Kofi Annan: Adapting to a Changing World

Wednesday, June 9, 1999

Asia Society, New York, NY

An Evening with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Asia Society President Nicholas Platt

The following is a transcript of their discussion.

Nicolas Platt: Welcome to the Asia Society. Tonight is the 25th President's Forum and we are delighted to have with us UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. This program began in 1987 and the guest was John Chancellor. We have had His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We have had two of your predecessors. Bill Richardson was here just relatively recently, before he left the UN. And, it has been a great event. The reason it has been a great event is because of this auditorium. And, people get a feeling that they are sitting in the living room and having a talk with…

Kofi Annan: It is a big living room. [Laughter.]

Mr. Platt : ...In this case, Kofi Annan. But, the acoustics are good, and it is nice and steeply banked, and so there is a sense that you are right there.
So, the idea is really just to do some talking. Now, my job is to introduce you. And of course, we had a very dramatic scenario in which you would be off-stage and I would introduce you, and then the lights would go down, and there you would be. But, the important thing is that you are here. [Laughter.]

My concern this afternoon, when we were hearing all kinds of reports about events at the U.N. and the possibility of the Security Council meeting tonight and all of that, was that you might not be able to come. But, we decided to tough it out, and we are so glad you are here.[Applause.]

Let me just say a few words of background. First, about this event. This event would never have happened if it was not for Janet and Arthur Ross. So, I want them to stand up and take a bow. This is their event. [Applause.]

The event would never have happened if it was not for Shashi Tharoor, who is your Communications Director and close advisor and also a very, very good friend of the Asia Society. And, I am very grateful to him.

So, here we are. Kofi Annan is one of the most visible and approachable and accessible Secretaries General that we have had here in New York. And, he was born in Ghana, schooled in Ghana. Finished his schooling in Macalester College in Minnesota, which I think is a very cold place for a Ghanaian. [Laughter.] I am told that the movie, you like this movie called "Fargo," because it [laughter] points fun at the Minnesotans.

But, in any case, you have a number of advanced degrees, including from M.I.T. But basically you are a U.N. pro, and a pro's pro. And, as someone who spent thirty-five years of my life as a professional diplomat, I love the idea of a pro having one of the top jobs. [Laughter.] And, this is why this meeting, for me, is so exciting.

But, he has really been everything at the U.N. He has been in personnel. He has been in finance. He has been in peace-keeping. He has had incredibly difficult, delicate missions getting employees out of Iraq. All kinds of different things. He has been the Secretary General's representative in Bosnia. So, he is ideally suited for this task at hand.

And therefore, I will bring this introduction to an end shortly by saying he is considered one of the very, very few New Yorkers who has never lost his cool. [Laughter.] And, this is one of the reasons that he is in the job that he's in.

So, tell us about your day. [Laughter.] I think that is what we should start with.

Mr. Annan: It was quite a day, actually. Yesterday, we thought we would pass a resolution on Kosovo today. The Council met and decided that this morning they will start discussing the resolution. But, a couple of things needed to happen.

We needed confirmation from NATO that the military technical agreement has been signed between NATO and the Yugoslav authorities, the Yugoslav army; that withdrawal has begun, verifiable withdrawal has begun. And, once they can verify that the withdrawal has begun, then of course there will be a pause in the bombing, and the Security Council will move ahead and take its decision. As you know, there are two members of the Council, two permanent members with vetoes, who have insisted that there ought to be a pause before they vote on the resolution: China and the Russian Federation. So, the timing had been done in such a way that that was going to be possible.

We waited, thinking that we would get the confirmation. And, I had also some hectic planning and sessions with my own team. My two envoys Carl Bildt and [Eduard] Kukan were also in town, talking to the Council, talking to my team. But, I just spoke to [NATO] Secretary General Solana, and we are likely to pass a resolution tomorrow.

Mr. Platt: Good. So, do we owe it to the Chinese and the Russians that you are here tonight? [Laughter.]

Mr. Annan: Not quite, not quite. [Laughter.] Not quite. I think the military technical agreement was a bit delayed. By the time it was signed, it was too dark to verify whether they were actually withdrawing or not. And so, that verification can only be done in daylight tomorrow morning.

Mr. Platt: Right.

Mr. Annan: And then I will get a confirmation.

Mr. Platt: Good.

Mr. Annan: But, yes. It is a combination of factors. That is it. Yes.

Mr. Platt: So, this is a very important resolution, it seems to me, because up until recently the U.N. role has been secondary at best. And, I know that you have made very strong statements about the importance of establishing the Security Council as the source of legitimacy for the use of force. And, if we did not do that, that we would, you know, lose our way.

Now, it seems to me that this resolution as it is currently drafted will put the U.N. back in a position of primacy. Do you agree with that? In that, are we back on track?

Mr. Annan: I think in some ways we are, and I can say that quite a lot of the members are pleased about that. And, I myself have said to the press when they asked me, has the UN been marginalized, has the U.N. been left out of this. I said, initially it looked that way. But, at the end of the day everyone realized that they had to come back to the U.N., and that the U.N. had to be part of the solution.

How do you put troops down in Kosovo without Security Council approval? How do you establish an interim administration in Kosovo without Security Council approval? In a way, you are establishing a sort of trusteeship. So, there is a whole range of things that only the Security Council can do.

So, we have come back to the Security Council, which proves that sooner or later one has to tend to the council. And, I hope it to be sooner rather than later. But, it is important to stress the fact that the Security Council has come into its own, but it also requires that the Council members find a way of working harmoniously, and quickly, on difficult issues of the day.

