U.N. and Kofi Annan United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan recently called the situation in Iraq worse than civil war. Guests discuss Annan's remarks and his legacy at the U.N., and the resignation of U.S. Ambassador, John Bolton.
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U.N. and Kofi Annan

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U.N. and Kofi Annan

U.N. and Kofi Annan

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NEARY: As he looks toward his departure from the United Nations at the end of the year, Kofi Annan has been looking back on his decade as secretary general, assessing his own successes and failures, as well as the organization's strengths and weaknesses. In a recent interview with the BBC, he spoke frankly about the situation in Iraq, saying that the war there is one of his biggest regrets. And another big change coming at the end of the year - John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations - is stepping down from his post. If you have questions about Kofi Annan's legacy and the future of the U.N. give us a call. Our number is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. You can also send us an e-mail to talk@npr.org.

And to talk about what all this could mean for the future of U.N., we're joined now, by Paul Kennedy. He's a professor of international history at Yale University and he joins us from his office at Yale. Thanks so much for being with us, Professor Kennedy

Professor PAUL KENNEDY (Yale University): Nice to be back.

NEARY: Kofi Annan says that he believes the Iraq war has divided the world, and he has also said that he thought the U.N. could stop it. Are his comments too little too late?

Professor KENNEDY: Well, he's looking back at, obviously, at going out from his ten-year period - where he was, in my view, a very, very good secretary general - but lots of things happened on his watch, including this Iraq war, including the outbreak of transnational terrorism, including a number of genocides, and also some personnel and mismanagement failures which cast a cloud over somebody who's tried to do a very good job. And let's go to his comments upon his regrets about Iraq. One of the planks of his message to the world was, the community had a responsibility to protect, to protect the weak, the poor, to protect those in the midst of chaos and civil war. And Iraq is just a glaring example of how we haven't been able to protect.

NEARY: Mm-hmm. You know, I was listening to, and reading through the transcript of the interview he did with the BBC reporter. And I was struck by the fact that he, more than once, he said, you know, the United Nations is its members. It is as much up to the members as it is up to the secretary general, to ensure that the organization is effective.

Professor KENNEDY: Yes.

NEARY: You know, to what degree is that a cup out on his part, and to what degree is what he's saying absolutely the truth?

Professor KENNEDY: It's absolutely the truth. In fact, it's his job description to be the servant, both of the Security Council, the all-powerful 15-member body, and also the servant of the 192 nation-government General Assembly. And he is not supposed to get above his masters. He has to do what they say. And therefore, when his masters - especially the permanent five veto members on the Security Council - are in disagreement, the organization is paralyzed and the secretary general is going to get the blame. That's part of his job, as well.

Every secretary general gets blamed when the great powers can't agree.

NEARY: You know, we had some tape from that interview. And this tape came in response to a question about the situation in Darfur, and the U.N.'s inability, it would seem, to resolve that situation as well. He's speaking with the BBC's Lyce Doucet. Let's listen to that tape.

Mr. KOFI ANNAN (U.N. Secretary General): I think that at sometimes one has the tendency to have a simplistic approach, as if one individual can solve this war. As an individual, I've done my best and I keep pushing - not only the governments here, the Sudanese government and all around - and we all need to chip in, whether it was in Rwanda or Srebrenica or Darfur. I think we take lots of people out there who can give them alibi, when you find one person and say Kofi Annan is responsible.

And at that time, all the head of the Peacekeeping Operation, and it would be very easy to say that governments are not responsible. Kofi Annan or Jean-Marie Guehenno - the head of Peacekeeping Operations - are the ones who allowed Darfur to happen. It's easier. It's simple. People may digest that better, but it's not the story. It's not the whole story. And I think we need to really tell the story as completely as possible and in all these complexities.

And so, to have a scapegoat is fine, but it doesn't solve the problem.

NEARY: So again here - again, we hear Kofi Annan making the point that the responsibility for Darfur cannot be rested entirely on his shoulders as well. And this, obviously, a situation that he feels very deeply about, and he said that he wants to make a priority as he leaves the U.N.

Professor KENNEDY: Sure. Every secretary general who leaves office warns his incoming successor that one of your job descriptions is to be a scapegoat. We don't want to blame the fact that we can't have intervention in the genocides in Darfur, directly on the Chinese government. They would get too upset at that. So we blame the United Nations, as if we forget that the United Nations is simply a holding company with 192 shareholders in it - five of whom have incredible voting rights.

