Unilateral Action Would Make for a Very Difficult World - Kofi Annan

In a wide-sweeping question and answer session following a speech at Yale University, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan emphasized that peace and security in the international order were the responsibility of all nations, not only the US. The UN Security Council was charged with this duty, he said, and any nation that ignored that would undermine stability in the world. - YaleGlobal

Unilateral Action Would Make for a Very Difficult World - Kofi Annan

On broader international security, the only recourse is through the UN
Friday, October 4, 2002
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan

Answering questions put to him by Yale University students regarding US plans to attack Iraq, Kofi Annan said that countries deciding to take action against other countries, not because they have been threatened or attacked, but because of a broader threat to international security, would make for “a very difficult world.” The United Nations Secretary-General said “That responsibility, under the charter, belongs to the Security Council.” Without the approval of the Security Council, a US attack on Iraq would be “a real challenge to the multilateral system,” Annan said.

Asked to comment on another recent example of American unilateralism - US backtracking on its support of the International Criminal Court - Annan sounded a more hopeful note. Noting that the US has been trying to sign bilateral treaties with individual countries to ensure that US citizens are not tried in the Court, he said he believed that as long as such arrangements “are in conformity with the [Rome] statutes, then I would not see much problem. But if it goes beyond that, and the arrangements are seen as weakening the Court, then it creates quite a lot of problems.” The US signed on to the Rome Statutes, which established the Court, during the last years of the Clinton administration. But Washington has since failed to ratify them, out of fear of what some have called the potential for ‘politically motivated’ accusations that would unjustly target Americans. Nonetheless, Annan said, “the US, as a democratic country, a country that believes in the rule of law, I hope in time will find its way to supporting the Court. Not today, not tomorrow, but I hope that the position is not immutable and that they will come on board.”

Moving from the global level to the personal, the last question posed to the Secretary-General asked how he - as a leader dedicated to building international consensus and common action - handles the limitations placed on his authority. He candidly responded, “There are moments of frustration, there are moments of incomprehension that I don’t understand, that if we really wanted to do this, the resources are there, the technology is there, the money is there. Why can’t we muster the will? What does it take?” Not to feel defeated, he said, is the key, “Because if you feel defeated and give up, then all is lost, particularly if you’re in charge. If the captain gives up, you’ve lost the ship.”

Read the transcript of the question-and-answer session.


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