United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today that in the post-9/11 world the leadership of the United States, the sole superpower, would be most effective when exercised within a multilateral framework.
In an address to the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles to mark its 50th anniversary, Mr. Annan reviewed the recent history of multilateralism as he spoke “about a topic that is very close to my heart – the importance of the United Nations to the future of the world.”
He said the determination to live in a world governed by shared values could lead to success in the fight against “the politics of isolation and despair that terrorism seeks to create and bring the collective power of nations together to defeat the enemies we face.”
“Obviously, leadership is essential. The United States is the sole remaining superpower. With that power comes great responsibility,” he said. “I sense a widespread international acceptance of American leadership.
“But I also sense that its leadership will be more admired than resented and, indeed, that it will be most effective when it is exercised within a multilateral framework, when it is based on dialogue and the patient building of alliances through diplomacy and when it is aimed at strengthening the rule of law in international affairs.”
These are the principles on which, thanks in part to the United States, the United Nations is based, he said.
In 2000 world leaders gathered at the UN and worked out the Millennium Declaration, setting out their common objectives for the new century, Mr. Annan recalled.
The horrific terrorist attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001 threatened to end this new era of hope and confidence, and instead raised fears that borders would close, freedoms would be curtailed or suppressed and “that the march towards democracy and human rights for all would be halted or even reversed.”
But “practically all the governments of the world immediately understood that the best way – perhaps the only way – to prevent this happening was to confront this threat together” he said.
“Almost never in history has the world been as united as it was in the months after the attacks of 11 September – and it was united with America.”
Now divisions have appeared but this acrimony has only underlined the need for the United Nations, he said.
Recalling the many challenges faced by the UN throughout its history, Mr. Annan said that the Organization had not stopped terrible wars in Indochina, South Asia, the Middle East and Africa’s Great Lakes region, but it was a vehicle for action against Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and helped to bring peace to many lands, including Cambodia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mozambique, Namibia, Sierra Leone and East Timor, he said.
The world body has also brought aid to millions affected by fighting, famine and floods, he said.
The UN system, including its financial and trade institutions, “helped to achieve a remarkable half-century of progress, Mr. Annan said. “The world economy not only recovered from the devastation of 1945, it expanded as never before.”
Air traffic was made safer, smallpox eradicated and women’s rights were advanced in many parts of the world, as were those of many oppressed peoples, Mr. Annan said, as he listed the many achievements of the world body.
The United States could claim a large share of the credit, he said, “but the successes of this era required cooperation and interaction among the governments and peoples of the world in a manner never before seen. Much of that occurred through the United Nations.”