NEARY: We are talking with Paul Kennedy, professor of international history at Yale University, about the United Nations and Kofi Annan. And you are listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

One other thing that Mr. Annan is saying, as he is leaving the office of secretary general, he is talking more, again, about need for reform at the U.N. To make the organization reflect the political realities of today, as opposed to the political realities of 1945. Do you - looking toward the future - do you think that's really going to happen?

Professor KENNEDY: Yes, hello? I think listeners need to understand that the word reform of the U.N. is used often at different levels.

NEARY: Right. Mm-hmm.

Professor KENNEDY: Like making it more efficient, making the managerial, recruitment system more professional is one level of thinking about reform. But the area where many of the nation states and governments - especially, the rising countries in the developing world, like India, South Africa, Brazil -think there should be reform, is altering the composition of the all-important Security Council.

NEARY: And in what way? What form would that take, and wouldn't that be a huge battle in itself?

Professor KENNEDY: Yes it would be because the constitution and charter of the United Nations ensures that reform can - a change in a constitution, can only take place with the acquiescence of the five veto members - let's remember, that's the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France - and with two-thirds vote of the parliaments of the world in favor of any change. So those are big hurdles. But even if you were to go for them, then you have to ask yourself a question: well, which new countries - countries, which sometimes, some of them didn't exist in 1945 - which of them do you think would be promoted to the high table of permanent, veto seat on the Security Council? And so that itself, is quite a political battle.

NEARY: Yeah. Do you think that the U.N. is in better shape now than when he became secretary general?

Professor KENNEDY: Oh, I had a - we forget that he walked straight in to the triple, triple disasters of Mogadishu, Srebrenica, Kosovo, and Rwanda, Burundi.

NEARY: Yeah.

Professor KENNEDY: They had just occurred in the previous two years. And the - there was donor fatigue; the U.S. Senate had - was not agreeing to the American payment of the annual duty-bound dues, which we have to pay; and there was just disaster across the world. He inherited a very leaking vessel.

NEARY: All right, we are going to continue our discussion about Kofi Annan and the U.N. after a short break. We'll also be taking your calls at 800-989-8255,and we'll be joined by another guest when we come back.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

NEARY: Today, we're talking about the legacy of Kofi Annan and the future of the United Nations, also, the politics of John Bolton's resignation. My guest is Paul Kennedy, professor of international history at Yale University. And joining us now is Mark Turner. He is the U.N. correspondent for the Financial Times. And he joins us from our New York bureaus. Good to have you with us Mark.

Mr. MARK TURNER (U.N. Correspondent, Financial Times): Hi. Hi.

NEARY: Let's talk about John Bolton's resignation. We've been talking about Kofi Annan. John Bolton will also be leaving the U.N., interesting politics surrounding that. Mark Turner?

Mr. TURNER: Oh, hi.

NEARY: Yeah. The politics of that is interesting. I just wanted you to comment on that.

Mr. TURNER: Sure. Sure. Well, I mean, my - in the U.N., he's really being quite an extraordinary character, in some ways, kind of symbolizing an administration that has had a lot of difficulty in its relationship with the outside world. He arrived in the middle of a very contentious reform program, and immediately started demanding that all these - that document that was emerging for world leaders to decide on U.N. reform be renegotiated line by line. This immediately caused a lot of the U.N. officials to gasp in horror and fear that the whole thing will be pulled to pieces.

But we saw kind of in evolution over the time that he was here at the U.N. He - in the Security Council started off making very sort of aggressive noises about, well, if China's doesn't like this, I'm going to push it to a vote anyway, and this sort of stuff. But as time went on, he'd became considerably more practical, I think, in the Security Council, and actually started doing a lot of deals.

What he didn't do very well at all, was make friends with the countries from the developing world in the General Assembly - caused to put their backs up a lot - made very abrasive brusque statements, and also alienated some of his European allies as they tried to do deals.

So he had a very, kind of a mixed legacy. Not as bad as the monster some would make out, but still definitely could be seen to have undermined U.S. standing in the world of the United Nations.

NEARY: So do you think that of the United Nations see this as an opportunity for the United States to make up for past mistakes - that the new nominee to this position?

