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Secretary General Kofi Annan Speaks at the United Nations University


Press Release 99/194 11 November 1999


Tokyo, 11 November 1999

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here with you at the United Nations University. This is my third visit to the UNU as Secretary-General. But of course, I do not need to come to Tokyo to feel the presence of the UNU. Your work travels, too. Just last month, with a major UNU study in hand, I spoke at length to the World Bank about the causes of violent conflict and humanitarian emergencies and the links between development and peace.

That study shows the UNU at its best, fulfilling one of its key roles as a think tank for the UN system. I am also pleased to know the emphasis you place on reaching out to young people. I can assure you that your efforts -- on peace and security, development, governance, the environment and other global issues -- are providing your UN colleagues and policy-makers around the world with excellent food for thought as we enter a new millennium.

The millennium may be no more than an accident of the calendar to some cultures. But it does provide all of us with a timely opportunity to reflect on the gains and setbacks of the past century.

Here at the UNU two months ago, people from the Asia-Pacific region had their chance to put forth a vision for a more secure and hopeful future as part of the process leading up to next year's Millennium Summit and Assembly.

That meeting, and others like it in recent months, have identified a wealth of themes and proposals. But one thing is clear: a new chapter of human history is beginning, and we have some crucial choices to make.

We must choose, for example, between "business as usual", which means continuing to degrade the environment, or taking the steps agreed in Kyoto two years ago to combat climate change.

We must choose between passivity in the face of glaring inequality among states and within them, and a concentrated effort to create a fairer global economy.

And in the face of humanitarian emergencies, we must choose whether to make do with palliatives or to address root causes, which lie in the realm of politics, economics and even culture.

Japan, too, is at something of a crossroads. The choices made in the next few years by the Japanese people -- about their global and regional profile, security policy, and presence in the United Nations -- will affect other people throughout the world.

It is hard to imagine a nation that does more, across the breadth of the international agenda, than Japan. Japan is unquestionably one of the world's leading economic powers, and its performance remains crucial to the recovery of all the East Asian economies. It is also a leading investor in the developing world.

Japan continues to have the largest programme of official development assistance in the world, with support reaching a remarkable 160 countries -- I repeat, 160 countries.

And I need hardly remind you that Japan is the second largest contributor to the regular budget of the United Nations. Indeed, it is, at present, the first in terms of actual payments.

Moreover, its very generous voluntary contributions are helping our operations in Kosovo and East Timor get firmly on their feet.

But Japan's contributions are far from being only financial. Japan is strongly committed to multilateralism and has made the United Nations a central pillar of its foreign policy.

In particular, it has organized two remarkable meetings on African development, and has been the driving force behind a very fruitful African-Asian dialogue.

Japan eagerly shares its technical expertise with the developing world. Japan strongly supports the establishment of the International Criminal Court. Japan promotes democratization and debt relief. And, of course, Japan's is a key voice in the cause of nuclear non-proliferation and global disarmament.

Japan rightly views all of this activity as part of a single, integrated effort to ensure human security in the broadest sense.

I know there are some who worry that the word "security" suggests a military mind-set. But as my friend Yukio Satoh, Japan's ambassador to the United Nations, has said, "defining the term is less important than drawing increased international attention to issues endangering the life and dignity of human beings". Moreover, security, like peace, must be fought for, protected and defended.

Prime Minister Obuchi himself has shown an extraordinary commitment to the idea, and has established a Human Security Fund. If there were such a thing as a "human security council", Japan would undoubtedly have a life-time seat.

For all these reasons, there is a widespread sense in the international community that Japan would be a worthy permanent member of a reformed United Nations Security Council.

I know that Japanese policy-makers and public alike feel growing frustration about the prospects for Council reform. The discussions are indeed moving too slowly, especially given that this is a crucial question for the entire future of the United Nations.

I think everyone would agree that the Council represents the realities of 1945, and should be transformed into a more representative, democratic and effective body. Such a reform would have to take into account today's realities, including the leading role played by Japan in international politics.

This is, of course, a matter for the Member States to decide, and I hope they will address it without further delay.

Some people in Japan, I know, would like to use the country's economic power as leverage for example by scaling back its official development assistance or its voluntary contributions to the United Nations.

I believe this would be counter-productive, and unworthy of Japan's high standing in the world, not to mention its people's generosity of heart. I would counsel patience instead.

I would also urge Japan to contribute even more to the political work of the United Nations -- the peace-making, peacekeeping and peace-building efforts that are the main business of the Security Council. The world needs Japan to take on a political role commensurate with its global economic presence.

This is not to say that Japan is absent from the world political scene even now. Far from it. Japanese have served as electoral observers in many countries. Japanese police provided crucial help to the UN's refugee agency in the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda.

Japanese personnel have served with peacekeeping operations in Angola, Cambodia, Mozambique, Tajikistan and on the Golan Heights. Japan is involved in the Middle East peace process. And Japan has served as a non-permanent member of the Security Council.

Still, there is room for Japan to do more, on its own and through the United Nations.

I know there are constitutional provisions and historical inhibitions that affect Japan's decision-making on certain types of international involvement.

Nonetheless I would like to think that Japan could participate more fully in peacekeeping.

Japan's active role in East Timor is a significant step in this direction. With generous resources and its decision to dispatch an air-lift to transport food and medical supplies to refugees in West Timor, Japan showed important new resolve.

But the political work of the United Nations is often as much a matter of intellectual inventiveness as it is of troop strengths and deployments. When we start talking of military action it is in many respects a sign of the failure of diplomacy.

But, as I believe the Japanese well understand, diplomacy is by no means the only or even the most effective means of conflict prevention. Even more important are policies for healthy and balanced development.

Democracy, too, is a key element, provided it is introduced in the right way, enabling all groups in a community to feel they have a say, rather than making minorities feel they are at the majority's mercy. Japan could, I believe, make greater use of its influence to promote the same democratic principles that it follows in its domestic affairs.

I would also encourage Japan and its neighbours to make more use of multilateral approaches to issues of regional peace and security. Other parts of the world have found consensus-building, joint action and shared institutions to be effective ways of sharing burdens, promoting shared values and trouble-shooting when economies or political situations turn sour.

Finally I would like to make a plea for Japanese men and women, and young people in particular, to bring their ideas and energies to the United Nations -- not only its political work but the entire spectrum of our concerns.

*A UNU/WIDER Policy Brief on "Social and Economic Policies to Prevent Complex Humanitarian Emergencies" (PDF document 455KB)

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