Kofi Annan went to the Truman Presidential Library earlier this week and, in his final
address to the United States, reminded Americans that, at the San Francisco Conference of 1945, they gave the world one of
our nation's greatest gifts - namely the United Nations. Now, he said, the UN "system still cries out for far-sighted American
leadership, in the Truman tradition." Calling for the best in the human character is the enduring legacy of Kofi Annan.
Stephen Schlesinger is the former Director of the World Policy Institute at the New School University in New York City (1997-2006). Mr. Schlesinger received his BA from Harvard University and his JD from Harvard Law School. In the early 1970s, he edited and published The New Democrat
Magazine. Thereafter he spent four years as a staff writer at Time Magazine. For twelve years, he served as Governor Mario
Cuomo’s speechwriter and foreign policy advisor. In the mid 1990s, he worked at the United Nations at Habitat, the agency
dealing with global cities. He is the author of three books, including Act of
Creation: The Founding of The United Nations for which he won the 2004 Harry S. Truman Book Award; Bitter Fruit: The Story of the U.S. Coup in Guatemala (with Stephen Kinzer), which was listed as
a New York Times "Notable" book for 1982; and The New Reformers.
He is a specialist on the foreign policy of the Clinton and Bush Administrations. He is a frequent contributor to magazines
and newspapers, including The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Nation Magazine, and The New York Observer. In 1978,
he was a finalist for the National Magazine Award. He has appeared on CNN, Fox TV, NPR and other media outlets.
uiet by nature, modest in personality, and dignified in bearing,
Kofi Annan took the helm of the UN in 1997 and became a world star. From the beginning, he willingly thrust the United Nations
into the life of the planet in an unprecedented fashion. Beset by the reluctance of the United States to pay its annual dues,
Annan met with the "Dr. No" of the American Congress, Senator Jesse Helms, and worked out a solution to the UN's funding crisis.
He settled disputes in East Timor and Sierra Leone. He brought the world's business community into joint partnerships with
the UN to finance its goals after making it meet strict guidelines on corporate behavior.
More momentously, he challenged
the member-states to do better in the field of human rights. Though knowing he would upset many of his friends in the Third
World, he nonetheless advocated, given the failures of Rwanda and Sebrinica, humanitarian intervention by the international
body when a state was attacking its own people - even in the face of the UN Charter's prohibition against interfering in the
affairs of a sovereign nation. He also pushed for the Millennium Development declaration which, among other things, asks countries
to help reduce global poverty by fifty percent by the year 2015. He overcame the reluctance of the Western community that
did not wish to send more of its wealth to the underdeveloped world. By the end of his first term, Annan won the Nobel Peace
Annan's second term was stormier. First, the government in Washington changed from one of multilateralism (Clinton)
to one of start-and-stop unilateralism (Bush). President Bush disdained most global pacts including the UN treaty; however,
he soon sought the UN's backing for his invasion of Afghanistan; but he circumvented the body to attack Iraq; he reversed
himself again to obtain the UN's imprimatur on America's Iraqi occupation and UN supervision of Iraqi elections. Still, in
another about-face, Bush appointed an anti-UN envoy, John Bolton, to the body. Yet, soon after, he pushed for the UN to dislodge
Syrian troops from Lebanon and finalize a ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon.
Most damagingly, though, was a rash
of UN scandals. The most publicized was the Oil-For-Food affair that was initially laid at the feet of Kofi Annan -- for a
time entangling his own son -- despite the fact that most of the oversight of the Iraqi program was borne by the Security
Council. UN-bashers in Congress, however, tried to use this dereliction to drive Annan out of office. Then there were various
sexual imbroglios involving UN troops in the Congo as well as the head of the UN's refugee agency, who was ultimately forced
to resign over his personal peccadilloes.
Annan responded to these troubles with the most sweeping reform proposals
ever presented to the UN. He proffered across-the-board changes on matters ranging from Security Council expansion to stricter
human rights enforcement to management fixes. If these renovations had passed, they likely would have led to a hugely improved,
vastly more adept and far more open body. But the Bush Administration's ambassador, Mr. Bolton, and a few Third World allies,
undermined many of them. Still enough survived to somewhat redeem the organization.
For example, there is a now a broader
definition of terrorism in which, for the first time, all governments clearly and unqualifiedly condemn terrorism "in all
its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever and for whatever purposes." There is a new principle for the
Security Council to use for assessing military intervention -- the so-called "responsibility to protect" against genocide
and other mayhem. There is a Peacebuilding Commission and a Democracy Fund to help failed states rebuild and quash fanaticism.
There is a new Human Rights Council which replaces the worn-out Human Rights Commission. There are new ethic rules requiring
UN staffers to sign financial disclosure forms and a new whistleblower protection program.
Meantime, Kofi Annan in
his final years, saw an expansion of the UN's peacekeeping missions to eighteen, now involving over 80,000 troops - representing
an extraordinary $7 billion commitment by the world community, signaling a robust vote of confidence in the UN's security
In his two terms, Annan undoubtedly restored the moral authority to the earth's preeminent international institution.
In his words and in his acts, he became something akin to the planet's secular pope. "Together we have pushed some big rocks
to the top of the mountain", he told the General Assembly in his valedictory address, even if some have rolled back. Annan
leaves office on December 31st . We will soon realize what we no longer have.