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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

A New Course in the World, A New Approach at the UN

Susan E. Rice
Permanent Representative to the United Nations 
NYU Center for Global Affairs
New York City
August 12, 2009


"Since taking office, the Obama Administration has acted internationally on the basis of three core premises. First, the global challenges we face cannot be met without U.S. leadership. But second, while U.S. leadership is necessary, it’s rarely sufficient. We need the effective cooperation of a broad range of friends and partners. And third, others will likely shoulder a greater share of the global burden if the United States leads by example, acknowledges mistakes, corrects course when necessary, forges strategies in partnership and treats others with respect.

The reach, scale, and complexity of these 21st-century security challenges put unprecedented demands on states and the entire infrastructure of international cooperation that we helped to build after 1945. If ever there were a time for effective multilateral cooperation in pursuit of U.S. interests and a shared future of greater peace and prosperity, it is now. We stand at a true crossroads. We must move urgently to reinvigorate the basis for common action. The bedrock of that cooperation must be a community of states committed to solving collective problems and capable of meeting the responsibilities of effective sovereignty.

A fundamental imperative of U.S. national security in the 21st century is thus clear: we need to maximize the number of states with both the capacity and the will to tackle this new generation of transnational challenges. We need a modern edifice of cooperation, built upon the foundation of responsible American leadership, with the bricks of state capacity and the beams of political will.

Let me elaborate a little bit more on the bedrock issues of state capacity and state will.

The United States needs to grow the ranks of capable, democratic states—states that can deliver both on their international responsibilities and their domestic responsibilities to their own people. Capable states control their territory, govern justly, provide security and essential services, protect their citizens’ rights, and offer their people hope for a better future. When a country cannot—or will not—perform these core functions, when a nation is wracked by war, when a state becomes a shell, its people suffer immediately. But over the longer term, a fragile state can also incubate global trouble that can spread far beyond its borders. And that is where the transnational threats of the 21st century too often begin.

In the past, many dismissed poverty, hunger, and despair in faraway countries as other people’s problems, preferring to focus on the supposedly "hard" questions of war and power. But in a globalized age, the troubles that ravage fragile states can ultimately menace sturdy ones.

Standing aside while the world’s most vulnerable endure conflict, disease, and despair is surely a breach of our common humanity. But it is also a threat to our common security.

Our values compel us to reduce poverty, disease, and hunger, to end preventable deaths of mothers and children, and to build self-sufficiency in agriculture, health, and education. But so too does our national interest. Whether the peril is terrorism, pandemics, narcotics, human trafficking, or civil strife, a state so weak that it incubates a threat is also a state too weak to contain a threat.

In the 21st century, therefore we can have no doubt: as President Obama has said time and again, America’s security and wellbeing are inextricably linked to those of people everywhere.

Building the capacity of fragile states is a major part of our work every day at the United Nations, since it is the UN that is leading the charge in many of the toughest corners of the world. At its best, the UN helps rebuild shattered societies, lay the foundations of democracy and development, and establish conditions in which people can live in dignity and mutual respect. I have seen first-hand how the UN delivers—in Haiti, where peacekeepers flushed out deadly gangs from the notorious Cité Soleil slum and now are training a reformed Haitian police force. I have seen it in Liberia, where the UN Development Program supports impressive efforts to teach literacy, computer skills, and trade skills to jobless ex-combatants. I have seen it in Congo, where the UN has made it possible to hold the first democratic elections in that country’s history.

It is not enough though simply to build up the corps of capable, democratic states. We need states with both the capacity and the will to tackle common challenges. As we have been reminded in recent years, we cannot take that will for granted, even among our closest allies. The simple reality is this: if we want others to help combat the threats that concern us most, then we must help others combat the challenges that threaten them most.” -Full Text

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