Good evening. I’m glad to see my friend and colleague Ambassador Melrose here, and Under-Secretary-General Akasaka, and I’m particularly delighted to be here with all of you.
This is the fun part of my job. I am always gratified be able to see young leaders, particularly such a large and diverse group as this, take an interest in the United Nations and the larger world around us. You are here at the National Model UN because you are committed to improving the planet you live in, to understanding people who differ from yourselves, and to solving problems that arise far away from where you live. Responsible and connected young leaders like you are very much what our country and our world need most today.
Your generation is more globally engaged than any in human history, which suits well this era of tremendous change. More and more, technology and globalization mean that faraway places no longer seem so distant. More and more, problems that affect your lives affect those of others, too. More and more, opprotunities that arise that can only be seized if people in all corners of the world work together.
The problems that you’ll grapple with here are many of the real ones that we deal with every day at the United Nations. But before long, they’re going to be your problems to solve. For now, model United Nations is a simulation. But sooner than you may think, it will be your time to lead.
When I was starting my career, almost now 25 years ago, I’m shocked to say, most of the great foreign policy challenges that my peers were interested in revolved around the Soviet Union and the Cold War, nuclear weapons and arms control. But you’re going to inherit the challenges of a very different century. For one thing, we now have a far wider range of states that are vitally important, including China, Mexico, India, Brazil, South Africa, and Indonesia, just to name a few—states that the United States needs to cooperate with if we are to confront 21st-century challenges.
Our agenda today is wide and complex.
We urgently need to secure poorly guarded nuclear materials and weapons to keep them out of the hands of terrorists. The old and vicious tactic of terrorism has become an even more grave threat now that modern weaponry can enable a handful of people to plot murder on a horrific scale—as we were reminded yesterday with the outrageous terrorist attacks on the Moscow subway. The world is still feeling the effects of the global financial crisis. Iran and North Korea continue to flaunt their international nuclear obligations.
In the Middle East, an agonizing, decades-long stalemate persists between the Palestinians and the Israelis, two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. The innocent still suffer from genocide in Darfur. We face cyber attacks on our digital infrastructure. International crime and narcotics trafficking bring despair and disruption into the lives of ordinary people from the shores of West Africa to the Far East.
And fragile states wracked by poverty and conflict can be exploited and preyed upon by criminal and terrorist networks, and undermine security for us all. Pandemic diseases can spread with lightning speed. And the world’s climate is warming by the day.
This is the world of the 21st-century. We face an unprecedented array of transnational security threats—threats that can cross borders as freely as a storm. By definition, these challenges cannot be met by any one nation alone. To meet them, international cooperation is absolutely essential. Presidents and prime ministers need to work together to secure poorly guarded nuclear material. Business leaders need to collaborate, to innovate and spread opportunity and prosperity. And students, like yourselves, need to come together and break down stereotypes and combat extremism.
Surely the global challenges we face cannot be met without effective U.S. leadership. But while U.S. leadership is essential, it is very rarely enough. We need meaningful cooperation from a broad range of peoples and partners. And we’ve learned that other countries are more likely to shoulder their fair share of the global burden when the United States leads by example, corrects course as necessary, forges strong partnerships, and treats others with respect.
And that brings me to the role of the United Nations. The UN is the only institution where 192 nations come together, the way you all have today, to advance global security and solve collective problems.
In the real world, the UN is more than just a debating society. As you know, it also has a massive operational side: peacekeeping missions, humanitarian operations, UN agencies like WFP and the IAEA that confront key global challenges from feeding the hungry to limiting the menace of weapons of mass destruction.
At its best, the UN bolsters security, helps to rebuild shattered societies, lays the foundations of democracy and development, and establishes conditions in which people can live in greater dignity and mutual respect.
Important as the United Nations is as a vehicle to promote global security, foster broad-based development, and advance collective interests, the UN is far from perfect. A serious gap still separates the vision of the UN’s founders from the institution of today. The Security Council still stumbles when interests and values diverge, as they do over such issues as Darfur, Zimbabwe, Burma and Sri Lanka. In the General Assembly, member states too often let political theater distract from real deliberation and decision. UN member states must still replace anti-Israel vitriol with recognition of Israel’s legitimacy and right to exist in peace and security. And the UN must still confront waste and abuse even as it struggles to take on daunting new responsibilities in such key areas as peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, and development.
