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17 November 1998

Press Release


19981117 Kofi Annan Tells Foreign Policy Association Politics Are at Root Of Globalization's Difficulties and Will Be at Heart of Any Solutions

Following is the text of the address by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Foreign Policy Association, in New York today:

I am honoured to receive the Foreign Policy Association Medal tonight, and, in so doing, to succeed such distinguished American leaders as Hillary Rodham Clinton and Madeleine Albright. By honouring me, you honour the United Nations, and further strengthen the bond between the United Nations and the American public for whom the world at large remains as important as ever.

I would also like to pay tribute to all that the Foreign Policy Association does to enlighten America and Americans about the world and their role in it. I particularly value your motto, "An Informed Public is an Engaged Public", because it is more than just wishful thinking. Poll after poll shows that the better informed, the more willing the American public is to support global engagement in general and the United Nations in particular.

Forty-five years ago, in an address to this Association, my distinguished predecessor Dag Hammarskjold remarked that "one should never forget that the United Nations operates in a glass house". People who live in glass houses should not throw stones, they say. And I am not in the habit of throwing stones anyway.

But let me say one thing about this issue of American arrears. The problem is not with the followers, but with the leaders -- not with the people, but with politicians. I have spent too much time with ordinary Americans to blame them for their Government's inability to honour its obligations to the United Nations. The problem is in Washington, and only Washington can solve it.

What gives me hope, and what I know makes those ordinary Americans deeply proud, is to see individual Americans playing the role of peacemaker in

faraway conflicts. I am, therefore, delighted to receive your medal in the company of Admiral Turner and of such friends as Dick Holbrooke and George Mitchell, two distinguished and courageous diplomats who have served the world by serving the United States.

In the Balkans and in Northern Ireland, they have put the wisdom and the will of America behind the forces of peace. They have shown just what an engaged America can achieve on behalf of its own interests, and of the world's. They have proved that the most intractable of conflicts can end, with human will and human imagination.

I have myself just returned from a mission to Western Sahara, where another distinguished American diplomat, James Baker III, has been attempting, as my personal envoy, to usher in a final resolution to the dispute there. After years of stalemate over complicated issues of voter identification, we are now seeing real progress towards a free and fair referendum that may settle the future of the people of Western Sahara.

If we succeed, and if the parties on both sides maintain their will for peace without which no initiative can succeed, the process of peacemaking will have found yet another precedent. We will have witnessed a unique blend of multilateral, bilateral and individual diplomacy succeed where no single initiative on its own could do the job.

Common to all three peacemaking efforts has been the importance of American engagement. In Bosnia and in Kosovo, this means American leadership. In Northern Ireland, it means American mediation to assist the two governments and the Northern Irish parties to find the courage for peace. And in Western Sahara, it has meant the service of a respected American diplomat as an envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

To make peace between warring parties, to convince fighters to lay down their arms and tyrants to give up their tyranny, it is critical to see conflicts in all their complexity. To make peace, we may sometimes have to shake the hands of aggressors and lend our ears to voices of enmity. For in the words of the late Yitzhak Rabin, "we make peace, not with our friends, but with our enemies". This has been particularly apparent in the crises with which we have had to deal in recent days.

Peace is never a perfect achievement. Why? Because it follows war. It follows suffering; it follows hatred; it follows the worst that man can do. To restore humanity from such hell requires the patience of ages, the will to see light when all is dark and hope when all is bleak.

It is, alas, the work of the United Nations. It is why we were founded from the ashes of the most destructive war in human history. It is what we

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have sought to achieve for more than 50 years -- from Africa to Asia, from the Balkans to Latin America -- by keeping the peace, promoting development and protecting human rights.

This organization knows as well as anyone the price of American disengagement from the world. The League of Nations, in whose cause your association was established 80 years ago, foundered on the shoals of American isolationism. In retrospect, it may be said that the League of Nations was a flawed and idealized concept, too confident in the victory of our better natures, too willing to put its faith in words and not deeds.

But it was, in the words of the historian Arthur Schlesinger Sr., "a magnificent failure". We all know the price of that failure. Economic depression was followed by political extremism culminating in the most devastating war in human history.