Mr. TURNER: I guess so, to an extent. You know, there's only so much that a U.N. ambassador is, as it were, that the administration is not. Sometimes, people had a sense that Bolton was acting almost as a rouge ambassador, I guess - making policy before the administration had even made its mind up.

But overall, essentially, the ambassador is a reflection of the administration's desires. And it's the administration that has been changing, fundamentally, over the past few months, in a far greater willingness to do deals, perhaps because there was no other alternative, really, with the other countries. So whether we see a profound shift with the new ambassador - I'm not sure on the policy issues, we will see a profound shift. What we might get is a change of atmospherics, a change of style. Maybe, you know, someone who's a little bit more conciliatory, a little bit more welcomed in U.N. circles.

But again, I don't think it's going to completely revolutionize the way the U.S. and the rest of the U.N. get on. There are fundamental problems in the world right now. The Middle East is a catastrophe. The rich world and the poor world are at loggerheads and that won't change, no matter who you put in the position.

NEARY: We're talking with Mark Turner, U.N. correspondent for the Financial Times and Paul Kennedy, professor of international history at Yale University, about the United Nations and Kofi Annan. If you'd like to join the discussion, the number is 800-989-8255. We're going to take a call now, from Joe in Miami, Florida. Hi Joe.

JOE (Caller): Yeah, hi. Good afternoon. Thanks for taking my call.

NEARY: You're welcome.

As a conservative, some of Bush's decisions have made me scratch my head, you know. And - but one of the decisions that I was really happy about was John Bolton. I'm a big fan of his, and it makes me wonder why, even though that Democrats have taken the hill, and I'm really annoyed that he's followed the casualties, for what I believe is basically a personality issue. I feel that he's done really well. He represents a lot of the things that are based, the old conservative base that's been left wondering by some of Bush administrations. He did a good job. I'm wondering if it's basically boiled down to personality, why he was - why his resignation was tendered and taken so -what I feel - easily, and why he didn't lobby a little more for himself, actually. You know?

NEARY: Mark Turner, do you have any ideas about that?

Mr. TURNER: Well, I'd just like to take issue with the question of he's done really well. You know, he did help negotiate some pretty important resolutions in the Security Council, and so on that front, he did do well. He got through some resolutions on Iran, Lebanon, Korea. These were important achievements.

But on what was supposed to be his fundamental job, which is reforming the United Nations, getting the management to work a little bit better, getting the corruption, getting the waste, getting the inefficiency out of it, he actually put everyone's backs up and achieved very little indeed. So I'm not sure that he did do that well on that front.

NEARY: All right, we're going to take another call now from Francesca. She's calling from Michigan. Hi, Francesca.

FRANCESCA (Caller): Hello.

NEARY: Hi, go ahead.

FRANCESCA: Hello. This is Francesca. I'm on my way to Indiana. I actually live in Indiana. Thank you for taking my call.

NEARY: Okay, go ahead.

FRANCESCA: It's about Kofi Annan, and I feel that he did a wonderful job in the United Nations. I think the problem that he started having was because we as Americans, we do not think that other parts of the world can run anything better than we do. So if somebody from the third world got in Mr. George Bush, the president, did not feel comfortable with a third world person running such an organization. And I think that's why sending Bolton to go and bully him, and Bolton got in there as a bully and didn't have time for any of the third world people, any of the - he didn't want to work with the underdeveloped countries.

NEARY: All right. Let's see what our guests think of what you're having to say there, Francesca. Thanks so much for your call.

FRANCESCA: Yeah. Thank you very much.

NEARY: Professor Kennedy, what do you - what's your reaction to this point that Francesca made, which is a sense that Americans would not give someone from a third world a chance, that they would be critical of somebody's leadership at the United Nations because they are from an under-developing country, the third world.

Mr. KENNEDY: Not really fair. I think that there was a great deal of good will in this country when Kofi was appointed, partly because he'd been educated in this country, partly because he got on with senators and congressman very well. So I don't think it's his origins that are the problem.

I think that our administration certainly felt uncomfortable dealing with a large number of developing world countries because their agenda was so essentially different from ours. It was a north south development poverty gap and other agendas with terrorism and international security being at the secondary level.

I think your speaker was quite right in saying that Mr. Bolton was viewed as a bully. I think that he was sent there to shake up assumptions and presumptions, and I think in some cases he did a rather good job in challenging accepted presumptions about what the U.N. did and its norms.

