Thank you. Good evening and welcome. It is a great honor to have you all here. You don’t often get this kind of buzz in this hall. Your energy at a time of immense global challenges, and of fresh American resolve to find multilateral solutions is exactly what we need. Thank you for coming here to bring today’s global cares to life for your friends, families and communities.
A few years ago in Montreal, my daughter represented Benin at a Model UN and one of the issues debated was the rights of indigenous people. Two weeks ago, I had a chance to be part of a little piece of magic in this same room. The four countries who had opposed the Declaration of Indigenous Rights (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States) all announced new positions. The New Zealand delegation entered with the sound of a conch shell, singing native Maori songs, and literally rocked the hall, dancing right here. When the US announced that it would review its opposition, a thunderous, spontaneous applause broke out.
Being part of these kinds of changes makes this a special time. With the strong leadership of President Obama, Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice, the US has adopted a more affirmative, more committed, and more constructive role towards the UN. We believe strongly in the United Nations as an essential, if imperfect vehicle for advancing global peace, security and development. We believe in working for change from within the UN system, rather than criticizing from the sidelines. We believe in being a part of global initiatives, in listening to other countries, in building coalitions and in showing that we will meet our responsibilities as a leader. Our imperative at the UN is to maximize the number of states with the capacity and political will to tackle new challenges. In the words of our President, we are truly “on the frontlines of a new era of engagement,” and we are ready to lead that change, especially in four key areas here at the UN.
First, in nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament—as the Secretary General just said, President Obama has made significant strides on this front, including signing a new START Treaty with Russia last month that will bring our arsenal of deployed strategic warheads to its lowest point since the 1950s.
Second, in expanding peace in war-ravaged countries—every day we’re working hard to make sure that the UN is more capable of building local capacity to strengthen the rule of law, improve governance, jumpstart economies and lift up social welfare—all of which are essential to sustaining peace over the long term and complementing the 124,000 peacekeepers from 115 member states now deployed in 16 conflict zones.
Third, in addressing the threat of climate change – at the Copenhagen summit last December, countries reached key agreements for reducing emissions, financing new practices and mitigation and addressing the impacts of rising temperatures – over 120 countries have now aligned themselves with that agreement.
And fourth, in promoting sustainable development – we believe that promoting inclusive economic growth is, like diplomacy and defense, vital to a more peaceful world. Our common security will expand if the UN advances peaceful, democratic change, through inspiring targets such as the Millennium Development Goals.
The first time I visited the UN, I was 8 years old. At that time, the UN was regarded as a beacon of hope that would bring together countries to prevent future wars. Over the years, the UN has been attacked, belittled and questioned. Many stopped believing in its effectiveness and power to address global challenges.
Sure, changes are needed, in the way the UN operates and in the behaviors of many members, but we can point to a number of pivotal advancements. You should take a look at the new book, UN Ideas That Changed the World. There you will read how smallpox eradication, for example, was achieved through arduous debate in these halls, followed by persistent domestic and international action. The debate and passage of the UN Charter changed global attitudes toward war—no longer could one country initiate aggression against another without being challenged or without seeking legitimacy for its actions. And the establishment of the UN Commission for women also focused unprecedented attention on the challenges facing our mothers, sisters and daughters. The list of successes is important and impressive—though there’s plenty more to be done.
Clearly, the steps we take at the UN can lead to coalitions that give our work a global momentum that we could never achieve by ourselves. While the UN isn't the only tool for addressing global challenges, it is a vital one. One of my US colleagues, Ambassador Brooke Anderson, says it this way: After 65 years, the UN “still performs the indispensable daily miracle of bringing the whole world together in the same place at the same time” – 192 nations, often doing their best, to translate commitments into action and to resolve our common challenges, in a civil forum.
As you and your generation prepare to take on a global leadership role, let me leave you with another positive impression of what can be done here at the UN. Over a month ago, we had a donors’ conference to rebuild Haiti. The generosity of pledges made on March 31 surpassed our expectations, with solidarity being shown among all nations. Near the end of a long day of countries speaking up, Algeria, a nation with few direct connections to Haiti and limited aid resources, spoke up and made a modest pledge. I was sitting next to the President of Haiti at the front of the room and when I looked back at my colleague, the Ambassador of Algeria, he put his fist to his heart. We both knew, and know, that genuine cooperation is the way to rebuild Haiti – and to solve so many of today’s daunting challenges.
Thank you for being here and for recognizing the importance of forging constructive coalitions to address the complex challenges that you and your peers may one day inherit. It’s been an honor to have you here. Thank you.
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