Because, on this particular Kosovo situation we are dealing with two competing priorities. The need to respect the requirements of the Charter, as to the rule of the Council, and the compelling imperative to act in a difficult humanitarian situation, in the circumstances, prior to what is given to the latter. And, by doing that, some had the concern that if you are not careful, groups and governments with less legitimate claims may use this as a precedent and also take action without reference to the council.

What also made this particular NATO action difficult for members and also dangerous is that you had an organization with three permanent members of the Security Council acting without reference to the council. What moral and legal authority would they have tomorrow to then lecture others, if they were to go the same route? So, this was really difficult and dangerous.

But, now that they have come back, I hope we have all learned some lessons. And, in the future we will know how to move.

Mr. Platt: Well, it gets the Russians and the Chinese back into the tent.

Mr. Annan: Absolutely.

Mr. Platt: And, you cannot really have them out and have a lasting solution.

Mr. Annan: In fact, we had a retreat last weekend with all the security council members. And, one of the issues we discussed was unity of the Council, because their strength lies in unity. I mean, even those with vetoes really do not have power. They have power to block, to veto, but they cannot make things happen. And, their strength only lies in their unity. And, you know, here on Kosovo finally they seem to be coming together to resolve it.

And there are one or two divisive issues which we should also resolve. And, if we do that then the Council itself will be conflict-free and it can then take on the challenges of the world.

Mr. Platt: That will be a great day. What are the issues that are still the sticky ones?

Mr. Annan: I think Iraq is another divisive issue. I think that Kosovo and Iraq have been the two really divisive issues. And, if once we find some way of resolving them. I think Kosovo we are now, we have, hopefully by tomorrow we would have been over the hump. But, Iraq is still with us, and we have to. It is not on our front pages. And so, we do not think about it, but it is very much there.

Mr. Platt: Well, it strikes me that this resolution in fact gives the Secretary General and the Security Council a bigger role...

Mr. Annan: That is correct.

Mr. Platt: Than was given to it in Bosnia. Isn't that true?

Mr. Annan: That is correct.

Mr. Platt: I mean, more sweeping responsibilities.

Mr. Annan: More sweeping responsibilities. We are going to have a large international presence, a military presence, which will be a multi-national force, including NATO members, Russians and possibly some neutrals. And, then the civilian presence, which will practically run the place. It will administer Kosovo. We will do reconstruction, institution building, setting up the courts, training the police, the civil administration, dealing with the question of the return of the refugees, which is a major, major task. You have about eight hundred and fifty thousand people in Albania and Macedonia alone. And, you have internally about six hundred thousand people who are also displaced. And, quite a lot of the structures and buildings have been destroyed.

So, you are going to have a race against time, trying to prepare the shelters for them and prepare for the winter. Whether we will be able to get all of them in before the winter, I doubt that. But, even if we were to agree to get half of them in is quite a task. It is about four hundred thousand people. And then, trying to find places for those who have been internally displaced somewhere in the mountains and get them all to go home. It is a major task that we have been given.

The military task, as enormous as it seems, is relatively simple. Because, in the military situation you have formed units, often waiting in these countries, preparing to defend their nation or to go into action. So, you can move formed units and take them in and get them done. When it comes to police, for example, if we talk of two thousand police, we have to recruit them from all over the world and then begin to prepare them and train them for the activities we are going to entrust to them. And, to begin policing an environment where you do not speak the language, you do not know the laws, you do not understand the psychology, is an extremely complex task.

Mr. Platt: Very. How will NATO fit into all of this? Is it sort of an interlocking directorate? Or, I mean, I am trying to figure it out.

Mr. Annan: No, no. This has been one of the difficult discussions between Washington and Moscow. In Bosnia, we have a multinational force which has a NATO core, a NATO command and control structure.

The Russians have participated in that operation, but they are not part, effectively they are not part of the central command and control structure. They are tacked on to it. They have their zone. They take their, they do the operations. The command decides what needs to be done, and the various contingents are at task as to what to do.

I do not think they have been pleased with that arrangement. So, they wanted a structure that would integrate the whole headquarters so that they will be involved in the decision-making, planning and implementation all the way down the chain. And, this has been a very tough issue to crack. As we speak, discussions are, too, going on, but I am confident they will find a solution.

Mr. Platt: Yes. Well, it is a very historic undertaking, and we wish you all of the best.

Mr. Annan: Thank you very much.

Mr. Platt: In putting this together, it strikes me as being perhaps indicative of a trend. You know when you look back over the history of the U.N. during this century, you see a collection, an organization of sovereign states, all working to implement a universal declaration of human rights.

And, there is an almost innate contradiction in this, because the application of the declaration often violates countries' perceptions of what their sovereignty is. And if you look at the various different conflicts that we have on the docket, Kosovo, Kashmir, Timor, they all fit into this pattern. Of course, most of the interacting problems involve relatives, real estate and religion. [Laughter.]

But, over the last, you know, decades, the nod has always gone to sovereignty. And, in this Kosovo settlement, it seems to me that there has been a nod given to human rights. And, I am wondering if this is the beginning of a trend, or whether the Balkans are just unique.

Mr. Annan: I think it is an evolving phenomenon. And even international law is developing in that direction, where human rights is being given more and more central attention. There are those who would argue that states really exist to protect citizens as an organizational structure for the benefit of citizens, and not the other way around.

I myself have argued that our own charter, which starts with "We the peoples of the world…" has given us some very wonderful ideals and norms. And we also came up with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And that, even though we are an organization of governments and sovereign states, the ideals and the principles we exist to protect belong to the people. And therefore, it is the individual who is at the center of everything that we do.

