U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan Criticises U.S. Imperialism and Unilateralism in Farewell Address

The following are excerpts from the secretary general’s speech. It is perhaps his last major address before his second term as U.N. chief expires at the end of the month. I am struck that he chose the Truman Museum & Library where I spent a great deal of time doing research on my dissertation. It was funded in part by a grant from the Truman Library. While there is high praise for President Truman and even a strange and imprecise reference to his use of nuclear weapons, I am struck by the fact that this war criminal, this butcher of 100,000s of innocent Japanese through a cowardly and unjust use of nuclear weapons, would be given such prominence in terms of references and venue for such a major and significant critique of American unilateralism.

While President Truman was a supporter of the U.N., it was nevertheless a violent and imperial presidency. He reversed Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s reluctance to allow the French to recolonise Indochina that paved the way for the Vietnam War. His use of nuclear weapons has unleashed a nuclear arms race with grave implications for international peace and security. His Cold War actions through the Truman Doctrine and containment was an egregious oversimplification of the alleged threat of communism and was a callous if not obscene waste of the nation’s energies and resources. Although I condemn this president and his war crimes and indecency in using TWO atomic bombs against a defeated adversary. Although I wish Kofi Annan had chosen a more appropriate venue to critique America’s rogue state status, I do respect Mr Annan’s courage and willingness to challenge the preemptive, violent nature of American foreign policy. I condone specifically his referencing the lack of responsibility and lack of custodial care, if you will, that the U.S. exhibits as an irresponsible “citizen” of our global village.

Kofi Annan: the secretary general of the United Nations

Transcript of full address and my excerpts below of Kofi Annan’s speech at the Truman Presidential Museum & Library on December 11, 2006:

Against such threats as these, no nation can make itself secure by seeking supremacy over all others. We all share responsibility for each other’s security, and only by working to make each other secure can we hope to achieve lasting security for ourselves …

And states need to play by the rules towards each other, as well as towards their own citizens. That can sometimes be inconvenient, but ultimately what matters is not convenience. It is doing the right thing.

No state can make its own actions legitimate in the eyes of others. When power, especially military force, is used, the world will consider it legitimate only when convinced that it is being used for the right purpose — for broadly shared aims — in accordance with broadly accepted norms.

No community anywhere suffers from too much rule of law; many do suffer from too little — and the international community is among them. This we must change.

The U.S. has given the world an example of a democracy in which everyone, including the most powerful, is subject to legal restraint. Its current moment of world supremacy gives it a priceless opportunity to entrench the same principles at the global level. As Harry Truman said, “We all have to recognize, no matter how great our strength, that we must deny ourselves the license to do always as we please.”

My fourth lesson — closely related to the last one —governments must be accountable for their actions in the international arena, as well as in the domestic one.

Today, the actions of one state can often have a decisive effect on the lives of people in other states. So does it not owe some account to those other states and their citizens, as well as to its own? I believe it does.

As things stand, accountability between states is highly skewed. Poor and weak states are easily held to account, because they need foreign assistance. But large and powerful states, whose actions have the greatest impact on others, can be constrained only by their own people, working through their domestic institutions…

So that is four lessons. Let me briefly remind you of them:

• First, we are all responsible for each other’s security.

• Second, we can and must give everyone the chance to benefit from global prosperity.

• Third, both security and prosperity depend on human rights and the rule of law.

• Fourth, states must be accountable to each other, and to a broad range of non-state actors, in their international conduct.

My fifth and final lesson derives inescapably from those other four. We can only do all these things by working together through a multilateral system, and by making the best possible use of the unique instrument bequeathed to us…namely the United Nations.

In fact, it is only through multilateral institutions that states can hold each other to account. And that makes it very important to organize those institutions in a fair and democratic way, giving the poor and the weak some influence over the actions of the rich and the strong.

That applies particularly to the international financial institutions, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Developing countries should have a stronger voice in these bodies, whose decisions can have almost a life-or-death impact on their fate. And it also applies to the U.N. Security Council, whose membership still reflects the reality of 1945, not of today’s world.

That’s why I have continued to press for Security Council reform. But reform involves two separate issues. One is that new members should be added, on a permanent or long-term basis, to give greater representation to parts of the world which have limited voice today. The other, perhaps even more important, is that all council members, and especially the major powers who are permanent members, must accept the special responsibility that comes with their privilege. The Security Council is not just another stage on which to act out national interests. It is the management committee, if you will, of our fledgling collective security system.

As President Truman said, “the responsibility of the great states is to serve and not dominate the peoples of the world.” He showed what can be achieved when the U.S. assumes that responsibility. And still today, none of our global institutions can accomplish much when the U.S. remains aloof. But when it is fully engaged, the sky’s the limit…

You Americans did so much, in the last century, to build an effective multilateral system, with the United Nations at its heart. Do you need it less today, and does it need you less, than 60 years ago?

Surely not. More than ever today, Americans, like the rest of humanity, need a functioning global system through which the world’s peoples can face global challenges together. And in order to function, the system still cries out for far-sighted American leadership, in the Truman tradition.

I hope and pray that the American leaders of today, and tomorrow, will provide it.

Thank you very much.

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