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The Task of Defeating International Terrorism'

'The Task of Defeating International Terrorism'

Speech by British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, at the United Nations General Assembly, New York, Sunday 11 November 2001. Source: FCO, London.

Mr President, Distinguished Delegates,

This day, 11 November, is the anniversary of the Armistice which ended the slaughter of the First World War, and is a day of remembrance here in the United States, in the United Kingdom and across much of the world. It is the day when we remember the sacrifice of those who over the last century gave their lives that others might live in freedom.

Remembering the past

For our parents and grandparents, the end of the Second World War stood as a turning-point, a moment to establish a new world order. Their vision was inscribed at the very beginning of the Charter of the United Nations: ‘We the Peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’. With these words, they founded the international community.

For some of us, the subsequent half-century has been the most peaceful era of our history. Yet we know that no-one's freedom can be secure while others still suffer.

Mr President, on this Remembrance Day we remember something else - the thousands who died just two months ago on 11 September. A third of the nations represented here at the General Assembly lost citizens at the World Trade Centre. But just as our predecessors saw hope in the midst of despair, so we now face the task of building a new and better world.

It is fitting that it was here at the UN, on September 12, that the world began to fight back against the terrorist threat. We showed our joint resolve, in the Security Council and in the General Assembly, when we passed resolutions demanding that the terrorists and those who harbour them be held to account for their evil actions. I applaud Security Council resolution 1373 which established the Counter-Terrorism Committee, and requires all member states to respond to the global terrorist threat.

The Fight Against Terrorims

We do have to take every effective measure against the international terrorist networks whose malign influence is felt in every part of the globe; not least by adopting the Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism and the draft Nuclear Terrorism Convention.

And we have to confront an unpalatable truth. That still we face a real and immediate danger. The murderous groups who plotted the terrible events of 11 September could strike again at any time. And our first duty, to our citizens and to each other, is to defend ourselves against that threat.

When the nations of the world agreed the UN Charter, they recognised the right of self-defence in Article 51. It is in exercise of this right that the military coalition is now engaged in action against Al-Qa’ida and the Taliban regime which harbours them.

Taking military action is always a tough decision. But here it truly was unavoidable, and we all owe a debt of gratitude to President Bush for the steadfast and careful manner in which the United States proceeded.

The Plight of the Afghans

But in defending the world from terror, we have to do our utmost to spare innocent Afghan people further suffering. For decades, the Afghans have seen their country exploited by outside powers and riven by conflict. In five years, their society has been systematically destroyed by one of the most brutal regimes the world has ever known. But at last today, the international community is united in its efforts to feed and shelter the millions of refugees through this harsh winter and is determined to help build a new Afghanistan.

For the first time in decades, there is consensus in the Security Council as a whole, and among Afghanistan’s neighbours, that there should be a broad-based government in Kabul, reflecting Afghanistan’s rich ethnic diversity, and the future of Afghanistan must be put into the hands of the Afghan people. There must be no more Great Games with Afghan people the pawns: no more regional rivalries, with Afghan people the victims.

And we know that the one institution in the world which can deliver this better future is here, now, the United Nations. We should all give Ambassador Brahimi every support in planning a future which leads to Afghanistan re-taking its place as a fully fledged member of the international community, able to protect and promote the interests of all of its people.

The UN’s Global Duties

Mr President, that nations have come so closely together to fight terrorism shows how the world is changing. But we have to build a deeper and a wider consensus to tackle the other great issues which we face. It is not just the Afghan people who have been excluded from the values on which the UN was founded. Conflict, poverty, discrimination and injustice still blight the lives of millions in every part of the globe. Individuals’ rights, especially women’s rights, are ignored with impunity. Then the very structure of communities collapse. And where this happens, where societies disintegrate or states fail, we put at risk the basis of global society itself.

If September 11 teaches us anything, it is surely this: that if we ignore our moral responsibilities to each other, we will be forced later to face painful consequences.

Action in Africa

Nowhere is the need for action now more obvious than in Africa. There has been some progress. International work on the ground to resolve conflict has brought hope to Sierra Leone and the Great Lakes region. Responsible governments working across the continent, working in partnership with effective international donors, have succeeded in reducing poverty.

But we should not delude ourselves about the scale of the task in Afghan which remains. In Sub-Saharan Africa, average income today is lower, much lower, than it was 30 years ago. The New Partnership for African Development requires the support of the whole community of nations. Africa deserves the same opportunities which we in the West take for granted. And we in the West must acknowledge that whilst we have been removing barriers to global trade and finance, we have not always dismantled barriers to dignity and equality.

In theory, global free trade should have created the conditions for every economy to exploit its comparative advantage in the world marketplace. In practice, protectionist barriers still survive, especially against trade in agriculture, damaging Africa’s interests today, and all our interests tomorrow.

As we meet here in New York, our colleagues at the World Trade Organisation meeting in Doha therefore have the opportunity to begin to put these injustices right. Launching a new Trade Round would be the clearest possible signal of the world’s determination to spread the benefits of wealth and prosperity more fairly.

Mr President, our predecessors gave us the United Nations. In the succeeding years, it developed expertise in peacekeeping, in conflict prevention, in human rights and in reconstruction to consolidate the gains of 1945.

The Continuing Importance of Diplomacy

My message today is that our generation faces as daunting a task - but a different one. That task is to defeat international terrorism. But to do that we have to combine the agenda of 10 September with the agenda of the 11 September, as the Secretary-General emphasised in his powerful speech yesterday. And we must not only take military action but also diplomatic action to reduce tensions which terrorists exploit.

Nowhere are these tensions greater than in the Middle East. The path to a settlement there is plain. It has to be based on a political process which implements United Nations Resolutions. It must deliver security for Israel within recognised borders, whilst at the same time creating a viable Palestinian state.

We should give the parties every help to reach a settlement. But our efforts will be wasted unless the parties themselves show the political will to bring violence to a halt, and the political courage to make a deal.

Mr President, we have seen, in the most graphic and brutal way possible, that chaos in one part of the Earth can undermine security in all parts of the world. Against that chaos we must set our vision of peaceful cooperation amongst stable nations. And achieving this vision - has now taken on a new urgency.


For, we are at a moment of strategic opportunity which comes no more than once to any generation. We owe it to those who founded the international community to seize this moment. Most of all, we owe it to those who will come after us.

Mr President, today we remember with sorrow the sacrifices which earlier generations made. We remember with pride the brave decisions which they took to build a better world for us, and we salute the reconciliation and recovery which followed. My hope is that our children and our grandchildren will look back on this period with no less pride. And that future generations will be able to say that we have faced up to a great evil. We did not duck the decisions we had to take. We established peace in Afghanistan, constructive coexistence in the Middle East and sustained development in Africa. We made the necessary endeavour in the finest tradition of the United Nations.

The United Nations stands for everything the terrorist seeks to destroy. My hope is that our successors will therefore look back on this era and say that we did save succeeding generations from the scourge of terrorism as well as from the scourge of war.

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).