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24 January 1997

Press Release


19970124 Kofi Annan Says 'We Are Not Some Remote Foreign Body, UN Is Part of Your Daily Life'; Emphasizes that Time for Reform Is Now

This is the text of the statement delivered today by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the National Press Club, in Washington, D.C.:

It is good to be here today among the makers and shapers of American public opinion. I am grateful for this early opportunity to share with you my vision, my hopes and my plans for the future.

Some three weeks have passed since I became Secretary-General of the United Nations. One of the first pieces of advice I received was: "Steer clear of American journalists. The United Nations is so disliked in the United States that whatever you say will be criticized."

Everyone needs some advice he can ignore. As you can imagine, I have absolutely no intention of following such advice. Quite the opposite. I developed a high regard for American journalists soon after coming to this country nearly 40 years ago. I came to learn, to study and to familiarize myself with life in a society that cherishes the free flow of information and ideas. I emerged with a life-long commitment to democracy, to the rule of law and to politics as a blend of realism and generosity.

I have a second reason for not steering clear of American journalists. I am deeply convinced that the United States needs the United Nations just as the United Nations needs the United States.

Over the last 50 years, the United Nations and the United States have learned to use each other's strengths. One of America's earliest political lessons was that taught by Benjamin Franklin when he told the quarrelsome 13 colonies that if we don't hang together, we will surely hang separately. This was the insight which, after the horrors of the Second World War, led to the establishment of the United Nations, in great part through the efforts of

American statesmen. Franklin's lesson applies all the more across the world today.

The fact is that the United States and the United Nations have enjoyed a long and fruitful friendship. Last year, a broad coalition of Americans -- Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives -- working in a task force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, concluded that the United Nations had served American interests well.

I am, of course, aware of the numerous and persistent misunderstandings between us. I believe that the time has come to clear the air, to speak frankly between friends. An open, sincere and constructive dialogue is always healthy.

Allow me, first of all, to restate strongly my faith in the values of the World Organization. Those are the values of peace, of freedom and of justice, of progress and development, of generosity and solidarity, and of respect for human rights. These are also the values which have made America such a great nation. They are the values of the people who, 50 years ago, invited the United Nations to set up headquarters on its territory.

Among Americans, I have always found a warmth of feeling, and an appreciation for our work.

I am heartened by the many opinion polls which show strong American public support for the United Nations: for our peace-keeping and humanitarian assistance operations; for our economic development programmes; and for our vital work in the fields of human rights and democratization.

This enthusiasm and this commitment to the ideals of the United Nations extend to the thousands of Americans working in the United Nations system. We have more Americans in senior positions in the United Nations than any other nationality. Americans serve as heads of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP). An American is the Under-Secretary-General for Administration and Management. They will continue to play a leading role in carrying out our programme of reform. Yet another American is the head of a major United Nations peace-keeping operation in the former Yugoslavia. I mention these men and women today to make a very simple point: you are us.

The world has changed. It is increasingly interdependent. This interdependence, which profoundly benefits the United States, is fostered by the United Nations, through agreements among its sovereign Member States.

The United Nations promotes the freedom of trade and markets. Other United Nations bodies fight epidemics, famine, poverty; protect human rights;

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promote the protection of the environment; help the advancement of women and the rights of children.

United Nations agencies also set the indispensable rules and standards for safe and efficient transport by air and by sea. It is because of United Nations rules that all pilots and air traffic controllers across the world have to speak English. Imagine what would happen if they didn't. A United Nations agency works to ensure respect for intellectual property rights throughout the world. Another United Nations body coordinates the allocation of radio frequencies; without this, the international airwaves would be drowned in discordant noise.

The institutions of the United Nations advance the respect and promotion of international law and norms. This includes measures against terrorism, drug-trafficking and transnational crime. These problems cross frontiers; so must their solutions.

The Office the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) looks after some 45 million refugees and displaced persons worldwide. Without this essential institution, many countries would be destabilized by chaotic refugee flows.

