Excerpt From Kofi Annan’s New Book; Interventions: A Life In War and Peace
The Arc Of Intervention
What do we stand for as a global community? What are the responsibilities for our common fate in a world that is simultaneously coming together and coming apart — and how do we exercise those responsibilities? How do we strike the balance between growth and development, equality and opportunity, human rights and human security? And where does the United Nations — an organization founded nearly seventy years ago in San Francisco to prevent another world war — fit into a world transformed by forces of globalization and technology that are not defined by boundaries of nation or ideology?
We stand at the crossroads of a global realignment as momentous as the one faced by the UN’s founders in 1945. While the past quarter century has witnessed an extraordinary escape from poverty on the part of hundreds of millions in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the scourges of war, terror, and weapons of mass destruction still remain as present as ever. What has changed is the power of individuals — men and women in every part of the world emboldened by education and rising expectations of a better life in larger freedom — to demand a say in how they are governed, and by whom. The empowerment of the individual — from Tahrir Square to Silicon Valley to Chengdu to Juba — presents an unprecedented opportunity for advancing human dignity. At the same time, this shift is challenging established centers of power — from presidential palaces to corporate executive suites — to restore the breach in public trust that is the condition for the successful development of any just society.
In my four decades of service to the United Nations, I was privileged to work with an extraordinarily committed and talented group of diplomats, development experts, and humanitarians for whom these questions were at the center of all we sought to achieve. It was rarely an easy journey. As often as we succeeded in alleviating suffering or halting a conflict, we found ourselves powerless to do so before far too great a toll had already been taken. As the first secretary-general elected from the ranks of the organization, I came into office with a hard-won appreciation for the limits of our powers, but equally determined that we would not simply give up in the face of setbacks — that we could do better, and would do so in the name of the peoples for whom the Charter of the United Nations was written.
I sought to catalyze action across a wide range of issues — from the struggle against HIV/AIDS to girls’ education, development in Africa to post- tsunami relief work, advancing human rights and the rule of law to insisting that sovereignty must be a matter of both rights and responsibilities. I dedicated my efforts toward achieving a United Nations that would step up rather than stand by; rise to the demands of a new century rather than recoil from them; and be guided by a purpose greater than protecting the interests of states.
This is the arc of intervention that frames my account of the principal challenges facing the international community today. It also reflects my conviction that while humanitarian intervention is a moral and strategic imperative when the alternative is genocide or gross violations of human rights, military action pursued for narrower purposes without global legitimacy or foresight about the consequences — as in the case of Iraq — can be as destructive as the evils it purports to confront. The emerging global convention of a “Responsibility to Protect” was conceived as a universal principle of protecting fundamental human rights — not as a license to make war in the name of peace.
This book appears fifty years after I first joined the United Nations in the World Health Organization’s offices in Geneva — a half century that has seen the United Nations achieve considerable progress on some of the highest aims of its founders, and encountered failures and disappointments that mirror the worst of man’s cruelty to man. My mission as secretary-general was built around a vision of bringing the organization closer to the peoples whom it was founded to serve, and to place each individual’s aspirations for security, development, health, and human rights at the center of every thing we did. I reached out to new constituencies among nongovernmental organizations, businesses, and citizens from every continent in order to shift our priorities from the United Nations in its conventional form to a more united world — one where every nation and community, faith and organization embraces the responsibilities of global citizenship.
This book tells the story of my mission through the prism of some of the most consequential crises and questions I confronted as secretary general — and the way they illustrate the wider implications of the challenges facing the global community of nations. By necessity, a measure of selection and priority has been given to those issues that I believe best illuminate the recent history of international affairs, and help provide a path to addressing the coming threats and opportunities facing nations as well as individuals. The book does not, therefore, hew to a strict chronology of events or exhaustively examine every item on the agenda of the United Nations. Rather it addresses each of the key themes of my tenure as illustrated by my engagement with the global leaders at the center of the many conflicts and crises of the past two decades.
This is a personal account of my service to the United Nations and my efforts to address the major diplomatic, development, and humanitarian challenges facing the international community. Throughout this immensely rewarding and challenging journey, my wife, Nane, was a tireless companion. As we traveled together, she visited schools, refugee camps, and people living with HIV/AIDS across the world, thereby grounding our work in the needs of the most vulnerable, as well as supporting the UN’s efforts on women’s empowerment. Little that I achieved over more than four decades of service to the United Nations would have been possible, however, without the professionalism, creativity, and loyalty of the teams I was privileged to lead. During a career that included service with a wide range of UN agencies and offices, I was fortunate to work with a great many dedicated international civil servants and diplomats from around the world.
On whether there is always a peaceful solution“No, I think there may be times when you cannot find a peaceful solution, but at least one should try. But there may be times when peace is not enough. On Kosovo for examp
“I, at the time, agreed with Dallaire that if he had had 5,000 men, he could have made a difference. I personally talked to dozens of member-states, and nobody wanted to offer troops. And I recall at that point saying, if even genocide cannot make us move, what will propel us to stand up and protect our fellow human beings? It was a very painful period, not just for me, but for all those working in the department, and particularly for Dallaire and the men on the ground — the sense of hopelessness, wanting to help, wanting to confront these people, but simply not having the capacity to do it.
“[The fact that there were 800,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans that died in the weeks that followed is] the most painful, and that’s haunted [us] — and haunts some of us still.”
On why the U.N.’s blue helmets inspire cynicism on the ground
“I can understand it, and perhaps part of the problem is also our fault, in the sense that we don’t take steps to lower expectations. Questions of inadequate mandate [and] lack of resources don’t really mean much to the desperate person on the ground who’s looking for salvation. And therefore, we sometimes get blamed even for trying — and on most occasions, we are the only ones trying.”
On why he resigned his post as U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria
“Let me start by saying that the first group that should take responsibility for the failure is, first of all, the government and its intransigence, and its refusal to implement faithfully the six-point plan. And the opposition, which eventually also gave up and decided to accelerate its military actions to confront the government — and in fact, I think one of my biggest disappointments, which I will share with you, was on the 30th of June. We had a difficult but a constructive meeting in Geneva, to discuss a political transition. They agreed on a communique, but on the 19th of July, when the council eventually acted, the resolution was vetoed by Russia and China. …
“I felt undercut, and I also felt that perhaps I was seeing the problem differently than they were, because honestly I don’t see a military solution in the Syrian crisis. The mosaic of Syrian society is such that we need to put on the table an agreement or a settlement that ensures that interests of each group is looked at, whether they are Christian, Druze, Suni, Shia, Alawi, Kurdish — so that the protagonists know what the option is, that you can stop fighting but it doesn’t mean you’ll lose everything. Your interests will be protected.”
On whether peace is possible under Assad
“Assad will have to go. You cannot remain in power when so many people have been killed and are dying. No leader can retain legitimacy after this. The question is how he goes, and when he goes.”
Excerpted from Interventions: A Life In War And Peace by Kofi Annan. Copyright 2012 by Kofi Annan. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Press.