And, you are right, we have also organized the world in our own organizational concept of sovereignty. But, since the nineties, I see an evolution where governments are becoming more and more concerned about human rights. And I think the declaration is taking on a universal character. It is becoming more alive now than it was ever before.

When I travel around the world and I see the energy and the enthusiasm about human rights issues and how societies and people are organizing themselves, we are noticing a phenomenon where peoples and governments, our peoples are telling their governments that, you may have the authority, but there is something higher. The individual human being and its basic and intrinsic rights.

No one would have expected what happened in London on the Pinochet case to happen. And, when you look at some of the discussions in the U.N. Human Rights Commission, the reactions of the public to some of these things, you can see that whether we like it or not, we are moving in that direction.

I am not implying here that each time human rights are abused we are going to send the planes up into the air. I do not think some of the governments who have participated in this operation would want to do the same thing tomorrow. But there are a range of actions that one can take against, say, governments and institutions that abuse human rights of their people.

When I have been asked why are you pressing this human rights issue, why are you getting outsiders involved in sovereign issues, issues that are taking place within the state. First of all I have told them, I said, well, you better encourage me to do it, because tomorrow I may need to defend you. [Laughter.] When it happens to you.

Mr. Platt: Good point.

Mr. Annan: Secondly, I think if we accept that we have a world which is today very interdependent and global, and we accept that markets, our global environments, our global financial flows, are global, and also some things are global that we all accept. It cannot be that the only thing that is national and protected by sovereignty is the right to abuse the human rights of one's citizens. It is, you know…

Mr. Platt: It follows. The interesting thing is the whole of these global pressures… I do not like the word globalization, but global markets, the information revolution… All of these things are creating new pressures on politics. They are changing politics. They are changing economics. And, there are all kinds of, there is a new sense of community in the world. There is also a sense of vulnerability. The ability to make and lose huge quantities of wealth in a very short time has now been proven. We have extraordinary flows of capital and information, and people feel somehow threatened by it. There is a new have and have-not dichotomy between the technological haves and the technological have-nots.

And I am just curious as to how you see these forces working on the U.N. and on your agenda as the Secretary General.

Mr. Annan: I think it is very much on my, on our minds. We are operating in a changing world, and we have to adapt. We have to adapt in many ways. We can no longer limit ourselves to dealing only with governments. There is a wide world out there, and as you may notice, we have been doing a lot with the private sector, with civil society and yours in particular: universities, foundations and others.

And, there is what I call a new diplomacy. And, we have seen in the past twelve months how this new diplomacy has had an impact in the sense that grassroots movements, NGOs from a hundred countries, grassroots organizations, Red Cross, international organizations and governments coming together to ban the land mine. Without that new force, it could never have happened.

I recall when Lloyd Axworthy, the Foreign Minister of Canada, out of the blue said we should have a, we should resolve this in a year. He did not know why he said it, but when the NGOs caught fire, we sat across a table four months later. I said, it can happen. The movement has taken charge, and this new diplomacy of peoples, Red Cross and other organizations coming together with their focus on an issue, you cannot stop them.

And we had the same phenomena with the establishment of the international criminal court. The same coalition went to work. And we did get it. So we are required to deal with all of the stake-holders. Not just for causes of governments. Besides, the private sector in particular today has so much power and influence. But with that power and that strength also come responsibilities. And I am trying to get them to work with us and exercise that responsibility in a constructive way that could also give business and globalization a human face.

And, that is why earlier this year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, I challenged them to apply human rights standards, apply labor standards, and undertake not to employ children in any of their factories, and respect environmental rules. And they did not have to wait for any government to pass laws for them to do it, because there are international norms which are accepted. And, there are some companies that are doing it very, very effectively. Without attempting to promote any company or anybody, I had a very interesting discussion with John Brown, who is the Chairman of BP/Amoco.

Mr. Platt: Yes.

Mr. Annan: Who is very good on the environmental issues. And, there I was saying, you are a great leader on the environment issues. As a corporate leader you are responsible. It is great. You should do it. And, he looks at me and says, well, it is also good business. He said, our business is not just oil. We are in the oil, but we are interested in clean energy. The people want clean energy, so we have gone into solar energy. We are going into gas, and we are doing it also because it is also good for us to look forward.

And then he turned around and told me, it is not just me. We have a hundred thousand workers, and we have given them all the same efforts. We are telling them, be sensitive to the environment and do this. And in areas where we, at the U.N., want to get things done, we need to pool our efforts with those you have the means and the resources.

So, even at the country level, where we are working with governments to strengthen their situations, to develop an enabling environment, we are doing this so that they will be able to attract investments, domestic and international, to be able to develop their own economy. So, we are constantly alert as to what is happening around us, to be able to factor it into what we do.

Mr. Platt: That is very encouraging. In the Asia Society I do a lot of programs with the business community. In fact, we are one of the pioneers of the big conference that puts together business and political leaders. And right at the end of the Cold War, this was a premium. The business community and the world leaders wanted to get to know each other. And so, we now have more of these conferences than anybody can attend.

But it was symptomatic of a time and of a new phase where the private sector had been empowered in effect by the end of the Cold War to, you know, take a much more, take a much greater role and do more of the heavy lifting. Now what I sense is that the CEOs of these big companies, what they really want to do is have smaller gatherings where they can talk about just these issues.

