Remarks by the President
to the 52nd
the United Nations General Assembly
New York, New York
THE PRESIDENT: Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General,
distinguished guests: Five years ago, when I first addressed
this Assembly, the Cold War had only just ended and the
transition to a new era was beginning. Now, together, we are
making that historic transition.
Behind us we leave a century full of humanity's
capacity for the worst and its genius for the best. Before us,
at the dawn of a new millennium, we can envision a new era that
escapes the 20th century's darkest moments, fulfills its most
brilliant possibilities, and crosses frontiers yet unimagined.
We are off to a promising start. For the first time
in history, more than half the people represented in this
Assembly freely choose their own governments. Free markets are
growing, spreading individual opportunity and national
well-being. Early in the 21st century, more than 20 of this
Assembly's members, home to half the Earth's population, will
lift themselves from the ranks of low-income nations.
Powerful forces are bringing us closer together,
profoundly changing the way we work and live and relate to each
other. Every day millions of our citizens on every continent use
laptops and satellites to send information, products and money
across the planet in seconds. Bit by bit, the information age is
chipping away at the barriers -- economic, political, and social
-- the once kept people locked in and ideas locked out. Science
is unraveling mysteries in the tiniest of human genes and the
Never in the course of human history have we had a
greater opportunity to make our people healthier and wiser, to
protect our planet from decay and abuse, to reap the benefits of
free markets without abandoning the social contract and its
concern for the common good. Yet today's possibilities are not
tomorrow's guarantees. We have work to do.
The forces of global integration are a great tide,
inexorably wearing away the established order of things. But we
must decide what will be left in its wake. People fear change
when they feel its burdens but not its benefits. They are
susceptible to misguided protectionism, to the poisoned appeals
of extreme nationalism, and ethnic, racial, and religious hatred.
New global environmental challenges require us to find ways to
work together without damaging legitimate aspirations for
progress. We're all vulnerable to the reckless acts of rogue
states and to an unholy axis of terrorists, drug traffickers, and
international criminals. These 21st century predators feed on
the very free flow of information and ideas and people we
cherish. They abuse the vast power of technology to build black
markets for weapons, to compromise law enforcement with huge
bribes of illicit cash, to launder money with the keystroke of a
computer. These forces are our enemies. We must face them
together because no one can defeat them alone.
To seize the opportunities and move against the
threats of this new global era, we need a new strategy of
security. Over the past five years, nations have begun to put
that strategy in place through a new network of institutions and
arrangements with distinct missions, but a common purpose -- to
secure and strengthen the gains of democracy and free markets
while turning back their enemies.
We see this strategy taking place on every continent
-- expanded military alliances like NATO, its Partnership for
Peace, its partnerships with a democratic Russia and a democratic
Ukraine; free trade arrangements like the WTO and the Global
Information Technology Agreement; and the move toward free trade
areas by nations in the Americas, the Asia Pacific region, and
elsewhere around the world; strong arms control regimes like the
Chemical Weapons Convention and the Nonproliferation Treaty;
multinational coalitions with zero tolerance for terrorism,
corruption, crime, and drug trafficking; binding international
commitments to protect the environment and safeguard human
Through this web of institutions and arrangements,
nations are now setting the international ground rules for the
21st century, laying a foundation for security and prosperity for
those who live within them, while isolating those who challenge
them from the outside. This system will develop and endure only
if those who follow the rules of peace and freedom fully reap
their rewards. Only then will our people believe that they have
a stake in supporting and shaping the emerging international
The United Nations must play a leading role in this
effort, filling in the fault lines of the new global era. The
core missions it has pursued during its first half-century will
be just as relevant during the next half-century: the pursuit of
peace and security, promoting human rights, and moving people
from poverty to dignity and prosperity through sustainable
Conceived in the cauldron of war, the United Nations' first
task must remain the pursuit of peace and security. For 50 years
the U.N. has helped prevent world war and nuclear holocaust.
Unfortunately, conflicts between nations and within nations had
endured. From 1945 until today, they have cost 20 million lives.
Just since the end of the Cold War, each year there have been more
than 30 armed conflicts in which more than a thousand people have
lost their lives, including, of course, a quarter of a million
killed in the former Yugoslavia and more than half a million in Rwanda.
Millions of personal tragedies the world over are a
warning that we dare not be complacent or indifferent. Trouble
in a far corner can become a plague on everyone's house.