As President Obama has often said, the UN is imperfect; but it is also indispensible.
That’s because there is no better alternative to sharing the costs and burdens of such things as UN peace operations and humanitarian missions around the world. That’s because there can be no substitute for the legitimacy the UN can impart. And there is no replacement for the space it can provide to build coalitions, to take on threats and seize opportunities that we face together.
Day in and day out, my colleagues and I at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations are working to build a new basis for exactly that kind of common action to take on common challenges. Every day, we are, in effect, on the front lines of what President Obama calls “a new era of engagement with the rest of the world.”
Now, I don’t know how those of you here today representing other countries during this model UN plan to handle your jobs, but let me just say a few words about how I try to handle mine at the U.S. Mission. And I don’t know which of you might be representing the U.S. and playing my role, but let me just say one word of advice – make me look good, please.
As you know, America has quite dramatically changed our approach at the United Nations. We’re now guided by several clear principles. First, we value the United Nations as a vehicle for advancing core U.S. national security goals as well as universal rights. We work for change from within rather than criticizing from the sidelines.
We stand strong in defense of America’s interests and values, but we don’t dissent just to be contrary or to stall debating points. We try to listen to states large and small. We build coalitions. We meet our responsibilities. We pay our bills. We push for real reform. And we remember that in our interconnected world, what’s good for others is often what is good for the United States.
That is a very different approach, and it’s already paying important dividends.
Last year in 2009, the Security Council unanimously imposed the toughest sanctions on any country in the world today against North Korea; the United States sponsored a unanimous, landmark Security Council resolution to help prevent the spread and use of nuclear weapons and to encourage progress towards disarmament; we directed UN peacekeeping operations to do more to stop sexual violence against women and girls in conflict zones; on behalf of President Obama, I had the particular privilege of signing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first new human rights convention of the 21st century; we strengthened the regime of sanctions against al-Qaeda and the Taliban; and we all pushed to ensure that UN peacekeeping forces have better tools and greater capacities, including more specialized medical, engineering, and helicopter units, so they can to fulfill their lifesaving missions and protect the vulnerable in conflict zones around the world.
This year, 2010, is already just as busy. We are pressing Iran to comply with its international nuclear obligations—because Iran has a choice: to fulfill its responsibilities and join the community of responsible nations, or face increasing pressure from countries around the world.
We continue to work toward a world free of nuclear weapons and to reaffirm the core bargain of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: that is countries with nuclear weapons will move toward disarmament, countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them, and all countries will be able to access peaceful nuclear energy under safeguards. Just last week, as you know, with the new U.S.-Russia START Treaty, we negotiated the most comprehensive arms control agreement in nearly two decades—a pact that upholds our own commitments under the NPT and thereby strengthens global efforts to stop the spread of these weapons and ensure that other nations meet their responsibilities.
President Obama will convene the leaders of more than 40 countries in Washington, DC, next month for a historic Nuclear Security Summit to set a plan of action to secure vulnerable nuclear materials within four years. We are working with the UN to help Haiti recover and rebuild—and tomorrow, the United States will join with Haiti and the United Nations and several other co-chairing countries at a ministerial-level donors’ conference were more than 120 countries and international organizations and NGOs, will come together and pledge meaningful assistance for the enormous recovery effort that Haiti faces.
We’re doing more to make prosperity’s promise real for more than 1 billion people around the world who live below the poverty line—including by embracing the Millennium Development Goals as America’s own goals for the first time. The UN is hosting a summit in September as a follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals in order to accelerate efforts to eradicate poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality, slash child mortality, improve maternal health, fight HIV/AIDS and other deadly diseases, and advance the cause of global development through more effective global partnerships.