Mr. Annan: That is true. In fact, yesterday, last night I was in Washington talking to the Chamber of Commerce, their national gathering, and discussing some of these issues. And, they were open and very keen and interested in doing this. And in fact, in some areas their corporation will take the insurance companies. They are working with us to help governments prepare better for natural disasters. It is good for the people, and it is good business for them. We have the Rotary group working with the World Health Organization to eliminate Polio. They have come up with a four hundred million dollar program. WHO is doing the work, and they are coming up, and it is really very good for it. And, we do a lot for business, particularly in trade law. The standards we set and all the norms we establish.

So, it is sort of a natural partnership there, that if it is well exploited, it will be very good for countries around the world. And, it would also give them a human face.

Mr. Platt: I think they want it, and I think they understand the importance of what you are trying to do. Now, there are other big things going on. I mean, I have been totally fascinated by what has been happening in Indonesia. And, here you have had a big election in a huge country of two hundred million people, which has taken place practically without any violence at all.

And I lived in the Philippines for a number of years, and elections that were without violence were unheard of, I have to say. But this was an amazing event. And, I think it has… I wanted to ask you whether you agreed. It has some implications for your operations. I mean, your issue I guess really is teamwork. I mean, you have got responsibility for making that happen peacefully. And it is no easy task. But do you see the outcome of this election as affecting the central government's devotion to, commitment to, autonomy or independence for Timor?

Mr. Annan: That is, I hope not. But, it is a question that only time can tell, only time can answer. Let me start by saying that I was also very impressed with how remarkably well the elections went, without violence. The counting has been slow, but maybe that was to be expected. But it has gone very, very well. And we signed the agreement with the Indonesian government and the Portuguese on East Timor, committing to undertake a ballot on the 8th of August, giving the East Timorese choice between integration with Indonesia or transition to independence.

We expect the Indonesian authorities or the new government to honor that agreement, arguing that we signed the agreement with the state, not with the government, not with a particular government. And therefore, we expect the state to honor this agreement.

That is easier said than done. One of the major candidates at one point has said, we should keep East Timor with us, and in fact started campaigning for the East Timorese to vote to stay within Indonesia. That particular candidate has done well. Will this be translated into pressure on the East Timorese not to vote for independence? Would we be able to undertake the ballot in a safe, secure and violent-free environment, as this one had been? If that were to happen, we would be able to go ahead with it.

The whole idea here is that we do the ballot on the 8th of August. The new government will decide on independence, if that is what it is to be, by October or so. So, it really, we are working on faith. We are working on the assumption that the agreements we have signed will be honored by the incoming regime. And, if that does happen and there is no violence, we are ready to go.

So we would organize the ballots in East Timor, and in [unintelligible], in cities where there are lots of East Timorese, like by Portugal, Australia, and other cities where there are lots of East Timorese.

Mr. Platt: But you have, as you said, it is kind of a timing wind sheer. I mean, you have got to get this referendum done by the 8th of August, but they will not have picked a president until November.

Mr. Annan: That is correct.

Mr. Platt: And such. And, there will be a lot of infighting. And the question of law and order really is whether the parties will agree to a peaceful referendum, whether they themselves are willing to abide by your writ.

Mr. Annan: Yes. We have been trying. We are in touch with them. Yes. We are in touch with all of them, including Xanana Gusmao, and trying to get them all to undertake to restrain themselves, to agree to abide by a certain code of conduct.

We will have lots of observers there, including police and military leaders, with the military, to ensure that all that can be done is done to ensure a peaceful election. But we are in a way in the hands of the Indonesian authority, who, for this purpose, will be responsible for law and order.

But as you rightly pointed out, it is not just the government. It is the pure integrationist elements and the pure independence elements. And we hope to be able to get, they are talking to each other, and we hope they will see this is their chance and actually take it.

Mr. Platt: You will have a civilian force on the ground.

Mr. Annan: We will have a civilian force.

Mr. Platt: But it will be small, won't it?

Mr. Annan: It will be small. There will be no armed elements. In fact, even the police monitors who are going in will not be armed. Military leaders and people will not be armed. All together, we will have about four or five hundred people maximum. And there will be other governments and other institutions sending in observers to monitor the elections. I am not sure if President Carter will be there. He did this one, the Indonesian one. So, he…

Mr. Platt: Maybe he will. Who knows. Well, sometimes faith works.

Mr. Annan: Yes, we… [laughter].

Mr. Platt: Look at Cambodia.

Mr. Annan: Yes. Cambodia did that. Yes. Cambodia did work, yes.

Mr. Platt: There were several slips between cup and lip, but basically Cambodia is working.

Mr. Annan: I think if the elections go, if the ballot goes well, the main hurdle will be to get the first meeting of the people's congress, the parliament and the other to approve the independence. If they endorse it and approve it, then it could happen. If we run into difficulties, and they try to take it back, then we have a problem. But so far I have no indications that that would happen.

Mr. Platt: My sense is that the Indonesians want to…

Mr. Annan: Hold on.

Mr. Platt: Develop. Well, they want to develop a responsible and responsive body politic. And I do not know how this issue will finally play out. But…

Mr. Annan: There is a new mood. There is a new mood in the country, and I think this sense of there is a new freedom for the average Indonesian and the desire to respect human rights or demand one's human rights. And the government and the authorities have been on the defensive quite a bit on this front.

And I hope this sense of letting the people express themselves throughout the nation. After all, this is the fourth largest nation to have the kind of election you refer to. It indicates a willingness on the part of the government to make things happen. And of course, the people have also asserted themselves, and I hope the same spirit will apply in East Timor. But, as I said, time will tell.

Mr. Platt: Well, we will keep our fingers crossed.

Mr. Annan: Yes.

