Kofi Annan on Global Futures
What approach should the United Nations take on managing key global issues?
February 6, 2001
Kofi Annan of Ghana is the seventh person to hold the post of UN Secretary General since 1946 — and the first ever to be elected from the ranks of the United Nations staff. Prior to his appointment, he served as Assistant Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations. Mr. Annan lays out his thoughts on the importance — and limitations — of triggering global change.
Why is it futile to be against globalization?
“It has been said that arguing against globalization is like arguing against the laws of gravity.”
What worries you?
“The truth is that the world today is a much more unequal place than it was 40 years ago.”
How did Mr. Annan encourage the UN staff after recent scandals and calls for reform?
“There is lots of talent in this organization. Don’t let anyone knock you and say the U.N. is filled with dead wood.”
How crucial is the role of governments?
“We cannot wait for governments to do it all. Globalization operates on Internet time. Governments tend to be slow-moving by nature, because they have to build political support for every step.”
How does globalization weaken nation states?
“The problem is this. The spread of markets outpaces the ability of societies and their political systems to adjust to them, let alone to guide the course they take.”
How important are open markets?
“Open markets offer the only realistic hope of pulling billions of people in developing countries out of abject poverty, while sustaining prosperity in the industrialized world.”
Is that theory always reflected in the world today?
“We are told that free trade brings opportunity for all people, not just a fortunate few. Sadly, the reality of the international trading system today doesn’t match the rhetoric.”
What is one specific shortcoming of the global trading system?
“Instead of fair competition, there are subsidies by rich countries that tilt the playing field against the poor.”
And what are the limits of the global market?
“We must ensure that the global market is embedded in broadly shared values and practices that reflect global social needs, and that all the world’s people share the benefits of globalization.”
How can one make the global market more attractive?
“We have to choose between a global market driven only by calculations of short-term profit, and one which has a human face.”
What needs to happen to make the global village a reality?
“Business, labor and civil society organizations have skills and resources that are vital in helping to build a more robust global community.”
Do people trust the global economy?
“National markets are held together by shared values and confidence in certain minimum standards. But in the new global market, people do not yet have that confidence.”
Is globalization here to stay?
“Globalization is a fact of life. But I believe we have underestimated its fragility.”
Where do you see the primary role of the UN?
“If the United Nations does not attempt to chart a course for the world’s people in the first decades of the new millennium, who will?”
Why do African countries often refuse to put troops at the UN’s disposal?
“Many African leaders refuse to send their troops on peacekeeping missions abroad because they probably need their armies to intimidate their own populations.”
How important are women in bringing about global change?
“There is no development strategy more beneficial to society as a whole — women and men alike — than the one which involves women as central players.”
What is a positive development?
“More countries have understood that women’s equality is a prerequisite for development.”
How do you view the situation in Iraq?
“In these kinds of situations, you have two wars going on. You have the war for minds and hearts of the people — as well as efforts to try and bring down the violence.”
And finally, what is the major challenge for the UN?
“We have the means and the capacity to deal with our problems — if only we can find the political will.”
(On the UN’s goal of cutting the level of global poverty in half by 2015)