And United Nations peace-keepers have in many cases prevented the escalation of conflicts and saved countless thousands of lives. They are helping to consolidate peace in such a wide range of countries as Angola, Cyprus, Haiti, Lebanon, Liberia and the former Yugoslavia.

These diverse activities show the many ways in which the United Nations touches the lives of ordinary Americans. We are not some remote foreign body; the United Nations is part of your daily life.

I have had constructive and positive meetings with President Clinton, with the members of his Administration, with Congressional leaders of both parties.

I have assured them that I am determined to reform the United Nations. Not reform for its own sake, but in order to revitalize the Organization's capacity to serve its Members in our changing world. We, too, cannot risk falling off the bridge to the twenty-first century.

We have already begun our journey across that bridge. Our high-level staff has been reduced by a quarter since 1992 and the total number of staff is down 25 per cent. Since last December, the Organization has taken steps to live within a no-growth budget capped at $2.608 billion for the two year period, 1996-1997. During the last 12 months, the Secretariat initiated more than 400 efficiency projects with concrete results already in hand -- for

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example, expanding the use of the Internet and the United Nations Home Page to disseminate United Nations information, reducing the cost of documentation and meeting services, and improving cash management.

United Nations funds and programmes are also engaged in reform that is helping the United Nations to get better results on the ground, from Rwanda to Haiti. For example, in reforms welcomed by the "Group of Seven" most industrialized countries last June, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) established a new intergovernmental structure, restructured its secretariat and consolidated five programmes into one. The World Food Programme (WFP) has established a negative nominal growth budget and at the same time refocused its resources to countries and people in greatest need. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has flattened its senior management structure, improved financial management and has worked with other United Nations agencies to harmonize its programme cycles in 27 countries.

In peace-keeping, we have developed the capacity to plan operations and provide better logistics to support our men and women in the field. We have a 24-hour "situation centre"; a professional military staff, largely loaned at no cost by governments; and a Lessons Learned Unit to capture the experience of the recent years of turbulence.

I could go on. But the point is that we will go on. Reform is a process, not an event. Its result will be a leaner and more efficient Secretariat. We will thoroughly review our structures and procedures in light of our limited financial resources. We will make a determined effort to eliminate duplication and overlap. We will seek to create a United Nations that is relevant to the challenges the world wants us to face. And we shall make every effort to attract, develop and retain the best possible talent. The United Nations should never be just another job; it is a calling. We must review that spirit, redefine our mission and reorient our efforts to fulfil that vision.

I have no hesitations or reservations about the place that reform has on my agenda as Secretary-General. I am convinced that a profound reform is essential both to realize fully the original vision of the United Nations Charter and to adapt the Organization to the far-reaching changes that are occurring in the international political and economic environment. I am carrying -- and will continue to carry -- this message, with the same force, to all my interlocutors, not just in Washington. I am convinced that reform is in the interest of all Members of the Organization, developed and developing countries alike.

In order to ensure that the Organization renews both its relevance and its effectiveness, reform must be rooted in a new consensus among governments

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on the role of the United Nations, its core functions, its priorities, what it can do best, what it should to with others and what it should leave to others to do.

I am keenly aware of the complexity of the task. Its success requires changes in structures and methods of work. It must involve mutually reinforcing actions by governments and by the Secretariat. And it requires the coming together of many actors around common objectives. I am, however, convinced that it can be done, and that the time for it is now.

I am prepared to place all of the authority of the Secretary-General behind this effort: by moving ahead decisively with managerial reforms that are within the prerogative of the Secretary-General; and by putting forward proposals and helping promote the necessary political consensus on those aspects of reform that require decisions by Member States.

There are three basic components to my reform strategy, all of which are being initiated now in parallel. They should produce concrete results at different stages during the course of the year, and will, I hope, lead to the adoption of a comprehensive package of reforms at the fall session of the General Assembly. I am optimistic because, in relation to each of these components, some of the foundations on which to build have already been laid; and because, already in my first few days in office, I have been able to test and, I believe, strengthen some of these foundations.

