Global Policy Forum

Only Reformed UN Can Confront Combined Threats of

UN News Service
February 10, 2005

From terrorism and weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) to hunger, disease and conflict that reap a deadly toll of tsunami proportions every few months, the world is facing a confluence of threats that only a United Nations reformed for the 21st century can resolve, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a landmark speech today.

"I said two years ago that this might be the most decisive moment for the international system since the UN was founded in 1945," Mr. Annan told a high-level London seminar on UN reform hosted by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "We are living through a time of danger, but also of great opportunity.

"The question is, will governments muster the will to seize that opportunity, and decide on a package of reforms offering protection against threats of both kinds – from terrorism and WMD to poverty, hunger and disease. By tackling them all at once we can make sure that no one – North or South, rich or poor – will feel left out, and that everyone will feel an interest in implementing the whole package," he declared in the historic 400-year-old Banqueting House in Whitehall.

Mr. Annan outlined the litany of threats endangering humanity and stressed the importance of the findings of two reports he commissioned on the shared responsibility of achieving a more secure world, and on attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of slashing major global scourges, such as extreme poverty, hunger and lack of health care and education in half by 2015.

"The threats we face are threats to all of us. And they are linked to each other," he said. "We will not defeat terrorism unless we also tackle the causes of conflict and misgovernment in developing countries. And we will not defeat poverty so long as trade and investment in any major part of the world are inhibited by fear of violence or instability."

Outlining the horrors of terrorism and WMDs, he added: "Many experts tell us the question is not whether, but how soon, the two will be combined – and we see, for example, a "dirty bomb" detonated in central London, or some other major capital. The loss of life would be shocking, but as nothing to the social and economic effects."

Disruption would be felt around the world with millions in Asia, Africa and Latin America losing their livelihoods because of the impact on the global economy in parts of the world already confronting many other, more immediate threats such as hunger, disease, ecological degradation, corrupt and oppressive government and civil and ethnic conflicts.

"In some parts of Africa a combination of disease, starvation and deadly conflict is causing a disaster of tsunami proportions every few months," he said referring to the December disaster which killed over 200,000 people, injured over half a million more and left up to 5 million others in need of basic services in a dozen Indian Ocean nations.

"In this age of global interdependence, you in London can no more afford to ignore such suffering than people in other parts of the world could ignore it if Whitehall and the City had to be evacuated because of a terrorist attack."

Stressing again the interconnectedness of the threats, he noted successes, too, ranging from the response two years ago the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) from China to Canada to recent successful elections in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories, as well as pledges for the free mass distribution of anti-malaria bed nets that could save the lives of up to a million African children each year.

Mr. Annan expressed confidence that September's 60th anniversary summit at UN Headquarters in New York offers a unique opportunity to bring all these issues together, noting that next month he will issue his own report for improving the world body. "You see, the world does need a forum for collective decision-making and it needs an instrument of collective action. Our founders intended the United Nations to be both those things. Our task is to adapt and update it so that it can perform those functions in the 21st century," he declared.

"The time is ripe to bring economic and military security back into a common framework, as our founders did at San Francisco sixty years ago. They expressed their determination not only to ‘save succeeding generations from the scourge of war' but also ‘to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.' "Until now, that aspiration has been at best only partly realized. Let's resolve, this time, to do better," he concluded.

Access the Secretary General's full speech here



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