After the Second World War, idealism was tempered by a sober realism, but the guiding idea of the League remained as strong as ever: to create a world of right, not might, of cooperation, not confrontation -- a world endowed with a United Nations. The United Nations was born, above all, from the understanding that ultimately, economic problems were political and security problems.

There was a recognition that prosperity and peace are political achievements, not simply natural consequences either of trade or of technological progress. In the 50 years since our founding, there has never been a time when this recognition was more urgently needed. Globalization's crisis threatens not only to undermine global prosperity, but the political foundations that sustained it.

To many, it is the phenomenon of globalization that distinguishes our era from any other. Globalization, we are told, is redefining not only the way we engage the world, but how we communicate with each other. We speak and hear often about the economics of globalization.

Rarely, however, are the political roots of globalization addressed in a way that would help us understand its political consequences -- both in times of progress and in times of crisis. Rarely, indeed, are the political aspects of globalization recognized by either its friends or its foes.

Today, despite the important steps taken by the Group of Seven and international financial institutions, globalization is seen by a growing number not as a friend of prosperity, but as its enemy; not as a vehicle for development, but as an ever-tightening vise increasing the demands on States to provide safety-nets while limiting their ability to do so.

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Whatever reality there is in this view, the perception of a siege is unmistakable. Millions of people are suffering; savings have been decimated; decades of hard-won progress in the fight against of poverty are imperiled. And unless the basic principles of equity and liberty are defended in the political arena and advanced as critical conditions for economic growth, they may suffer rejection.

Economic despair will be followed by political turmoil and many of the advances for freedom of the last half-century could be lost. The world, and the United Nations, must react -- economically, financially, but also politically. Political liberty must be defended and advanced as a necessary condition for lasting economic growth, even if not a sufficient one.

Democracy must be accepted as the midwife of development, and political and human rights must be recognized as key pillars of any architecture of economic progress.

This is, undoubtedly, a tall order. But it is one that must be met, if globalization is not to be recalled in years hence as simply an illusion of the power of trade over politics, and human riches over human rights.

As the sole international organization with universal legitimacy and scope, the United Nations has an interest -- indeed an obligation -- to help secure the equitable and lasting success of globalization.

We have no magic bullet with which to secure this aim, no easy answers in our common effort to confront this challenge. But we do know that the limitations on the ability of any State or any organization to affect the processes of globalization call for a global, concerted effort.

If this effort is to make a genuine difference, it is clear that immediate economic relief must be combined with efforts to nurture legitimate, stable and responsive political institutions that over the long run will engender the trust of local as well as foreign investors.

Indeed, to a great extent, the current crisis was rooted in the flaws and failures of economies characterized by unsound policies, corruption and illiberal politics.

However, we must not be blind to the fact that irresponsible lending practices and aggressive investment policies pursued by outsiders played their part, too.

I have argued tonight that politics are at the root of globalization's difficulties, and that politics will be at the heart of any solutions. But where will solutions be found?

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After the end of the cold war, it was argued that all nations, once secure in prosperity, would turn to multilateral institutions out of maturity; today, I believe, they may turn to those same institutions out of necessity. The challenge facing the United Nations is to ensure that the difficulties facing globalization do not become an impediment to global cooperation, but rather give such cooperation new life and new promise.

The challenge to the United States is to recognize its own importance to the global response and understand that the United Nations can and will play a central role in shoring up economic development and protecting political progress.

In meeting this grave and historic challenge we -- the United Nations and the United States -- may both benefit from recalling the words of America's greatest president this century, and the founder of the United Nations, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In his fourth inaugural address, President Roosevelt made a passionate plea for America's global engagement:

"We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well- being is dependent on the well-being of other nations, far away. We have learned that we must live as men, and not as ostriches, nor as dogs in the manger. We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community."

In this era, we have learned our lessons, too: that democracy is the condition for true, lasting and equitable prosperity; and that without global cooperation between the great and the small alike, no progress and no peace can last forever.

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For information media. Not an official record.