"US Leadership in a time of global crisis" a conference organised by the Universal Peace Federation and the Washington Time Foundation (Washington DC, 15-20 May 2007)


I wish to thank the leadership of The Washington Times Foundation and the Universal Peace Federation for inviting me to participate in this conference. I understood in particular the vision of the Universal Peace Federation to be:

“a global alliance of individuals and organizations dedicated to building a world of peace in which everyone can live in freedom, harmony, cooperation, and prosperity. Peace is not simply the absence of war or a term that applies only to the relationships among nations. Peace is an essential quality that should characterize all relationships. UPF seeks to build a broad strategic alliance among individuals, educational institutions, organizations, religions, corporations, the media and governments, for the sake of peace. UPF advocates renewal of the United Nations, including a proposal that the UN create an interreligious council within its structures. UPF implements its programs through a global network of Ambassadors for Peace who have formed Peace Councils on the global, regional, national and local levels.”

Whilst the Washington Times Foundation is:

“a not-for-profit organization, founded in 1984, devoted to the promotion of the highest professional and moral standards in the media and public life. The Foundation specializes in projects that promote the universal values of family, freedom and faith. In an age characterized by immediate gratification and the instantaneous flow of information, and an increasing emphasis on results over ethics, the core values that serve as basis of

civilization must be affirmed and supported. The Washington Times Foundation understands the causes of family, freedom and faith to be universally cherished, without regard for any specific political leaning or religious tradition. In that spirit, the Foundation sponsors programs in support of four major goals: religious and racial harmony, stable families, co-prosperity and community building. Of particular importance is the role of the mass communication media in establishing the good and healthy society. One of the Foundation's projects, World Media Association, has convened dozens of conferences and fact-finding trips for communicators on issues related to media ethics and social responsibility.”

There is no doubt that these two institutions do indeed hold dear and promote principles that address the concerns of all people irrespective of colour, creed or religion and that they are pursuing goals to bring peace and socio-economic development to the world. What we cannot deny is the fact that today any nation for it to survive has to lean on certain pillars – depending on which region one resides in. In Africa for instance, a successful state would have to lean on three pillars: namely elected government, religious groupings and traditional groupings, because all those groupings daily interact with their followers or members and all of them preach tolerance for the customs, traditions and policies of others.

In nations where there is a respect for these pillars you immediately get a sense of stability, but where they are poles apart there is a tendency for the political exploitation of these groupings and you witness religious and ethnic conflict. The independence of these institutions must always be respected, but they must nonetheless work together in harmony to ensure the peaceful coexistence of all in society.

I would therefore urge, if it has not already been done, that the hosts of this conference should look at the regions, specifically in Africa, and promote the recognition of the traditional leaders; they too must be included in these types of forums because they have an experience of how politicians exploit them for their own political ends.

“American Leadership at a Time of Global Crisis”, what a theme. I say what a theme because the topic is open-ended, it depends on which continent you emanate from, in order for instance to determine what is the global crisis. One will attempt to identify the three major global crises: climate change, military conflict in the Middle East, and finally, poverty and HIV/AIDS.

I will therefore be forgiven in advance if I didn’t understand the topic and of which it meant something else.

We must recognise the devastation that was caused by the Cold War. The US and other superpowers during that period made decisions that caused misery that led to resentment among many nations. When the Cold War came to an end there was widespread excitement and a belief that the world would now move in unison and that there would be no dominant players attempting to interfere in the affairs of other nations. When the Cold War collapsed there were positive spin-offs in certain regions. Yes we witness the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Germans sat around a table to unify and develop their nation. We witnessed a similar peaceful resolution in South Africa. In both cases those nations solved their problems without outside interference. However, we cannot talk of the same in the Balkan region. It is increasingly clear that after the collapse of the Soviet empire, the process was never properly managed and it seems that too many outside forces with vested interests played a role there. The result was a protracted conflict between Serbs, Croats and other ethnic and religious groups. A great many lives were lost in the process.

The theme of “US leadership in a time of Global Crisis” conference is therefore not a new concept. The US has played a pivotal role throughout the latter part of the twentieth century in global crises, in order to resolve conflicts and has often been accused of picking sides. What is becoming clear is that a number of countries in their rush to implement democratic reforms have not been capacitated by the UN and the Western world, who have experience of democracy. But conflicts continue and there are accusations and counter-accusations of which model of democracy is suitable for the world today.

When one looks at whatever crisis around the world today, it is important to distinguish between the actions of individual governments and their individual leaders. For instance, in the US a Democrat government might exercise different options than a Republican government. What we do know is that a crisis does not develop over night. We see protests across the world even here in US about important matters such as climate change but there seems to be a lack of political will from elected governments to attend to these matters timeously.