At the same time, we continue to confront the threat of climate change to leave a healthy, thriving planet for all of you—by building on last year’s important Copenhagen Accord, by pursuing policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in developed and emerging economies alike, and by investing more to help developing countries adapt to climate change, slow deforestation, and deploy clean energy technologies. In Afghanistan, we are working with the United Nations to strengthen its ability to coordinate and deliver critical aid to the Afghan people and we’re cooperating to ensure that support is delivered to reform Afghanistan’s electoral system and its nascent democratic machinery.
In Iraq, we’re supporting the UN Assistance Mission to promote Iraq’s long-term peace, security, and prosperity, by helping address disputed internal boundaries by supporting the fragile electoral process, pursuing national reconciliation and easing the suffering of refugees and the displaced.
And we continue to enforce the robust sanctions on North Korea while encouraging the resumption of the Six-Party Talks.
At the same time, we’re urging the swift start of proximity talks between Israelis and Palestinians and the resumption of direct, bilateral negotiations as soon as possible.
And we are working in partnership with the UN and troop-contributing countries to ensure that lifesaving peacekeeping operations are planned more expertly, deployed more quickly, budgeted more realistically, equipped effectively, led ably, and ended responsibly.
As we do all of this and more in partnership with others, my colleagues and I are guided by both principle and pragmatism. We’re pursuing a foreign policy that fits our interconnected age—a foreign policy that recognizes not only the moral claim placed on us by our common humanity but also the practical realities of our interlinked world.
We aim to forge a world in which government is a means to advance human rights, not a tool to suppress them. A world where terrorism and violent extremism are rejected. A world where nuclear danger, climate change, hunger, poverty and disease are beaten back—and where access to education and opportunity rises.
A world where we have finally learned the lessons of the Holocaust, Srebrenitsa, Rwanda, and Darfur -- by finally ending genocide. A world where governments rid their their textbooks of lies about those who are different. A world where women and girls fulfill their own potential and are understood to be indispensable to national growth and development. A world of liberty and prosperity—of greater decency, dignity, and democracy. A world where a child can grow up in Port-au-Prince, Gaza, Tel Aviv, Kabul, or Kinshasa, free of fear, free of want, and with the opportunity to live their dreams.
Now we have no illusions that building this kind of world will be easy or quick. We have inherited a vast array of challenges and no doubt others will be hurled at us. But we are determined to advance the vision of this better world, to craft effective strategies in partnership, and to invest in programs that will renew America’s leadership, expand our security, uphold our shared values, deepen our common prosperity, and reinforce the alliances and partnerships that multiply our strength. We are committed to creating a world that is more peaceful, more lawful, more democratic, and more just. Such a world, is of course, is in America’s interests.
But it is not in America’s interests alone. It also reflects the shared aspirations of people and nations across the globe.
There can be no doubt that the United States has truly changed course, but this change cannot be sustained by the United States alone. To foster the future that we seek, we must act on the belief that our interests are mutual and forge truly global responses to pressing global challenges.
At the end of the day, people in positions of responsibility have a choice.
We can be remembered as a generation that tried to evade the hard choices, that looked away, and that left us all less secure. Or we can be the generation that came together to advance America’s interests, to stand up for America’s values, and to strengthen our common security by investing in our common humanity.
That’s my generation’s challenge. But I want to lay out a challenge for all of you—the next generation of American and world leadership.
I urge you all to raise your sights—to continue to get more and more deeply involved—to care more and more about other people’s lives—and to continue to find ways to strengthen your communities and your country—and to work hard to understand more profoundly the complex issues of the interwoven world that you’ll inherit—and to grasp why when one of us suffers, all of us are less secure.
You young men and women, though, are truly lucky. You have the blessings of an education and youth. It is an exciting if a little bit daunting time to start your careers. And it is an amazing time to serve. So many of us are counting on you to help us make our way in a new century of challenge and opportunity. So many of us are relying on each of you to provide new ideas and new energy for the decades ahead. And we will be calling on you sooner than some of you may think. But I know, and I’m inspired by the fact that you all stand ready to answer that call.
So I wish you good luck, great deliberations and thank you very much.
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