Magazine article UN Chronicle

From the Secretary-General

Magazine article UN Chronicle

From the Secretary-General

Article excerpt

For the United Nations, the challenges that lie ahead are humanity's challenges - to secure peace, to defeat poverty, to protect human rights and to widen the circle of freedom, so that no one, regardless of colour, nationality or belief, is denied the chance to lead a life of their own choice.

These are challenges with distant prospects and uneven results, fought against imponderable odds and rewarded only rarely with laurels or lasting progress. They are, however, the challenges we were founded to meet and, as we begin a new century, the United Nations must seek and find new ways to defeat the age-old enemies of peace and prosperity. In fulfilling this task, the Secretary-General himself is accorded a central role-by Charter, by history and by the trust placed in him by the Member States.

Every Secretary-General ... has sought to fill two roles at once: the role of chief administrative officer of the Organization; and the far less defined and far more contentious role of political instrument of the Security Council. This lack of definition has proved as much an asset as a liability, as much a window of opportunity as a source of frustration. But throughout the history of the United Nations, it has allowed the Secretary-General to assume yet a third role: to be an instrument of the larger interest, beyond national rivalries and regional concerts.

Without a doubt, it is sometimes tempting to give in to one's feelings of personal outrage at a specific transgression, especially when doing so would win political popularity in some quarters. But it would betray the larger obligation to prevent aggression and preserve the peace. It is a luxury I cannot afford. The integrity, impartiality and independence of the office of the Secretary-General are too important to be so easily sacrificed.

One of the reasons, perhaps, that past Secretaries-General have been misjudged or misunderstood is that the office is as unique as the institution it leads. With no enforcement capacity and no executive power beyond the Organization, a Secretary-General is armed only with tools of his own making.

He is vested only with the power that a united Security Council may wish to bestow and the moral authority entrusted to him by the Charter.

By what standard, then, does one measure the words or deeds of a Secretary-General? By that of a head of Government or a minister of foreign affairs? Surely not, for their duty is prescribed by the interest of their State, and their State alone. By that of a private group or non-governmental organization dedicated to ending landmines or tending to the wounded in war? No, for they are the servants only of their cause and not of the 185 Member States that make up the United Nations.

A Secretary-General must be judged by his fidelity to the principles of the Charter and his advancement of the ideals they embody.

The end of the cold war ushered in a new era for the United Nations' work for peace. Suddenly, one could witness a united Security Council speaking with one voice against the crimes of aggressors and violations of the Charter. It also meant that the automatic restraints on where a Secretary-General could go to pursue peace were removed, inviting new responsibilities and greater risks.

It allowed the Secretary-General to place the United Nations at the service of peace in the forgotten corners of the world, whose wars and struggles no longer merited the interest or involvement of great Powers. Now more than ever, the tools of quiet diplomacy, discreet negotiation and third-party mediation could be employed not only to halt wars, but to prevent them. Above all, the end of the cold war transformed the moral promise of the role of the Secretary-General. It allowed him to place the United Nations at the service of the universal values of the Charter, without the constraints of ideology or particular interests.

In my two years as Secretary-General, I have sought to pursue this role in two distinct ways. …

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