Talking of climate change; we know the global consensus, and many countries have ratified international treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol. To the surprise of many, the US government flatly refused to ratify this Protocol, yet according to the scientists it is one of the biggest producers of harmful emissions. The USA is regarded as a leading democracy in the world and their interventions into the affairs of the world are well-documented. The veto powers of the USA in the UN Security Council is also well-documented. There is therefore no denying of the influence and power that the USA has over the other nations of the world, but when all the rest of the world agrees that there is a need to address a global threat to humanity – such as climate change – but the US government says “no”, it does not auger well for the US’ leadership role and image in the world.

In order to address this issue, if indeed the citizens of the US are concerned about US leadership in international crises, it is going to be imperative for US voters to demand that US politicians are clear in their manifestoes on these international issues. US voters must demand that the leaders they elect understand the world at large and the global concerns that we all face. If the US wants to be part of the global village they will need to listen to the concerns of other nations.

For the purposes of this Conference, it might not be too late for this Conference to appeal to the US Government to accede to international agreements and treaties on climate change and any other related treaties so that the world can unite and address this issue once and for all. I’m reminded here of course, when I served in Nelson Mandela’s cabinet on Environmental Affairs, I attended many conferences and talks and the US bureaucrats would always refuse to sign such treaties or agreements, such as the Bio-diversity Convention. At the time I left the cabinet many countries had signed the treaty yet the US was still lagging far behind, even though one would have expected the US to be in the forefront and leading by example when it came to such an important global issue.

This lack of leadership of the US regarding climate change is also reflected in the breakdown of the negotiations in the WTO. We have noticed that the developed world seems to be dragging its feet on levelling the playing field when it comes to trade, especially on subsidies.

Once more, the causes, accusations and counter-accusations for the Middle East conflicts are well-documented. Many people think that the Developed World is interfering in the Middle East, and that the Middle East is accused of having governments not democratically elected which justifies the world poking their noses into their affairs. Whereas these governments would then accuse the Developed World, in particular the US, of being only concerned with having control over their resources, such as oil. The United Nations, through its Security Council, have also been embroiled in these conflicts and sometimes you’ll find that the public is losing confidence in the effectiveness of the UN, hence there are calls for the reform of the UN Security Council.

The superpowers in the Security Council, have abrogated powers to themselves, where for example they tell other countries not to develop nuclear weapons whilst they themselves continue developing nuclear capacity. There seems to be a double-standard that turns a blind eye to the nuclear weapons of some of the developing countries like India and Pakistan, whilst other countries are told to shut down their nuclear programmes. The veto-powers of the US and others do not sit well with most countries. There is a sense of a new colonialism of a special kind where we pretend in the UN to all be equals but some of us are more equal than others; hence the call, for the UN Security Council to be transformed.

Coming closer to the leadership of the US in these global crises, like the ones I’ve mentioned above. Some of the resolutions that have been taken at Security Council level have been resisted by other countries, because they feel that they have not been consulted and others have resorted to the use of violence. The US’ leadership comes into play here because they have been easy to authorise the use of military force to address global crises. As a result of their resistance, the US leadership have been quick to resort to strong-arm tactics to enforce whatever resolutions. A classic example is Iraq, where the UN resolved to intervene in the question of Iraq, but the US and UK immediately and against the advice of other Security Council members, went alone and intervened in Iraq, under the pretext that there were weapons of mass destruction. But it turned out that they were chasing a wild goose as we know today. However that unilateral decision by the US government led to a lot of suffering not only for the Iraqi people and the people of the US, but the whole world because fuel prices escalated affecting even the poorest of the poor who use fuel to cook their meals somewhere in Africa. This is the suffering caused by a unilateral decision as opposed to an embracing multi-lateral decision.

The conflict in the Middle East was earlier confined to Israel and Palestine and the US has always been in the forefront to search for solutions, but so far they have not succeeded after decades of trying. But today we can say that the conflicts have spread to other parts of the region, now involving Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan etc. The US leadership is embroiled in this region. Whenever the US attempts to solve problems in the region it always appears to be that they support one faction or country against another, instead of following an inclusive approach. This approach automatically triggers resentment and resistance among those who are in the opposing faction. Some of the citizens of these countries have resorted to military means to counter what they perceive to be US imperialism and domination.

This has led to a widespread fear that certain religious groups are being targeted, polarising the region and fuelling further religious and ethnic conflicts. But the question which the US must ask itself is: who feeds them with this intelligence that they must take military or economic action against certain countries. Whoever is providing this information, either doesn’t understand the long-term conflicts in the area or they have an agenda of their own. Once more the Iraq example comes to mind; with the US intelligence comes out of this mess with their heads hanging in shame for misleading their own President and the government of the UK about the existence of weapons of mass destruction. Therefore the leadership of the US in general, whether in religion, economics, or politics, is to evaluate the situation they find themselves in, by asking themselves a question: is the US administration run by the citizens or by securo-crats? The type of intelligence that was fed to the US leadership back then, is the same type of intelligence that is used by the US to veto in the Security Council or unilaterally act against a country they deem to be out of line.

