May 15, 2016
Good afternoon. I would like to thank Principal Fatih Güldal, MUN Advisors, the President of the General Assembly, the Secretary General and the Secretariat team. It’s an honor for me to be here once again at Kabataş Erkek Lisesi for your Model UN conference.
First of all, I want to say congratulations to each and every one of you.
Over the past weeks and months you have worked long hours to prepare for this event.
I can imagine you’ve all been learning about the countries you represent and their policy positions on some of the world’s greatest challenges, whether that be the conflict in Syria, climate change, nuclear proliferation, humanitarian assistance, or any other of the long list of issues that confront countries around the globe.
During this conference, you will also learn about negotiation, communication, and compromise. These are skills that will benefit you throughout your life, whether you become a diplomat, a lawyer, a doctor, or even a parent.
I hope there is another point that you have learned throughout your preparations for Model UN: There is no substitute for the United Nations in bringing together the international community to tackle common threats. Its success depends on the efforts of all of us—world leaders, diplomats, and even students.
I want to take a few minutes this afternoon to focus on the successes of the UN and talk about how what we all can do to make it work even better.
To begin, let’s take a step back to the last century when World War I and World War II devastated much of the globe. Roughly 75 million people lost their lives in some of the most brutal warfare the world had ever experienced. Already after World War I, world leaders recognized that countries big and small had to work together to promote peace and prevent war. Woodrow Wilson, the American president during World War I, tried hard with other leaders to create the League of Nations. Unfortunately those plans failed when the U.S. Congress did not ratify the League’s founding treaty, and just two decades later, another war ravaged Europe and Asia. World War II served as a call to action. Only months after the war ended, the American President, Harry Truman, and Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of President Franklin Roosevelt, joined other determined visionaries to create the United Nations.
Let’s fast forward nearly 71 years to today, 2016. Has the UN done what its founders set out to achieve?
The short answer is yes. While the UN is certainly not without flaws, time and again it has proven itself successful in preventing war and addressing global threats.
Let me give you a few quick examples from the past couple of years. Last summer, Ebola threatened to become not just an epidemic in Africa, but a global health emergency. The U.S., together with other partners worked through the UN to rally the international community to address the threat. Less than a year later, because the world came together under the auspices of the UN, Ebola has largely been contained.
Another example is the recent agreement with Iran to prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The tough multilateral sanctions put in place by the UN on Iran – amplifying those that the United States and our European partners had implemented – played a critically important role in bringing the Iranian government to the negotiating table, and to keeping it there until a deal could be reached that cuts off Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon.
The UN’s peacekeeping missions are another area where broadly speaking the UN has been successful. Over the past several decades, the UN Security Council has deployed peacekeepers to some of the world’s most hostile areas. They have stopped conflicts and promoted reconciliation in dozens of countries. Today over 100,000 peacekeepers are in service around the world, including nearly 200 Turkish soldiers and police.
These are just a few examples. The bottom line is that we need a place where the whole community of nations can meet and find solutions to serious challenges. For more than seven decades, the UN has been remarkably successful at serving that purpose.
The UN is certainly not perfect. As President Obama said, “the United Nations does extraordinary good around the world — feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, mending places that have been broken. But it also struggles to enforce its will, and to live up to the ideals of its founding. I believe that those imperfections are not a reason to walk away from this institution — they are a calling to redouble our efforts.”
The United States has been working with other member states to reform the UN and make it an even more effective institution. The U.S. has been working to improve transparency, better promote and protect the rights of women, and hold Human Rights Council members to the same standards of integrity and truly “free and fair” elections that the UN promotes around the world. The .United States is also committed to the process of reforming the Security Council, and remains open to modest Council expansion in both permanent and non-permanent categories. Any consideration of which countries merit future permanent membership should take into account their ability and willingness to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security and to the other purposes of the United Nations, and their ability to exercise the heavy responsibility that comes with Security Council membership.
Ensuring that the United Nations remains effective is a top priority of the U.S. However keeping the United Nations strong and effective is not the responsibility of foreign leaders and diplomats; it’s also the responsibility of citizens around the world. You, as students and as participants of Model United Nations play a unique role. You are not just tomorrow’s leaders, you are also today’s leaders. You are and will continue to be powerful advocates of the principles and values that led to the founding of the United Nations. Principles and values like equal rights, promoting human rights, battling against discrimination and maintaining peace.
I encourage you to keep these principles in mind. Not just during the Model UN conference, but at school, at home, and as you move through your lives and your careers.
In closing, let me leave you with a final quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”