The first component involves expanding and accelerating the managerial reforms and efficiency review processes that are under way under the direction of Under-Secretary-General for Administration and Management Joseph Connor. Building on this work, I have challenged my senior programme managers and the staff at large to help me develop a further set of managerial improvements that can be implemented in the short term and that can significantly strengthen Secretariat efficiency and cost-effectiveness. I expect these measures to cover the whole spectrum of management: the way we manage our financial resources; the way we manage personnel; and the way we manage our operations. I am looking forward to a far-reaching streamlining and simplification of our administrative processes; and to a significant shift of resources from administrative routines to investments in information technology and management training, and from administration to programmes that can achieve concrete results on the ground. And I am looking forward to a further strengthening of the independent internal oversight function established in the Organization through the Office of Internal Oversight Services. This should include a strengthening of internal control standards and more effective methods of costing and evaluating the quality of our work products.

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I trust that there will be visible progress on all these fronts already in the next few months. This should prepare the ground for the Organization to live, and function effectively, within the parameters of the budget for 1998-1999 to be approved at the next session of the General Assembly. On the basis of the outline already approved by the Assembly, that budget will show, for the first time, negative growth in real dollar terms. By functioning effectively, I do not mean only administrative efficiency, but also the ability to deliver, within that budget, more focused programmes, effectively pooling capacities and resources around priority objectives.

I have tried to set the example in my own executive office, by streamlining its functions and reducing significantly the size and level of its staff. I have also initiated a practice of very frequent cabinet meetings with all the Heads of Departments and Programmes, emphasizing accountability and delegation of authority, the need for greater policy and programme coherence within the Secretariat and the importance of teamwork and continuous communication to avoid duplication and achieve greater impact. Sectoral groups (sub-cabinets) have been established to provide policy leadership and coordination in the four key areas of the United Nations work: peace and security; humanitarian relief; economic and social affairs; and development operations.

These encompass not only the central Secretariat, but also the various Programmes and Funds that are part of the Organization. These groups will meet weekly and allow, in some ways for the first time, for regular and systematic exchanges among different entities within the Organization that are working towards related objectives.

The second component of my reform strategy builds on these measures and is aimed at a significant simplification and rationalization of organizational structures. I have already laid the ground for a series of reviews in each of the major areas of the work of the Organization.

The third component reflects the fact that I will not be undertaking reform alone. I will work in close partnership with Member States engaged in a parallel process. Some of the duplication in the United Nations system exists because governments have created overlapping agencies, and only governments can eliminate them. I have already begun to work closely with the President of the General Assembly to ensure that we are on the same track. I must be careful not to encroach on the prerogatives of governments. But I will not hesitate to offer them my own ideas when I judge it can be helpful to facilitate transactions and move the process forward.

My report on United Nations reform will be completed by the end of July 1997, at which point I will initiate consultations with Member States and

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submit proposals to the General Assembly at its fifty-second session. For reform to succeed, we must build a consensus around it.

I have appointed Maurice Strong, a well-known reformer with both United Nations and corporate experience, as Executive Coordinator for United Nations Reform. Under my leadership, he will coordinate all aspects of the reform process, working closely with Under-Secretary-General Connor, former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Price Waterhouse, who is now in charge of the management of the Secretariat.

When Americans think of United Nations reform, they are not only thinking of those reforms the Secretary-General can introduce by himself. There is, for instance, the issue of the Security Council. Many governments believe that the size and composition of the Council reflects the political realities of 1945. They feel it should be enlarged to become more representative and take on other members to better reflect today's geopolitical realities. I share that view. But it is for Member States to decide the nature and extent of Security Council reform. It is my hope that the prolonged debate on this subject will be brought to closure this year.

Similarly, Americans are concerned that the scale of assessments places too high a burden on them. That scale was agreed with the rest of the world. It is based principally on your share of the world economy. If you were a poorer country, the United Nations would ask you for less. But the formula is not sacrosanct. The United States can negotiate a lower scale for itself -- but it must persuade other Member States first. I am always willing to help move such a process. But this is a challenge for American diplomacy, not for the Secretary-General.

