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'International Security Not a Zero-Sum Game'

September 13, 2002

The text of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's speech Thursday to the General Assembly, as released by the United Nations and provided by Associated Press:


Mr. President, distinguished heads of state and government, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen: We cannot begin today without reflecting on yesterday's anniversary and on the criminal challenge so brutally thrown in our faces on 11 September, 2001.

The terrorist attacks of that day were not an isolated event. They were an extreme example of a global scourge, which requires a broad, sustained and global response.

Broad, because terrorism can be defeated only if all nations unite against it. Sustained, because the battle against terrorism will not be won easily, or overnight. It requires patience and persistence.

And global, because terrorism is a widespread and complex phenomenon, with many deep roots and exacerbating factors.

Mr. President, I believe that such a response can only succeed if we make full use of multilateral institutions.

I stand before you today as a multilateralist by precedent, by principle, by charter and by duty.

I also believe that every government that is committed to the rule of law at home must be committed also to the rule of law abroad. And all states have a clear interest, as well as clear responsibility, to uphold international law and maintain international order.

Our founding fathers, the statesmen of 1945, had learned that lesson from the bitter experience of two world wars and a Great Depression. They recognized that international security is not a zero-sum game. Peace, security and freedom are not finite commodities like land, oil or gold which one state can acquire at another's expense. On the contrary, the more peace, security and freedom any one state has, the more its neighbors are likely to have.

And they recognized that by agreeing to exercise sovereignty together, they could gain a hold over problems that would defeat any one of them acting separately.

If those lessons were clear in 1945, should they not be much more so today, in the age of globalization?

On almost no item on our agenda does anyone seriously contend that each nation can fend for itself. Even the most powerful countries know that they need to work with others, in multilateral institutions, to achieve their aims.

Only by multilateral action can we ensure that open markets offer benefits and opportunities to all.

Only by multilateral action can we give people in the least developed countries the chance to escape the ugly misery of poverty, ignorance and disease.

Only by multilateral action can we protect ourselves from acid rain, or global warming, from the spread of HIV/AIDS, the illicit trade in drugs, or the odious traffic in human beings.

That applies even more to the prevention of terrorism.

Individual states may defend themselves by striking back at terrorist groups and at the countries that harbor or support them. But only concerted vigilance and cooperation among all states, with constant systematic exchange of information, offers any real hope of denying the terrorists their opportunities.

On all these matters, for any one state, large or small, choosing to follow or reject the multilateral path must not be a simple matter of political convenience. It has consequences far beyond the immediate context.

When countries work together in multilateral institutions developing, respecting and, when necessary, enforcing international law, they also develop mutual trust and more effective cooperation on other issues.

The more a country makes use of multilateral institutions, thereby respecting shared values and accepting the obligations and restraints inherent in those values, the more others will trust and respect it and the stronger its chance to exercise true leadership.

And among multilateral institutions, this universal organization has a special place.

Any state, if attacked, retains the inherent right of self-defense under Article 51 of the charter. But beyond that, when states decide to use force to deal with broader threats to international peace and security, there is no substitute for the unique legitimacy provided by the United Nations.

Member states attach importance, great importance in fact, to such legitimacy and to the international rule of law. They have shown, notably in the action to liberate Kuwait 12 years ago, that they are willing to take actions under the authority of the Security Council, which they would not be willing to take without it.

The existence of an effective international security system depends on the council's authority and therefore on the council having the political will to act, even in the most difficult cases, when agreement seems elusive at the outset. The primary criterion for putting an issue on the council's agenda should not be the receptiveness of the parties but the existence of a grave threat to world peace.

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