Mr. Platt: There is another hurdle…

Mr. Annan: But, we have also hurdles ahead of us. I am not trying to make it seem easy. It is not easy.

Mr. Platt: Well, we will be watching. Kashmir, of course, has come up in the news. This is a hearty perennial [laughter], and I, you know, there is a U.N. track record that goes back to the forties on Kashmir. But this is one of those issues where national sovereignty seems to have won out, if you know what I mean. I am curious as to how you feel, what role you can play in keeping this conflict from getting out of control.

Mr. Annan: You know we have a very small force on the ground, the U.N. observers who monitor, observe and report what they see. And they do not have very much influence on actual activities on the ground.

But when this fighting broke out, I spoke to both prime ministers and encouraged them to discuss it bilaterally, for the foreign ministers to meet. There is no secret that Pakistan would want to see this issue handled by some international body or third party. India's position is that this is something that we can solve among ourselves, and let's do it bilaterally.

And they have set up a whole range of committees to, after the visit by the prime minister, the Indian prime minister to Pakistan. And they have been meeting. And so, they feel that this issue should be resolved bilaterally, and I am encouraged that the foreign minister of Pakistan will be going to India for them to resolve this. What I can do, given the fact that the parties are determined to discuss it bilaterally, and in fact they are doing it, is to encourage them, to nudge them to go ahead, because you cannot impose yourself as a mediator. The two parties have to be prepared to engage and have to be prepared to work with a mediator. So I think the best that I can do here is to encourage, to nudge and encourage them really to sit and talk in a sustained manner.

Mr. Platt: Right.

Mr. Annan: You know, and I think that everything is on the table in these talks, including the Kashmir issue. How long it will take to resolve it? How long are the talks going to go on? That is anyone's guess. But as long as they are talking it out rather than shooting it out, and everybody respects the Line of Control, and some of the arrangements in place that have allowed them to live in reasonable harmony with periodic flare-ups.

And as you said, this issue is a perennial one. We should work with them. And I hope some day we may have some courageous leaders, visionary leaders who may find a way out of it for both of them.

Mr. Platt: Well, my hope has always been that the forces of globalization and the forces of markets and information and trade and all of those things would one day change the context of the dialogue between those countries. But it has not happened yet, and it is going to take a long, long time. It has happened in other countries, and it could happen here.

Mr. Annan: But even here there have been some developments on water-sharing arrangements and other things. And I think if they can resolve the, if the talks can go on, we will probably see some improvement in trade and other relations. But it has not happened, but we should not write it off. It could happen. It could happen.

Mr. Platt: There is one other Asian issue that I wanted to ask you about, and that relates to Myanmar. It strikes me that both the leaders of Myanmar and the opposition are kind of frozen.

Mr. Annan: That is correct.

Mr. Platt: They are frozen in the headlights, if you will. And there is only one initiative out there to try and move things along, and that is yours.

Mr. Annan: That is right.

Mr. Platt: Which is an effort, I think, under your Deputy Secretary-General, to revive an initiative.

Mr. Annan: That is correct. We thought that it is important to revive the dialogue and engage the government. And the approach was quite simple, actually. To offer them some inducement as well as stakes. Sort of, you are now in a very difficult situation economically. No serious, self-respecting institution wants to deal with you. You are not engaging the opposition, and we would want you to talk to the opposition.

We would want you to engage them seriously. We would want you to broaden the political participation. And if you demonstrate that you are prepared to, and you want to do it, we will also find a way of giving you assistance. But to get that assistance, you need to make these things happen. And I think it is a sensible approach, and I hope we will be able to get it off the ground.

We thought we had the support of everybody, within and without. But about two months ago, we did have some hesitant noises coming from some of the quarters, but I think we are going to try and line them up again and move forward with that. And we are doing this in all transparency. I mean, the opposition knows what we are trying to do.

Mr. Platt: Well, I was talking to some people who dealt with the policy towards this country, and they said, well, the U.N. is the only game in town. So, we hope you win.

Mr. Annan: We should press ahead.

Mr. Platt: Well, you came to office with a strong mandate to reform the U.N. system and structure. And, with all of your qualifications, coming from within and knowing every aspect of the institution, I want your assessment on how well you have done so far. [Laughter.]

Mr. Annan: I think we have done reasonably well. We have done reasonably well on reform. And I am not talking of reform only in terms of structures and changes in the boxes. We have done quite a bit of that. We have reduced the budget. We have restructured the secretariat to make it more coherent. And we have also for the first time since the establishment of the U.N., maybe in the early days they did it, have cabinet type meetings once a week. It may sound strange to most of you that this is the way one should do business, but we did not have that. And so, each head of a program or fund or head of department did his own or her thing. So, as part of the reform, we meet once a week, all the heads of departments, with UNICEF, UNDP, Population Fund. And, our colleagues in Geneva, Vienna and Rome, Nairobi, the environment people participate through teleconferencing.

So we discuss major policy issues and major management issues and take a decision and keep each other abreast as to what is happen. And, a lot goes on there. It is remarkable, at the end of the meeting, you see them gathering in twos or fours to pursue things they have discussed at the meeting. And this simply did not happen before. And it has enhanced cohesion and cooperation in a remarkable sort of way and also helped us eliminate some of the duplication that was taking place.

I have also tried to attract some very good leaders into the organization. Whether in the area of human rights with Mary Robinson, or Klaus Toepfer in the environment area, who was a former German minister of environment and minister of a great reconstruction and the man responsible for moving the capital from Bonn to Berlin. He is now heading our environmental program. He is full of energy, very dynamic.

