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Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan was in Vancouver promoting his latest book. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan was in Vancouver promoting his latest book. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

INTERVIEW

Kofi Annan holds out hope for diplomacy regarding Syrian crisis Add to ...

A: It depends what one is looking for, how one sees the UN. That’s the way he sees it. But does he have people with power who are going to go in and help him, besides what the international community is trying to do through the UN? I know that those who believe the solution is military action consider any diplomatic or political effort a waste of time. In fact, they would even go further, and say that it is buying Assad time.

Q: But this man was not a violent protester. He was a peaceful voice, and he just doesn’t see that the UN is any help.

A: The UN has never had that sort of power. I mean, this is heightened expectation and this is what we need to manage, this expectation that he is certain the UN is set up for failure. The UN doesn’t have a standing army. The UN doesn’t have guns, and when they talk of power, I know what kind of power people mean, and they are at the wrong address.

But I have to be careful, because we have a new envoy, who has just come out of Syria, doing his work. So I can answer some questions, but I shouldn’t complicate his work with people saying, ‘Mr. Annan says this, and what do you think?’

Q: Does the UN still have a role to play in the world, or is it outmoded, given the changing, increasingly violent geo-political landscape?

A: The UN is not a perfect organization, but we need it.

Q: Still?

A: Still. It is the organization that has the power to convene the whole world under one roof, to come and discuss common issues. It is the one organization that tries to sustain the norms that allow us to live in a peaceful way. Recently, we came up with a responsibility to protect. It is only the UN that could have come up with that sort of a norm. Who else?

Q: Is that the message of your book?

A: That is one of the messages. We are in the same boat. We live in the global village, if you will, and we all have a responsibility to try and make it a little better for our children and our grandchildren. But I also make the point that healthy societies today have to be built on three pillars.

They are peace and stability and development and respect for rule of law and human rights. I think in the past we have tended to focus on the first two, stability and economic development, often ignoring the third essential piece.

It’s obvious that you cannot have long term development without stability, and you can’t have stability without long term development.

But both have to be rooted in rule of law and respect for human rights.

If you don’t have rule of law, in a way you are building on sand. And we have seen the recent history.

Q: Do you think we are progressing to that, or are we slipping back down?

A: Some countries are progressing. Others are slipping, and some are struggling. It’s not easy to achieve.

Q: And so many people in the world now have guns.

A: That’s a problem. We need to find ways of dissuading them that guns do not help, or encourage them to disarm. Buy the guns if necessary, or some sort of creative way of mopping up all those guns in civilian hands. But of course, in some of these situations, we are seeing a man with a gun doesn’t starve, and he feels his power, and he doesn’t want to give it up.

Q: There’s not much fun in the world, these days, is there?

A. No.

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