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Kofi Annan’s remarks on accepting the Peace of Westphalia Prize

Münster, Germany
“Globalisation has brought many benefits to our world. But it also brings new threats. No country, no matter how powerful or wealthy, can hope to tackle them on their own.”
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I am delighted to be with you today and to have been honoured with the award of the 2008 Westphalia Peace Prize.

The Prize may still be relatively young but it is already of international renown.

It is a respect made all the greater by the achievements and standing of the previous winners.

So I am honoured you have asked me to join this distinguished list.

I am also thrilled to be sharing the prize with the Young Malteser Association in recognition of their tremendous work helping fellow young people in Lebanon and the Middle East.

It can be fashionable to decry the younger generation, to suggest they are somehow less concerned about others.

All I can say from my own experience is this is simply not the case.

It is exactly because of the concern for others and their commitment and courage – qualities highlighted by the work of these young people from Malta – that I look to the future of our world with optimism despite the huge challenges we face.

Peace of Westphalia

I want to talk today about these challenges and how they have become global in their scale and reach.

We have witnessed this dramatically in recent weeks as the global financial crisis has infected every country.

And I want to stress that our response to these challenges must be not to fall behind the barriers of national borders, but to have the courage to improve and extend co-operation between countries and peoples.

For only a truly global solution can provide security for both nations and their individual citizens.

It is, of course, fitting that we are talking about the need for a new relationship in this ancient city which has been at the centre of so much history.

It was here 360 years ago this month that agreement was finally reached to end the wars which had torn apart Europe for decades.

If the Peace of Westphalia had simply halted these conflicts, it would be reason enough to celebrate this anniversary.

The Thirty Years’ War in Germany and the Eighty Years’ War between Spain and the Netherlands had seen appalling loss of life not just in the military forces but across the civilian population.

Disease and famine on top of decades of fighting and destruction may have cost the lives of as many as one in five of the population of the German states over which this European war was fought.

But the impact of the Peace of Westphalia goes far beyond ending this misery.

The Treaties enshrined for the first time the principle of the sovereign state – the idea that each nation should be treated as an equal regardless of size, traditions, troops or religion.

It also had at its centre the concept of territorial integrity.

This agreement is seen by historians as the moment that Europe left the Middle Ages and entered modern times.

And, in the centuries which followed, the Westphalian system – as it became known – slowly became the model for relationships between countries not just in Europe but across our planet.

The limits of the Peace of Westphalia

It was not, of course, a system without flaws.

It was designed to keep rivalries in check rather than promote co-operation.

Sovereignty was all too often hi-jacked by nationalism to become a destructive and aggressive force.

And in the end, it failed in its principle goal of maintaining peace as the history of the last three hundred years demonstrates all too tragically.

But, above all, it was a system for a different age and a different world.

A world not of high speed travel or communications.  But one where travelling by stage coach from the City of Münster, it took 10 days to reach Paris, and as many as 40 days to reach Madrid.

Where the rights of the individual citizen, if acknowledged at all, were seen solely to be the responsibility of their own Governments.

Changed interpretation of sovereign

It was a view of the world which the horrors of the Second World War ended for good.

The result was that a shocked and chastened international community came together to create the United Nations to put in place a system to resolve disputes without force.

In turn, the nations drafted and agreed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to protect individual citizens – a momentous step forward whose 60th anniversary we will rightly celebrate in December.

This does not mean, of course, that the concept of sovereignty was abolished or abandoned.
On the contrary, the United Nations Charter explicitly enshrines the basic principles of international relations in the Westphalian system.

Article 2 explicitly states that the United Nations is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.

Each nation, no matter what its size or levels of prosperity or might of its military forces, is treated equally.

Article 2 also calls on member states not to use force or the threat of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.

It also forbids, in general terms, the United Nations itself from intervening in the domestic matters of any member state.

But this definition of sovereignty, like the Peace of Westphalia, was itself a product of its time and circumstance.

And I am pleased that over the last half century, in response to new challenges, the concept of sovereignty has evolved.

In particular, it no longer is seen as resting with states – or at least their Governments and rulers – but with their citizens.

It is increasingly seen not just as an instrument to protect territorial integrity but as a way of protecting human life, ensuring respect for human dignity and upholding human rights.

Sovereignty, in other words, is no longer solely a privilege of states but as a responsibility on them to improve life for their people.

And that responsibility more than ever needs calls for a multi-lateral response, for sovereignty to be pooled and shared.

For the problems we face, the challenges to be overcome, are no longer constrained by national borders.

Our world is smaller, countries and people are more inter-linked than ever.

Globalisation has brought many benefits to our world. But it also brings new threats.

Problems in one country – or one region – quickly spread to another, becoming not just bigger in scale but greater in their complexity.

No country, no matter how powerful or wealthy, can hope to tackle them on their own. Nor can any country any longer successfully shelter behind its borders.

The security and well-being of countries and their individual citizens depend on coordinated international action.

Governments have to show the courage and vision to look beyond themselves to find solutions, to put in place new frameworks and rules which meet the needs of the 21st century.