On the question of drugs, where we are determined to join governments in fighting drugs, we have a dynamic new man from Italy, Pino Arlacchi, who cut his teeth fighting the mafia in Italy. And in fact, the mafia considered him one of their biggest enemies. And he is doing a very good job for us.

We brought in my own deputy secretary, the Deputy-Secretary General, which is also the first time we have had that post. And I recall when I went to the members and asked them to establish the position, and I said I wanted the best person for the position. It was going to be the first Deputy-Secretary General ever. And I said I hope when she comes she will be able to do this and that and that. And whenever I said that, the men would say, when he comes. [Laughter.] So, for the first three, four months we went through when she comes, when he comes. [Laughter.] And then, three months into the debate it became he or she. Then, towards the end they asked me, what is her name? [Laughter.] So, it was quite a struggle. Louise Fréchette is here, and she is doing a great job.

And I think what we have also done is encourage them to open up the organization, deal with the outside world, deal with the [unintelligible], foundations, universities. We had not long ago a meeting with thirty research institutions from around the world coming here to discuss with us how we can pool our efforts, how we can use them, and how we can even task them and sometimes get them to do some research and serious papers for us which we can issue to the members as why papers, to get them to do things.

We have, again, to try and build the team and give us time to think and reflect, we have even taken all of them on a retreat. And, not just the U.N. agencies but what we call the A.C.C., the heads of all the U.N. family, including the World Bank and IMF. And to have all these people under one roof over a weekend, discussing the problems of the world and discussing how we are going to pool our efforts to have greater impact on the ground has been quite reassuring. We are not done yet. There are areas where we have not made that much progress. They are invariably those areas where the member states need to take a decision themselves. One such area is Security Council reform. ...needs to be reformed. They all agree that the structure and the composition of the Council today reflect more the geopolitical realities of 1945. And that we should bring it in line with today's realities, particularly as we move into the next millennium. And yet, we have not made much progress, because beyond that agreement, the member states agree on very little else. And there are such vested interests that it is very difficult to move.

Some have suggested, why don't you agree on the size of the expansion? Are you going to move from fifteen members to twenty-one or twenty-four or twenty-six? They said, agree on the size of the expansion and then decide who is going to get the extra seats. But none of the key members who are interested would agree on any number, unless they are assured they are going to get one of the new seats. [Laughter.]

You know, and then when you go to the regions it becomes quite an issue. You go to, you take Latin America for example. Brazil believes it should be a natural choice, but Argentina has problems with that. And, Mexico reminds us, I am also in the region.

Mr. Platt: Exactly.

Mr. Annan: You go to, we talked about India and Pakistan. Given the size and the weight of India, most people will probably think of India. But, Pakistan has some objections. You have the same problem in Africa. Would it be Egypt, Nigeria or South Africa?

So, it is a very complex issue. But, there are other issues with the member states. If the will was there, they could have decided upon like results based by getting sunset clauses, requiring us to review programs that have been in the systems for five years or more to determine whether we need to continue the program, whether we have achieved our results, or if it is useful. So, there are things that we have not done yet, but we have made lots of progress. We have done a lot.

Mr. Platt: Well, you have a lot on your plate. And, I am sure it would help you if we paid our dues. [Laughter.]

Mr. Annan: I hope so, too. [Applause.]

Mr. Platt: It is time, and we have packed the hall with people who want to pay our dues.

Mr. Annan: Thank you very much. [Applause.]

Mr. Platt: I think it is time that I shared you with the audience. But, before I do, I just want to ask you one or two sort of New York related questions. I remember, now you have been a New Yorker longer than most of us. And, I wonder what your tips are for dealing with the pressures and the pleasures of this place.

Mr. Annan: I would hope the audience will give me some tips. [Laughter.] No, let me say, it is difficult, and I used to, both Nane and I, we love to hike. And, when we were ordinary and private citizens, we used to like to go to the countryside and hike. You know, on the tip of the island. To go Shelter Island and Mashomack Park [phonetic] and walk and walk and walk on Saturdays and on Sundays. It is a bit more difficult now, because we cannot, we do not move that lightly. [Laughter.]

Mr. Platt: Yes, exactly.

Mr. Annan: Anymore.

Mr. Platt: Yes.

Mr. Annan: We always have the security with us. They are a very nice group of colleagues, but you are never alone. And you also sometimes have a feeling you are disturbing their families. You know, so if you decide to go on a weekend, and you mobilize six people to go with you, so it is a bit difficult.

What we try to do when we can is to, we take advantage of Central Park. I walk a lot in Central Park. Sometimes I put on dark glasses, [laughter] hoping that people will not know who I am. We go to the movies sometimes, with our security. [Laughter.] We go to the theater periodically, but more often Nane will go and get a nice film, and we will watch a movie, get a video, and we will watch it at home.

Mr. Platt: Sounds...

Mr. Annan: And sometimes it works well. Sometimes it turns out to be a charge film, you know. I say, I thought this was a relaxing film. [Laughter.] But, she always tries to get something that will take my mind off. We try to listen to music and read a little bit, but I do not have that much time to do the kind of reading that I would like to do, because lots of material and papers are thrown at me, that I need to look at.

Mr. Platt: Well, that all sounds very healthy to me. I mean, I [laughter], I asked the same question of your predecessor, and he had a very fast answer. I said, how do you relax in New York? He said, valium. [Laughter.]

Mr. Annan: Very efficient. Very efficient. [Laughter.]

