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Kofi Annan is the secretary-general of the United Nations. The full text of the report discussed in the below article can be found at world.

By Kofi A. Annan

UNITED NATIONS — Fifteen years ago the world was bitterly divided over strategies for economic development.

Rich countries backed the "Washington consensus " and "structural adjustment " — policies that were bitterly resented by the developing countries themselves, and furiously criticized by civil society movements within the industrialized world. The United Nations was assumed to be irrelevant on the subject or, worse, a special pleader on behalf of corrupt and spendthrift developing-country governments.

Today, things have certainly changed. Discussion of development policy — including among the leading industrial countries — is informed by broad agreement between aid donors and recipients on what each needs to do to achieve development. Three key international meetings — the U.N. Millennium Summit in 2000 and U.N. conferences on financing for development in Monterrey and sustainable development in Johannesburg in 2002 — have led to a remarkable global consensus on how to grow economies, alleviate poverty and protect the environment.

The Millennium Development Goals, set four years ago, are the benchmarks for measuring progress in development by 2015. They include halving the proportion of people who suffer from extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary schooling; increasing the power and status of women; slashing infant and maternal mortality; halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and malaria; getting all countries to adopt policies that are socially and environmentally sustainable; and — of crucial importance if the others are to be achieved — developing a global partnership between rich and poor countries, based on open markets, debt relief, investment and carefully targeted financial aid.

Whether we will reach those goals by 2015 is still very uncertain, especially in sub-Saharan Africa,where a much greater effort is still needed, both from donors and from many African governments. But at least in the struggle to make the world fairer and more prosperous we now have agreement on what needs to be done.

Regrettably, we are still some way from a similar consensus on how to make the world more secure. There, things have if anything got worse in the last few years. A moment of global solidarity against terrorism in 2001 was quickly replaced by acrimonious arguments over the war in Iraq, which turned out to be symptomatic of deeper divisions on fundamental questions:How can we best protect ourselves against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction? When is the use of force permissible — and who should decide? Is "preventive war " sometimes justified, or is it simply aggression under another name? And, in a world that has become "unipolar, "what role should the United Nations play?

Those new debates came on top of earlier ones that arose in the 1990s. Is state sovereignty an absolute principle, or does the international community have a responsibility to prevent or resolve conflicts within states — especially when they involve genocide or other comparable atrocities?

To suggest answers to such questions, a year ago, I appointed a panel of 16 distinguished men and women from all parts of the world, and from different fields of expertise — political, military, diplomatic, economic, social. I asked them to assess the threats facing humanity today, and recommend how we need to change, in both our policies and our institutions, in order to meet those threats.

On Dec. 2,they delivered their report, "A More Secure World — Our Shared Responsibility. "Its 101 recommendations are the most comprehensive and coherent set of proposals for forging a common response to common threats that I have seen.

It offers a clear explanation and reaffirmation of the right of self-defense, guidelines on the use of force to help the Security Council deal more decisively and proactively with both mass atrocities inside states and "nightmare scenarios " (such as those combining terrorists and weapons of mass destruction), agreement on a definition of terrorism (which has eluded the international community until now) and proposals to prevent a cascade of nuclear proliferation and improve bio-security. It also contains an array of practical proposals to update U.N. bodies— including the Security Council — and make the organization more effective, notably in prevention and peace-building.

Above all, it clearly spells out the interconnectedness of our age, in which the destinies of peoples and the threats they face are interwoven. Not only is a threat against one nation a threat against all, but failure to deal with one threat can undermine our defense against all the others. A major terrorist attack in the heart of the industrial world can devastate the world economy, plunging millions of people back into extreme poverty; and the collapse of a state in the poorest part of the world can punch a gaping hole in our common defense against both terrorism and epidemic disease.

Few people could read this report and remain in doubt that making this world more secure is indeed a shared responsibility, as well as a shared interest. The report tells us how to do it, and why we must act now . It puts the ball firmly in the court of the world’s political leaders. I urge them to seize it and run with it. The chance is too important to miss.

(c) 2004, Global Viewpoint
Distributed by Tribune Media Services, INC. (Distributed 11/30/04)