Lessons from a UN leader

Published March 7, 2024

By Lib Campbell

An article tucked away in my clip file, written in 2006 by Kofi A. Annan, reveals the lessons he learned from his ten years of serving as Secretary General of the United Nations. These five lessons are as critical for us to hear today as they were eighteen years ago. I thought you might be interested in hearing them again. Mr. Annan believes that as the communities of nations confront the challenges of the twenty-first century there are lessons to be learned.
Mr. Annan sees the United Nations as an instrument of encouraging world order. The eighteen yearlong voices of “jury and judge” among us can assess if it has served its purpose. Ideals are only as good as the intentions to uphold them. How do we rate ourselves?
Lesson 1: “In today’s world we are all responsible for each other’s security.” We live on a fairly small planet facing existential threats that have not gone away in the last eighteen years; they have only amplified. The threats are the same after nearly two decades: Nuclear proliferation, climate change, global pandemics and terrorists operating in safe havens around the world. Mr. Amman says the obvious, “no nations can make itself secure by seeking supremacy over all the others.” The big stick theory is ultimately a loser.
Lesson 2: “We are also responsible for each other’s welfare.” Giving all human beings “a chance to share in our prosperity” will create a stability that will benefit all of us. Re-thinking immigration is a necessary way for us to bring stability and secure a future with hope for all people.
Lesson 3: “Security and prosperity depend on respect for human rights and the rule of law.” Mutual respect, treating one another with dignity and protecting each other’s civil rights enriches our human experience and protects our futures. “No community suffers from too much rule of law.” I would add, when it is fairly and judiciously applied. 
Lesson 4: “Governments must be accountable for their actions in the international and the domestic arena.” Because America is a powerful nation, we are responsible for wielding power thoughtfully and carefully. The trampling of the littlest among us is empty victory. It makes us look petty and small. Coming together to solve problems seems like the pipedream of a long-ago time, yet even we cannot always confront global challenges alone. The pandemic should have taught us this. 
Lesson 5: “How can states hold one another accountable? Institutions must be organized in a fair and democratic way, giving the poor and weak some influence over the rich and the strong.” Realizing that privilege comes with responsibility shapes us in ways of humility and hope. 
Mr. Annan closes his article with this: “More than ever Americans, like the rest of humanity, need a functioning global system. Experience has shown that the system works poorly when the United States remains aloof. It functions much better when there is farsighted US leadership. That gives American leaders of today and tomorrow a great responsibility. The American people must see that they live up to it.” 
We have two old white men running for the Office of President of the United States. But these two men could not be more different in personality, affect and character. Unless we are ready to abort our stature as world leaders, unless we are ready to ditch law, democratic values and constitutional rights, we will vote for Joe Biden. He is the best and only choice for such a time as this. 
Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist pastor, retreat leader, columnist and host of the blogsite www.avirtualchurch.com. She can be contacted at libcam05@gmail.com