UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was at George Washington University last Friday to receive an honorary Ph.D in Public Service and to give a lecture called “The United States and the United Nations: Working Together in the 21st Century.”
The speech was adequately summed up by two George Washington students I overheard as I walked down the sidewalk after the speech.
“We [the UN] need you [the U.S.], but know your role,” said a young man. The girl walking beside him agreed saying, “We need you, but you’re not doing it.”
So it wasn’t just my delusion that Annan was saying the U.S. is not doing enough and laying blame at our nation’s feet. Good to know I can still catch such subtleties.
Annan was welcomed with a standing ovation at the academic convocation held by GWU and their Elliot School of International Affairs in Lisner Auditorium. He was also praised warmly by Ambassador Charles T. Manatt, the GWU chairman of the Board of Trustees, the Elliot school’s Dean Michael E. Brown, and GWU President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg before being conferred his degree.
Manatt served in the Clinton administration as ambassador to the Dominican Republic. He also formerly chaired the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton/Gore campaign.
After Annan received his degree, he gave the first annual speech on U.S.-UN relations, saying that he sees “no hope of a peaceful and stable future for humanity in this century unless the United States provides strong and enlightened global leadership. But I do not believe the U.S. can do this on its own.”
Clearly addressing the United States’ decision to attack Iraq, Annan then said, “Some of you may agree with that, but still say, ‘why the UN?’ ‘Can’t we rely on our traditional friends and allies? Or on ad hoc coalitions of the willing? Or perhaps on a new organization, in which only democracies would be members?’ My answer is that those ideas are fine, but they are not alternatives to the UN.”
He also discussed the threat of international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction and the UN summit held last September in which they discussed a strategy for fighting terror based on Annan’s 5 D’s: “Dissuading people from resorting to or supporting terrorism; denying terrorists the means to carry out an attack; deterring states from supporting terrorism; developing state capacity to counter terrorism; and defending human rights.”
But Annan moved from terrorism and nuclear proliferation to poverty saying that most UN members would consider global poverty the “most urgent issue.”
According to Annan, the solution to global poverty is a free market without corruption, or at least that is how it first sounded.
“But billions of people will never have this chance unless there is a level playing field for world trade, without quotas, tariffs or subsidies that discriminate against the products of poor countries. And many countries are so poor that they cannot avail themselves of trading opportunities unless they also receive help to build up their infrastructure and capacity,” said the UN Secretary General.
So Annan isn’t actually interested in free markets, he is interested in making rich countries such as the United States pay to create infrastructures in poor countries so that then they can trade fairly.
According to my economics class, free markets offer competition and with competition come lower prices and with lower prices come a higher disposable income; and propping up anything whether it be American farmers or a foreign country is not a free market practice.
But Annan’s version of free markets is one in which rich nations are society’s great equalizers and where fairness is revered instead of competition. “Development requires a global framework of fairness and solidarity,” said Annan.
A little later in his speech Annan moved onto the topic of Darfur, Sudan. He said that last week the UN’s World Food program director said they will have to cut the rations for people in Darfur by half because “the funds pledged by many rich countries are not coming through fast enough.”
Annan also talked about the end of the UN Human Rights Commission, which the General Assembly decided in mid-March to replace with a Human Rights Council with directly elected members by secret ballot of the assembly. In order to sit on the council, a state must win an absolute majority of 96 votes.
“This new Council will review the human rights performance of all, starting with its own members,” said Annan. Members will be elected on Tuesday May 9th and begin their first session on June 19th. The United States has chosen not to run for election to the new Council at this time, and Annan finds that regrettable. But according to Human Rights Watch, many countries including Cuba, China and Iran are running for election to the Council, although they are glad Sudan, North Korea and Zimbabwe among others are not running for election. Human Rights Watch has a website that lists all the countries up for election and their respective human rights records.
Julia A. Seymour is a staff writer for Accuracy in Academia.