This is the lesson the leadership of the US must have learnt with their intervention in Iraq and one hopes that a similar blunder will not be repeated elsewhere. Already the military threats against Iran, a major oil producer, have sent shivers through the international markets as the price of oil escalates. Whilst the US accuses Iran of developing nuclear weapons, Iran claims to be engaged in the peaceful use of nuclear technology. What the US leadership must avoid is unilateral military action. The international community recognises very clearly the need for the countries of the world to observe the UN convention on nuclear weapons. Any unilateral action would always be viewed with suspicion. It is unfortunate that these actions and perceptions have led to other people taking advantage of the situation and some resorting to the formation of terrorist groups and have caused a great deal of harm to the entire world, because when for example a bomb explodes in some international city against the US embassy the innocent citizens of those countries are also affected directly. We condemn terrorism of whatever form.

The experience I can share as a black South African who was once oppressed is that some people resorted to military resistance and were dubbed terrorists. Yet on the other hand those people were raising genuine concerns about the effects of Apartheid. Fortunately the wisdom of people like Mandela and De Klerk prevailed and it was decided to talk around a table because people were dying. Thus people met around a table irrespective of labels such as terrorist.

And today South Africa is a free country and even before we have addressed all of our own legacies and backlogs we are helping other countries throughout the continent. In doing so we invite people dubbed as terrorists, guerrillas or liberation movements out of their strongholds to meet and negotiate peacefully and that seems to be paying dividends.

The advice I can give to whoever is in leadership in the US would be to work through multilateral forums, as opposed to pursuing a unilateral approach. The whole world would stand to benefit if the US were to empower and capacitate those multilateral institutions and together with other nations to seek solutions for global challenges. And that would also help the US to learn and understand the cultures of others and learn that there are certain methods of resolving conflicts that don’t rely on aggression and military force.

The nations of the world met at the dawn of the new millennium and adopted the Millennium Development Goals in recognition of the scale of the global poverty crisis. We in Africa especially are acutely aware of the challenge of poverty. Sadly it seems that this global crisis has shifted to the very bottom of the international agenda as other crises take precedence. Nonetheless we cannot deny the moral, political, social and economic imperatives to address this widespread poverty. No human being deserves to be consigned to such a life of struggle and misery, yet on the planet today hundreds of millions of our fellow brothers and sisters are trapped in abject poverty. What does it say about our compassion that we cannot find the means to give them a hand up?

On a positive note, the world has taken note of the positive interventions made in Africa, especially on HIV/AIDS, by the current US government and former US President Clinton. That work is highly appreciated but the crisis is far from over.

When it comes to poverty it is necessary to share technology, promote free and fair trade amongst nations, invest in education, build capacity in governments to ensure that limited resources and donor funding can be spent wisely and to crack down on the corruption and nepotism that would exploit resources and state revenue to enrich a small elite whilst the majority continue to live in poverty.

Once more, the advice I would like to share in this Conference is the experience I gained when Mr Mandela was President of the ANC, even before he became President of the country. He would easily pick up the phone and brief senior world leaders like the former President Bush of the US, the late President Mitterand of France and Prime Minister Major of the UK. It improved relationships and enhanced the understanding among countries and regions. A classic example was when Mandela invited me to join him as we both addressed the UN Security Council in 1992 on the need to send violence monitors to South Africa. A day before we left for the UN, President Mandela through the assistance of Barbara Masekela, the current SA ambassador to the US, was phoning the Presidents of the permanent UN Security Council members explaining to them why the UN Security Council should support the resolution for the violence monitors. As a result the resolution was approved unanimously and the violence monitors were sent. We also witnessed the same approach by President Mandela when he was asked to resolve the Burundi problem and he once more called the US President, Bill Clinton. Accordingly President Clinton participated in their conference through video to encourage the citizens of Burundi that there is a need to solve their problems internally and today they have their own elected government.

I would urge the organisers of this Conference to conduct major summits of inter-religious/inter-faith groups to promote tolerance and understanding because we are seeing increasingly the abuse of religion by some leaders to achieve their nefarious political objectives.

Therefore it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the legislatures of the US to forge links with legislatures in other countries and encourage visits to each other, so that on both sides those groups can learn to understand how the other operates. This would indeed be in line with the vision of the organisers of this Conference.

The role of the media should also be enhanced on these kinds of exchanges and visits, so that the citizens can see that there is a relationship among lawmakers. One of our pillars in our democracy has been to allow the media freedom. That has helped to promote the understanding of different groups and cultures in South Africa. We do have our problems but the media has acted like a pressure valve and also assisted with the exposure of wrongdoing.

As a result people have not in South Africa resorted to the use of violence to express themselves, whereas in other countries the lack of such a free media has eventually led people to going into the bush to form liberation movements and resort to violence.

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