Vol. 32, Issue 2 - Spring 2009
U.N. Secretary General Ban Calls for New Multilaterism
The 2009 Princeton Colloquium on Public and International Affairs
by Sarah Vitali '11
Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, discussed the growing necessity for a “new multilateralism” in global politics in a policy address given at Princeton’s McCarter Theater on April 17, as part of the 2009 Princeton Colloquium on Public and International Affairs, hosted by the Woodrow Wilson School.
Ban, addressing a packed house of approximately 1,000 students, faculty, and members of the press and public, began with a comparison of today’s events and the situations facing the world at the time of the founding of the U.N.
“At the end of [World War II], the founding members of the United Nations looked out on a charred and shattered landscape, and pledged to do better for the future of our world,” he said. “Today we face a landscape scarred by economic crisis and collapse, regional conflicts, and escalating humanitarian needs.”
Just as early U.N. leaders set out with the resources they had to confront the problems they faced, Ban stressed the need for current leaders to rededicate themselves to the process of global improvement – especially in these times of global economic crisis.
“For the world and its peoples, 2009 could be a make-or-break year,” he said. “We must work together very closely. We must stop this dissent, we must alter our path, and this requires all nations to work together.”
This process, Ban said, cannot be undertaken in a half-hearted manner, nor will half-measures be appropriate to bring desired political and social changes into being, and this calls for a new standard for global politics.
“The time has passed for incremental approaches,” he said. “We need a new vision, a new paradigm, and a new multilateralism.”
Ban proceeded to define his ideal of global politics, as “a multilateralism that is organized around a set of global goods, a multilateralism that harnesses both power and principle…”
This “new multilateralism,” Ban asserted, will be critical in the analysis of and approach to important political problems in the current era of globalization.
“The world faces a set of global threats that hold the key to our common future. These threats are contagious, they do not recognize the borders… They affect everyone everywhere, and cannot be addressed by any one country in isolation.”
At the same time, given the very real differences between countries in terms of material wealth and political clout, Ban claimed that we must be careful to consider and value points of view that might otherwise be overlooked.
“Our new multilateralism must listen to these voices and embrace new political realities,” he said. “But we cannot privilege power at the expense of the weak, nor can it allow hollow representation to lead to ‘parents’; our choice between power and principle is a false one.”
Again, Ban cited the global economic crisis as one of the most pressing issues facing the international community, and stressed the need for a multilateral approach that will take into account the abilities of more powerful countries to help in this situation and the need to maintain respect for the desires of less powerful nations.
“As we address the economic crisis, the G-8 leaders and G-20 [leaders] have a special responsibility to take remedial action,” he said. “Yet they must also find a way to meet the popular aspirations of the leaders of people who are not at the table.”
In addition to a call for a new multilateralism, Ban also stressed the growing interconnectivity of global issues such as economic stability, environmental stability, and nuclear non-proliferation. Amongst the concerns he cited at the forefront of U.N. priorities was the idea of follow-through, the ability to deliver on promises issued.
“In the area of peacekeeping…the members of the Security Council have the primary responsibility for the maintenance of peace and security,” he said. “But they also have the responsibility to ensure that the resources – human, financial, and material and technical assistance and political whip – those will be available to meet the policies mandated.”
In the vein of this concept of follow-through, Ban claimed to be highly encouraged by the recent announcement from the Obama administration that proclaimed its dedication to ratify nuclear non-proliferation-related policy. This, he said, was an action that ties into his own desire for an alleviation of violence through U.N. action.
“We are calling on members of the Security Council to initiate discussions of various issues including assurances to non-nuclear weapon states that they will not be the subject of the use of nuclear weapons,” he said. “We are also calling on all member states to alleviate all the weapons of mass destruction, impose limits on conventional arms, and adopt new weapons stances.”
According to Ban, though the individual actions of a single country are, of course, important, there is a still greater benefit to be gained through multilateralism, namely, the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
“It is incontestable that no nation, no matter how strong and resourceful, can solve these problems on its own, nor should it want to,” he said. “There is a strength, not just an efficiency, in sharing problems.”
Ban ended his speech on a note of cautious optimism, tempering his dire descriptions of new global challenges with the hope that the global community will be able to come together as one society to face them.
“Ladies and gentlemen, dangerous social and political fuses have been lit, he said. “This may be alarming, but facing crisis on many fronts, the world is coming to grasp the need for a transition to sustainable development, to deal with matters of operation and to a new multilateralism.”