We have a larger than, at the U.N., larger than who replaces Mr. Bolton, a large difficulty in dealing with the developing world and its demands, as conservatives would see it, or its needs, as liberals would see it.

NEARY: All right. Let's take a call from Lisa in Madison, Wisconsin. Hi, Lisa. Go ahead.

LISA (Caller): Hi. My question is for Professor Kennedy. I'm not an authority on the subject at all, but I'm wondering what you think the U.N. actually could have done to stop the division of the world as a result of the Iraqi war. I mean, when a member of the five permanent members of the United Nations, like the U.S., chooses to go forth with something, it's my opinion, or what I think, anyways, that we wouldn't have listened or adhered to anything that they would've had to say anyway. So doesn't that just make the entire United Nations itself a figurehead?

Mr. KENNEDY: To a large extent you're right. And this, by the by, was also the underlying assumption of the so-called founding fathers of the U.N. in 1944-‘45. It would work only if the great powers allowed it to work. Remember, they were together in a grand alliance against fascism, and they hoped that the grand alliance would continue into peacetime. If the grand alliance continued and the great powers could hammer out agreements, sometimes giving, sometimes taking, the system works.

And it still - that still is the case. If we wanted to agree on intervention in Darfur at the Security Council, we could get that. If we don't agree, that is to say if the big five do not agree, we have to suspend any action and wait until they might agree on perhaps something else.

NEARY: Mark Turner, I wonder if you can respond to that question as well, and I think the larger question it raises, really, is then what is the - really, what is the role of the United Nations in contemporary political world?

Mr. TURNER: Well, look, the United Nations does all sorts of things. In fact, if you look at what the U.N. is up to today, I think people would have gasped 10 years ago. It's conducting election monitoring, it's involved in criminal investigations, it's got peace keeping operations and more than 100 - well, around 100,000 troops and civilians in 18 countries. It's got development programs, it delivers food. I mean, it really is an enormous organization.

But at the end of the day, its beating heart is security and trying to create some sort of world order. Now as Professor Kennedy said, there was this idea early on that, in effect, you have five powers allied with each other who would act as sort of global policemen. Now, that fell apart during the Cold War, and you had, essentially, stability of the world was in the hands of the superpowers.

After the Cold War, then there was all this hope that there would be a new world order, the sort of thing that Bush, Sr., talked about, and the U.N. peacekeepers were sent in everywhere to do all these highly ambitious missions, and without the tools, without the wherewithal, without the expertise, to be honest, and it all fell apart.

Then we had, you know, a resurgence of American self-confidence and power, and that has also fallen apart in Iraq. So we're in a very interesting position right now. We're back into time when you have the great powers - Russia, China, Europe, the U.S. - and then some of the rising powers like India actually, by and large, doing deals.

They disagree over Iran, exactly. They disagree over Darfur. But they're passing a lot of resolutions. This year, we've already had, you know, 72-73 U.N. resolutions. Two decades ago, you had about 15.

The question is how do you actually go about policing this stuff, and peacekeepers is not enough. Peacekeepers can't fight wars. They can stand there if people are ready to talk, but that's about it, and that's what the world is still looking for, some kind of viable international peace-making, peace-enforcing force, and really there's no agreement on that at all.

So it's all moving quite quickly, but where the U.N. stands in that is essentially a meeting room, and occasionally, when people want to be helped, the U.N. can step in and help them. But it can't impose will independently.

NEARY: Mark Turner is U.N. correspondent for The Financial Times, and you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Professor Kennedy, just one last question. What's ahead for the next secretary general? What does he face, and how well prepared is he for that? How well did Kofi Annan prepare the ground for him, I guess?

Mr. KENNEDY: Well, Kofi was an insider, consummate insider involved in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, was welcomed by all of the staff. One of them, Ban Ki-Moon, is very familiar with international institutions and negotiations, but he comes not as a U.N. personnel insider, he comes as somebody who's been very much involved in East-Asian international diplomacy, especially in negotiations between North and South Korea - quiet spoken, will not be as, you know, impressive in gesture.

NEARY: Thanks so much for joining us today. We're just out of time. Thanks so much for joining us.

Mr. KENNEDY: My pleasure.

NEARY: Professor Paul Kennedy. He is professor of international history at Yale University. And thanks also to Mark Turner, who joined us from New York. He is the U.N. correspondent for The Financial Times.

Mr. TURNER: You're welcome.

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