Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 16
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
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UN Secretary-General Ban Speaks of Need for “New Multilateralism”

Dilshanie Perera

Characterizing 2009 as a “make-or-break year,” United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon elaborated on the kinds of global crises that face the world today in a lecture entitled “The Imperative for a New Multilateralism” at McCarter Theatre last Friday.

With the 1,000-seat auditorium completely packed, Mr. Ban joked that if he becomes a professor after his stint as secretary-general, he hopes his classroom will be as popular as the space that morning.

Touching on two pieces of Princeton-related history at the beginning of his lecture, which was the keynote address for the 2009 Princeton Colloquium on Public and International Affairs, Mr. Ban noted that the “very concept of the UN is attributed to one of the former Presidents of the U.S., and more importantly, a former president of this University, Woodrow Wilson.” Saying that the principle of self-determination inspired the Korean people to fight for independence in 1919, he also remarked that the first president of Korea was a student at Princeton.

Mr. Ban remarked that he is “afraid that we face the real prospect of our existing system unravelling.” He cited social unrest, climate change, disease, nuclear proliferation, extremism, interstate conflict, hunger, and unemployment as major threats.

“We must stop this descent, and alter our path. The time has passed for incremental adjustments. We need a new vision, a new paradigm, a new multilateralism,” Mr. Ban announced, adding that the future he envisions should “harness both power and principle.”

The “new political reality” that Mr. Ban is advocating for incorporates listening to the voices of all 192 member states of the UN. “If solutions are to be sustainable, they require consolidated action by all,” he said.

A “new multilateralism” does not “address global challenges in isolation,” but rather in a concerted effort, with an awareness of the interrelationship of these various challenges. For example, Mr. Ban said that “no solution to our economic crisis will be sustainable without an effective climate change policy.”

Regarding UN millennium development goals like reducing abject poverty by half by 2015, alleviating the effects and spread of diseases like HIV/AIDS, and promoting gender equality, Mr. Ban said member nations would have to be on board, both politically and financially.

In the most recent G-20 Summit, leaders agreed to mobilize 1.1 trillion dollars to assist developing countries, Mr. Ban reported, noting that at least “17 of the 20 countries still practice a form of protectionism,” a set of economic policies and practices which “we need to take a stand against.”

The UN has a security force of 110,000 peacekeepers. “I command the second-largest deployed force around the world,” Mr. Ban remarked, “but that does not mean that the UN is a superpower, and I am not at all happy that the number is so high.”

Mr. Ban said he wants to employ preventative diplomatic efforts to “head off conflict before it erupts.”

Though he believes “dangerous political fuses have been lit,” in the contemporary climate, Mr. Ban said he was encouraged by recent talks with Presidents Obama and Medvedev.

“Interest does indeed tie this world together in this 21st century reality,” Mr. Ban observed, adding that “none of the urgent challenges of our times can be solved without cooperation.”

Mr. Ban sees the “UN as an effective instrument for humankind, and an agent of transformation in these troubled times.”

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