Another issue we must address openly is the financial crisis of the United Nations and the American debt. Some have urged me to be reticent about this subject. But I know that most Americans do not like their country being thought of as one that does not keep its word, and many are eager to bring this problem to an end. Let me make it clear: the United States dues are the result of an open process amongst all Member States to which the United States has freely agreed. The United States plays a major part in deciding how the United Nations is run. But it cannot be run without the dues of its Members.

We must understand first of all that the crisis facing the United Nations is not one that can be dealt with by tinkering with the budget or using better cash management techniques. It is rather a political crisis -- a crisis of faith in the Organization.

As Secretary-General of the United Nations, I have committed myself to restoring that faith.

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The world must have an efficient and effective United Nations Organization. An Organization more adapted to the needs of the international community, with clear priorities and effective means of responding to the international crises and emergencies which confront us. An Organization which is well-managed, more open, more transparent, with simplified structures and new levels of accountability. Such an Organization, more focused in its aims, can achieve more with less.

And this Organization must better serve the Member States. Take peace- keeping. Member States decide on peace-keeping operations, not the Secretary- General. My role is to assist the Security Council in arriving at its decisions, to execute those decisions as efficiently and effectively as possible and to report fully and honestly with recommendations as to future action to be taken.

American interests are directly involved in the successful conduct of peace operations. Over the past few years, we have witnessed barbarism and injustice on a scale that, after the Second World War, we had hoped we would never see again.

If the United Nations did not exist, world public opinion would in all likelihood turn towards the sole super-Power to ask it to intervene. Instead, the United Nations provides the United States and other countries a way to share responsibility for peace and order around the globe and to take on collectively the political costs, the financial burden and the human risks involved.

If war is the failure of diplomacy, then surely diplomacy, both bilateral and multilateral, is our first line of defence. Any experienced Commander will tell you that without a strong defence, you cannot conduct an offence. The world today spends billions preparing for war. Shouldn't we spend a billion or two preparing for peace? It does not cost much to strengthen this vital line of defence. The United Nations actions in preventive diplomacy can avert the immense costs -- in lives and resources -- of war.

At the same time, the United Nations must be better able to meet the economic and social development challenges of tomorrow. These are the primary concerns of the majority of the United Nations membership.

Economic globalization is unquestionably the shape of the future. But with globalization comes the risk of marginalization for whole parts of the world. I am thinking of Africa and of its severe problems, as well as its great potential.

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As the one body that brings the world together -- rich and poor, big and small -- the United Nations cannot avoid being a major actor in economic and social development. The United Nations will not compete with the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund (IMF) -- but our efforts will be complementary.

Globalization is a source of new challenges for humanity. President Clinton has stressed the need for nations to work together to deal with the new realities of the global era. I agree with him: when we act together, we are stronger and less vulnerable to individual calamity. But we must help each other. To quote one eminent statesman, the late French President François Mitterrand, "if we buy into the illusion that we need only make the planet inhabitable for a few, it will end up becoming uninhabitable altogether".

Only a global organization is capable of meeting these global challenges. I want to say to the American people: you have such an organization. You have the United Nations.

The challenges facing the international community do not diminish with time. If anything, they grow more pressing and more difficult. The constant threats of terrorism, civil strife, violent conflict and environmental degradation remind us that the world is a fragile, uncertain, and at times, brutal place.

Meeting these challenges requires trust, partnership and commitment from us all: national governments, parliamentarians, regional and international organizations, non-governmental organizations, the media, the public -- in short, from all who make up the United Nations.

Today, I ask for partnership. I ask for rededication and reaffirmation of the ideals of the United Nations Charter. The vision which prompted leaders 50 years ago to create the United Nations remains just as relevant today, perhaps even more so.

Where we have differences, let us address them openly and honestly. But let us at last put an end to the accusations, counter-accusations and name- calling.

We share the extraordinary opportunity of taking the world into the new millennium. Let us leave behind the missed opportunities of recent years. Let us work together to build a world we can all be proud of.

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For information media. Not an official record.