Mr. Platt: And then he said scotch. [Laughter.] But, I think walking and movies, that is very good, too. Well, I think it is time that everyone had a chance to ask a question. We, the tradition here is to raise your hand. I will recognize you. Then, the mike will come, and then you can just identify yourself and ask your question. So, who would like to start? Right there.

Question: My name is Ajoy Vachher [phonetic]. There was mention made that Iraq is a divisive issue in the security council, and there was also mention made that human rights is assuming a greater, more preeminent role. To me, it seems regrettable that the embargo that is currently in place against Iraq and directed at the government has had such severe negative repercussions for the civilian population of Iraq. And, that population does not appear to have much of a role in deciding what its government is.

Do you feel that there is anything that the U.N. can do to try and move, advance to a more positive resolution? Or do you feel that given the kind of inflammatory history with regard to Iraq, that you are going to have to wait for one or more of the members of the security council to take a leadership role in events there?

Mr. Annan: I will be the first to admit that sanctions is a blunt instrument. It tends to hurt the population who are not the intended targets. And, I think the Council members themselves have realized that. And now, we are talking more and more about what one calls smart sanctions. Sanctions that would be designed to hit those leaders whose behavior we are trying to change.

And, you are right when you say that the population has no influence over the leadership. It is not a democracy where you would expect them to vote them up or to rise up against them. And so, when the sanctions and its impact drags on for as long as it has, then it looks as if we have declared war on the innocent people who have no control over the election and the behavior of the leaders.

The Council itself has two resolutions before it. It is trying to find its way out as to how we resolve this Iraqi issue. There are two resolutions, one by the Chinese, the French and the Russians, which suggests lifting of sanctions, but with some control as to how the amount, the money is spent. The second one, which has been put forth by the British and the Dutch permanent representatives, will keep the sanctions on but try and soften the humanitarian package.

And, as you know, this is the package that the Iraqis have also, they have questioned its ethicacy, in that you do bring in food and medicine, but you do nothing to resuscitate or develop the economy. And, that in time, if you do not do anything about it, the economy would also collapse. And, I think we are all sensitive about this. You will recall that last year I played a very active role on this issue of Iraq, and I am still in touch with the governments who are reviewing these two resolutions. And hopefully, we will find some way out. But, the situation is unhealthy, and I do not think one can allow it to drag on indefinitely, or should allow it to drag on indefinitely.

Mr. Platt: Who else? Second row. Second row.

Question: My name is Saima [phonetic], and my question is regarding your comments on human rights. We had two situations. We had Rwanda, we had this current situation, and global leadership reacted very differently. I wanted to get your comments on that. Furthermore, some cynics have stated that one of the reasons for action was that this was in the heart of Europe and threatened European stability, and as a byproduct, threatened to destabilize financial markets, which was more the motivation for action, rather than human rights. I was interested in your perspective.

Mr. Annan: Yes. I think the international community and the U.N. cannot have any excuses for their inaction in Rwanda. Rwanda came very soon after Somalia. And, you will recall when the forces when to Somalia and eighteen U.S. soldiers were killed. Not only did the U.S. withdraw its forces, but all the western contingents left, leaving mainly the third world countries behind in Somalia. And, they did a remarkable job. I mean, when you went to the region of Baidoa, where we had an Indian brigade, they had calmed the situation, and they have done an extraordinary job working with the people.

We had problems in Mogadishu, but some of the countryside had been calmed. And, I recall going there to visit the Indian contingent and discovered, you know, it is interesting, when one is working with the people on the ground, what is important to them. The most popular man in the; this is an aside. The most popular man in the contingent was a vet, was a veterinary surgeon, because the people were herdsmen, and they really took their cattle and their camels and others very seriously. So, anyone who could save them was really; so in fact, whenever they wanted something, the vet would get it for them. [Laughter.]

But, in any event, after Somalia, the governments did not want to get caught with that again. They felt going to Rwanda is walking into a situation which could be much worse than Rwanda. So, the will to intervene and intercede was not there. But, having seen what has happened in Kosovo, the questions would even be asked today, if one had gone in with force, what would have been the results? You know, here in Kosovo we have the force, we had the soldiers in the region. We were going to protect the refugees, the Albanians, to ensure that they were not ethnically cleansed. In the end, they were, and we are going to try and see if we can get them back.

And, quite a lot of us are defining success as we only would have been successful or can claim success if we can get these people back in security, with their political and human rights protected. So, even in Kosovo the jury is still out. So, we need to see how it turns out.

I think there is no doubt that the two situations have been treated differently. And, I do not justify it. But, it is the fact that the governments in the region were determined to do something about it. I think they were concerned that the entire region could be destabilized, and even now as we speak we are going to do quite, we have to do quite a lot of reconstruction and rebuilding. Not just in Kosovo, but in the neighboring countries.

The Albanians and the Macedonians who gave assistance are all hoping that there will be a sort of Marshall Plan for southeastern Europe to rebuild the infrastructure and bring them more or less to the level of western Europe. Not quite, but I think we should not focus on bricks and mortar. We should also try and build the institutions, strengthen their human rights mechanism and the rule of law.

But, I do not condone the perception that in one area we put in all the resources that we can. But, you must also realize that initially it was not a U.N. operation. Because, when you say the U.N. reacted one way and not in the other, it was members of the countries in the region, the regional arrangements, that took the initiative, but eventually has brought it back to the U.N.

Mr. Platt: Let's see. In the third row from the back, in the blue, purple shirt.

Question: Thank you. My name is Ui Sao [phonetic]. I noticed in your speech that you repeatedly used the word unity to describe the leadership of the United Nations. And, I was curious, because last summer I went to Ghana and encountered the Unity Stool. [Laughter.]