People the world over cheered the hopeful developments in
Northern Ireland, grieved over the innocent loss of life and the
stalling of the peace process in the Middle East, and longed for
a resolution of the differences on the Korean Peninsula, or between
Greece and Turkey, or between the great nations of India and Pakistan
as they celebrate the 50th anniversaries of their birth.
The United Nations continues to keep many nations
away from bloodshed: in El Salvador and Mozambique, in Haiti and
Namibia, in Cyprus and in Bosnia, where so much remains to be
done but can still be done because the bloodshed has ended.
The record of service of the United Nations has left
a legacy of sacrifice. Just last week, we lost some of our
finest sons and daughters in a crash of a U.N. helicopter in
Bosnia. Five were Americans, five were Germans, one Polish and
one British; all citizens of the world we are trying to make,
each a selfless servant of peace. And the world is poorer for
At this very moment, the United Nations is keeping
the peace in 16 countries, often in partnership with regional
organizations like NATO, the OAS, ASEAN and ECOWAS, avoiding
wider conflicts and even greater suffering. Our shared
commitment to more realistic peacekeeping training for U.N.
troops, a stronger role for civilian police, better integration
between military and civilian agencies -- all these will help the
United Nations to meet these missions in the years ahead.
At the same time, we must improve the U.N.'s
capabilities after a conflict ends to help peace become
self-sustaining. The U.N. cannot build nations, but it can help
nations to build themselves by fostering legitimate institutions
of government, monitoring elections and laying a strong
foundation for economic reconstruction.
This week, the Security Council will hold an
unprecedented ministerial meeting on African security, which our
Secretary of State is proud to chair, and which President Mugabe,
chairman of the Organization of African Unity, will address. It
will highlight the role the United Nations can and should play in
preventing conflict on a continent where amazing progress toward
democracy and development is occurring alongside still too much
discord, disease and distress.
In the 21st century, our security will be challenged
increasingly by interconnected groups that traffic in terror,
organized crime and drug smuggling. Already these international
crime and drug syndicates drain up to $750 billion a year from
legitimate economies. That sum exceeds the combined GNP of more
than half the nations in this room. These groups threaten to
undermine confidence in fragile new democracies and market
economies that so many of you are working so hard to see endure.
Two years ago I called upon all the members of this
Assembly to join in the fight against these forces. I applaud
the U.N.'s recent resolution calling on its members to join the
major international antiterrorism conventions, making clear the
emerging international consensus that terrorism is always a crime
and never a justifiable political act. As more countries sign
on, terrorists will have fewer places to run or hide.
I also applaud the steps that members are taking to
implement the declaration on crime and public security that the
United States proposed two years ago, calling for increased
cooperation to strengthen every citizen's right to basic safety,
through cooperation on extradition and asset forfeiture, shutting
down grey markets for guns and false documents, attacking
corruption and bringing higher standards to law enforcement in
The spread of these global criminal syndicates also
has made all the more urgent our common quest to eliminate
weapons of mass destruction. We cannot allow them to fall or to
remain in the wrong hands. Here, too, the United Nations must
lead, and it has, from UNSCOM in Iraq to the International Atomic
Energy Agency, now the most expansive global system ever devised
to police arms control agreements.
When we met here last year, I was honored to be the
first of 146 leaders to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty,
our commitment to end all nuclear tests for all time -- the
longest-sought, hardest-fought prize in the history of arms
control. It will help to prevent the nuclear powers from
developing more advanced and more dangerous weapons. It will
limit the possibilities for other states to acquire such devices.
I am pleased to announce that today I am sending this crucial
treaty to the United States Senate for ratification. Our common
goal should be to enter the CTBT into force as soon as possible,
and I ask for all of you to support that goal.
The United Nations' second core mission must be to
defend and extend universal human rights and to help democracy's
remarkable gains endure. Fifty years ago the U.N.'s Universal
Declaration of Human Rights stated the international community's
conviction that people everywhere have the right to be treated
with dignity, to give voice to their opinions, to choose their
leaders; that these rights are universal -- not American rights,
not Western rights, not rights for the developed world only, but
rights inherent in the humanity of people everywhere.
Over the past decade, these rights have become a
reality for more people than ever -- from Asia to Africa, from
Europe to the Americas. In a world that links rich and poor,
North and South, city and countryside, in an electronic network
of shared images in real time, the more these universal rights
take hold, the more people who do not enjoy them will demand
Armed with photocopiers and fax machines, e-mail and
the Internet, supported by an increasingly important community of
non-governmental organizations. They will make their demands
known, spreading the spirit of freedom, which as the history of
the last 10 years has shown us, ultimately will prevail.
