little better for someone or improved it, it keeps me going. And I hope at the end of the day, they will say, "the UN has done something."

"Security Check: Confronting Today's Global Threats" is part of the 2005 Public Radio collaboration "Think Global," May 16-22. The documentary is produced by Simon Marks, Keith Porter, and Kristin McHugh. It is a Stanley Foundation production in association with KQED Public Radio. The full program includes segments on civil war in Uganda, loose nuclear material in Russia, AIDS in Thailand, and small arms in Colombia.

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