Mr. Annan: I do not own that stool. [Laughter.]

Question: So, I was wondering how important your Ghanaian identity has played a role in molding your leadership style.

Mr. Annan: Yes. No. Let me say that I use unity with regards to the Security Council. Particularly when the permanent five are not fighting each other and they work harmoniously, one can get a lot done. And, this is why it was in that context.

Obviously, I am a Ghanaian. My roots are very much Ghanaian, and I grew up in Ghana. And, quite a lot of what I learned as a child and as a boy still helps me today as I move forward. I was trained to listen. Sometimes you were to be seen and not heard. And, it was a good training in listening a lot. Not only do I listen, I also try to respect those I deal with. I do not underestimate them.

And, given my own training and exposure and the travels I have done around the world, I accept, in fact even celebrate diversity. I like to have dealt with all sorts of people. And, you need advice. I work a lot with people. I listen. Sometimes I go home and my wife asks me what is it? I say, it was a bad day. I had lots of discussions. I said, you would not want to know sometimes what we are discussing. [Laughter.]

So, you can talk to lots of people, but at the end of the day, you have to take the decision. And so, it is a very lonely situation. You know, over time, as I have said, you develop your own inner compass that steers you. And, you also to your own inner drummer. You know, the external forces can help you, but at the end you are on your own.

Mr. Platt: When I lived in Africa, in Zambia, for a couple of years, I was totally fascinated to find so many Ghanaians in positions of intellectual leadership. And, I said, gosh, you know, Ghanaians are really smart. [Laughter.]

And, I found this was true in other African countries as well. If you go to any of the universities, and so on and so forth, the good ones are all loaded with Ghanaians. I did not go to Ghana, so I do not know if there are any smart ones still left there. [Laughter.] They have all gone somewhere else. But, it really is a tradition that you have.

Mr. Annan : Yes. A friend of mine said, each country exports its best bananas. So, maybe we exported our best bananas. [Laughter.] But, no. Let me say that I think we had good educational institutions, and we were also the first to get independence.

Mr. Platt: Right.

Mr. Annan: And that really gave Ghana a sort of a place and a position in Africa. And, the other African countries wanted to follow the footsteps of Ghana. And, the Ghanaian intellectuals and professionals went all over the continent, working there, but it was not always appreciated. I mean, there were moments when some of these governments and some of their citizens said, we did not get rid of the British to have the Ghanaians come and sit on us. [Laughter.] But, by and large, it did work, yes.

Mr. Platt: Well, Mr. Secretary General, you have had a long day. And, I want to just have one last question. Okay? The gentleman in the checked shirt?

Question: Thank you. Tom Nielson [phonetic]. My question has to do with resources really. And, the president sort of referred to the U.S.'s lack of paying its debt to the U.N. As a citizen, I am not sure how we justify doing that. My question is really, has that had an impact in terms of how the U.S. is viewed internally within the United Nations? And, is that close to being resolved?

Mr. Annan: I think it has definitely, it has had an impact on the U.S.'s own role and its leadership in the organization. By withholding its dues, it has offended friends and foes alike, and in some situations forfeited its leadership position. In fact, the President himself said, if the U.S. expects to lead in the U.N. and play a constructive role, it has to pay its way. And, if you do not do that and make demands on other members who pay their way, they are not going to listen to you.

And in fact, because of this, there are some important positions where membership is by election. Like, the administrative and budgetary committee, where the U.S. for years has had members on. They were voted out. It is a key budgetary committee, but the U.S. does not have a member, because the membership did not vote for the U.S. candidate, who was a very good woman. I know her. I have worked with her in the past. She was highly qualified and under normal circumstances would have been voted in.

But, perhaps the situation was summed up best by the former British foreign minister, Malcolm Rifkin , who said, there can be no representation without taxation. [Laughter.] [Applause.]

As to the last part of your question, I hope that we will be able to get some money this year. [Laughter.] There is lots of discussion going on. Senator Helms and Senator Biden have put forth a compromise proposal. Last time around it was vetoed, because they attached the abortion amendment, the Mexico City language. And, it was vetoed. I understand they may be able to work it out this year, but I will believe it when I see it. [Laughter.]

But, we are hope; you know, we get lots of support. Yesterday I got the "Washington Post," and there was a big advertisement by the Chamber of Commerce saying they should pay the debt. And, that big countries need their commitment. So, we will see what will happen this year. Thank you very much.

Mr. Platt: Amen to that. Well, we are very much in your debt, Mr. Secretary General, for spending time with us this evening. I think, I know that all of you share with me a sense of a very special experience. A chance to really exchange views, and I think this kind of conversation is better than any number of speeches.

Mr. Annan: I agree.

Mr. Platt: I think you agree.

Mr. Annan: And thanks for asking me. I agree. It is a good format. Yes.

Mr. Platt: Thank you very much. [Applause.] I would like to ask people to stay in their seats until the Secretary-General has had a chance to leave the building. Thank you very much for coming, and we will see you next time.

[end of recording]

For more information on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, click here. For more information on the UN's activities, click here.


The Asia Society President's Forum is a series of current affairs programs in which the Society's president, Nicholas Platt, interviews prominent guests on key topics, including Asian politics, economics, cultural developments, and relations with the United States. Previous guests include: Boutros Boutros-Ghali, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Bill Richardson, Winston & Bette Bao Lord, Yo-Yo Ma, Josie Natori and Ismail Merchant.


The President's Forum is supported by a generous grant from the Arthur Ross Foundation.