The United Nations must be prepared to respond, not
only by setting standards but by implementing them. To deter
abuses, we should strengthen the U.N.'s field operations and
early warning systems. To strengthen democratic institutions,
the best guarantors of human rights, we must pursue programs to
help new legal, parliamentary and electoral institutions get off
the ground. To punish those responsible for crimes against
humanity and to promote justice so that peace endures, we must
maintain our strong support for the U.N.'s war crime tribunals
and truth commissions. And before the century ends, we should
establish a permanent international court to prosecute the most
serious violations of humanitarian law.
The United States welcomes the Secretary General's
efforts to strengthen the role of human rights within the U.N.
system and his splendid choice of Mary Robinson as the new High
Commissioner. We will work hard to make sure that she has the
support she needs to carry out her mandate.
Finally, the United Nations has a special responsibility
to make sure that as the global economy creates greater wealth,
it does not produce growing disparities between the haves and
have-nots, or threaten the global environment -- our common home.
Progress is not yet everyone's partner. More than
half the world's people are two days' walk from a telephone,
literally disconnected from the global economy. Tens of millions
lack the education, the training, the skills they need to make
the most of their God-given abilities.
The men and women of the United Nations have expertise across
the entire range of humanitarian and development activities. Every
day they are making a difference. We see it in nourished bodies of
once starving children, in the full lives of those immunized against
disease, in the bright eyes of children exposed to education through
the rich storehouse of human knowledge, in refugees cared for and
returned to their homes, in the health of rivers and lakes restored.
The United Nations must focus even more on shifting
resources from hand-outs to hand-ups, on giving people the tools
they need to make the most of their own destinies, spreading
ideas in education and technology, the true wealth of nations, is
the best way to give people a chance to succeed.
And the United Nations must continue to lead in
ensuring that today's progress does not come at tomorrow's
expense. When the nations of the world gather again next
December in Kyoto from the U.N. Climate Change Conference, all of
us, developed and developing nations, must seize the opportunity
to turn back the clock on greenhouse gas emissions so that we can
leave a healthy planet to our children.
In these efforts, the U.N. no longer can and no
longer need go it alone. Innovative partnerships with the
private sector, NGOs, and the international financial
institutions can leverage its effectiveness many times over.
Last week, a truly visionary American, Ted Turner, made a
remarkable donation to strengthen the U.N.'s development and
humanitarian programs. His gesture highlights the potential for
partnership between the U.N. and the private sector in
contributions of time, resources and expertise. And I hope more
will follow his lead.
In this area and others, the Secretary General is
aggressively pursuing the most far-reaching reform of the United
Nations in its history -- not to make the U.N. smaller as an end
in itself, but to make it better. The United States strongly
supports his leadership. We should pass the Secretary General's
reform agenda this session.
On every previous occasion I have addressed this
assembly, the issue of our country's dues has brought the
commitment of the United States to the United Nations into
question. The United States was a founder of the U.N. We are
proud to be its host. We believe in its ideals. We continue to
be, as we have been, its largest contributor. We are committed
to seeing the United Nations succeed in the 21st century.
This year, for the first time since I have been
President, we have an opportunity to put the questions of debts
and dues behind us once and for all, and to put the United
Nations on a sounder financial footing for the future. I have
made it a priority to work with our Congress on comprehensive
legislation that would allow us to pay off the bulk of our
arrears and assure full financing of America's assessment in the
years ahead. Our Congress' actions to solve this problems
reflects a strong bipartisan commitment to the United Nations and
to America's role within it.
At the same time, we look to member states to adopt
a more equitable scale of assessment. Let me say that we also
strongly support expanding the Security Council to give more
countries a voice in the most important work of the U.N. In more
equitably sharing responsibility for its successes, we can make
the U.N. stronger and more democratic than it is today. I ask
the General Assembly to act on these proposals this year so that
we can move forward together.
At the dawn of a new century, so full of hope, but
not free of peril, more than ever we need a United Nations where
people of reason can work through shared problems and take action
to combat them, where nations of goodwill can join in the
struggle for freedom and prosperity, where we can shape a future
of peace and progress and the preservation of our planet.
We have the knowledge, we have the intelligence, we
have the energy, we have the resources for the work before us.
We are building the necessary networks of cooperation. The great
question remaining is whether we have the vision and the heart
necessary to imagine a future that is different from the past,
necessary to free ourselves from destructive patterns of
relations with each other and within our own nations and live a
future that is different.
A new century and a new millennium is upon us. We
are literally present at the future, and it is the great gift it
is our obligation to leave our children.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)