Lessons from the current financial crisis

This has become clearer than ever as we witness a global financial crisis epic in scale.

Problems which began in part of the American housing market last summer have spread to every continent and nation.

Some of the world’s best known financial institutions have been brought to their knees – and, in turn, have damaged other banks.

And these deep problems in the financial world are now spreading to the wider economy as a whole.

It is a systemic crisis on a scale not seen since the Great Depression.

And it has demonstrated vividly how inadequate and outdated our current system of global financial governance is.

Markets have become global but our regulatory controls have remained local.

A solution will only be found if we take steps to strengthen international financial regulation.

This means establishing a system of effective and robust regulation which is truly global in nature, and involves all players.   Not just from the US, Europe, and Japan but China, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and others.

Some have suggested the need for a new global authority that could oversee the implementation of a limited number of global regulations.  It would monitor global risks and establish an early warning system.

It is this type of far-reaching reform which needs to be considered over the long-term, so that we prevent the mistakes and misjudgments which have caused this crisis being repeated.

And we see this need for global solutions, for increased cooperation and partnership right across the major challenges we face.

Our ambitions to tackle global poverty, disease and famine demand a united response and based on shared values.

So too do the threats of terrorism and crime.

For all of these challenges are increasingly inter-linked.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the crucial battle to combat climate change.

A global response to climate change

Climate change is certainly the greatest environmental challenge we face. But it is also an all encompassing threat.

It is a threat to health, since climate change is likely to see the spread of infectious diseases such as malaria and yellow fever.

It is a threat to the world’s food supply as higher temperatures and prolonged drought turn farmland into desert while rising sea-levels flood fertile coastal areas.

The climate change already underway is not the only reason we have seen a sharp increase in food prices and shortages across the world.

But the extreme weather conditions which the scientists warn climate change will worsen is both a contributory factor and a stark warning.

And climate change is a threat, too, to peace and security.

It will lead to heightened competition for scarce resources, increasing tensions within countries and across regions.

It will force millions to leave their homes, worsening poverty and despair, increasing the conditions where extremism and crime fester.

Climate change will affect every country, every individual – with the worst impact falling on those nations already most disadvantaged and on generations to come.

Tackling climate change requires us to harness the full potential of global society.

A heavy responsibility lies with nation states who will meet in Copenhagen in 2009 to agree a new global climate agreement.

This agreement must be underpinned by climate justice.  The idea that the polluter must pay.

Those who have played the biggest part in changing our climate must take the greatest responsibility for tackling the threat.

So far progress towards an agreement has been slow.

When leaders meet again in Poznan in December we must see governments, particularly those of the major emitting countries, step up and demonstrate the leadership and political will needed to reach a strong and equitable post-Kyoto solution.

But we cannot leave this to governments alone.

Our governments will not act without each and everyone of us demanding a response.

It is we, as individuals, and as members of communities and organizations, who must call on our leaders to take the action needed to tackle climate change.

Global response to poverty

We need the same coordinated response to tackle the global poverty, disease and famine which continues to disfigure large parts of our world.

We must not allow the economic slowdown to be used as an excuse to forget our responsibility to our fellow men, women and children.

I was proud to have played a part as Secretary-General of the United Nations to have brought nations together to agree on the Millennium Development Goals to build a fairer and better world.

We now need to turn the world’s fine ambitions into hard reality.

As the UN conference last month recognized, without concerted action led by the richest countries, we will fall far short of these goals.

Last year, over 900 million people went hungry on an almost daily basis.

Half of the population of the developing world – some 2.5 billion people – still live without proper sanitation.

A world in which so much poverty and inequality exists is not just a stain on our conscience.

It is also a breeding ground for resentment, for extremism and violence.

The reality is that some countries are unstable, we are all less secure.

Each nation state must live up to the promises they have made.

The international community must honor their aid commitments to Africa.
And even more importantly we must work towards the creation of a fairer global trading system.

Africa will only realize its potential if it has access to global markets on fair terms.

The breakdown of the Doha Round of global trade talks again this summer was a severe failure by richer nations to assist countries and communities which are excluded and being left behind by globalization.

We must step up our global efforts to ensure that the benefits of globalisation are shared fairly and that those most at risk from the downside are protected.

Unless we do, the result will not just be a more unequal world but also a world of increased danger and confrontation.

It is clear today that the challenges we face require every country to look beyond its borders and stand ready to work in closer cooperation.

The notion of state sovereignty enshrined in the Peace of Westphalia remains vital.

But it is collective responsibility and global solidarity based on shared values which must be at the heart of our approach in this new century.

Each nation state, must work across borders, across boundaries of race, religion, language and culture as one humanity.

And of course responsibility for tackling the global challenges we face does not lie with governments alone.

Each of us, as individuals, as members of communities, together with business and civil society, must play our part.

If we do so, I have no doubt that we will overcome the challenges we face and build a fairer and more just world for all.


“Globalisation has brought many benefits to our world. But it also brings new threats. No country, no matter how powerful or wealthy, can hope to tackle them on their own.”