Seoul Peace Prize

Home > Seoul Peace Prize > Laureates of the Seoul Peace Prize > Laureate 1998

"UN's role in globalization"
(Seoul, Oct. 23, 1998)
Chairman Lee Sang-Ock (of UNA-Korea)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
  It is a special pleasure for me to join you this evening, among such strong and steadfast friends of the United Nations, on the eve of United Nations Day 1998. I am heartened to be among friends for whom the United Nations remains the indispensable global Organization, in the age of globalization.
  As you know well, this is an age with as many challenges as opportunities; an age that has brought the world together in ways that were unimaginable to our forefathers; an age that has witnessed unprecedented prosperity created within a generation and wiped away with sudden, even inexplicable speed.
  I know that your economy has been particularly hard hit by the global financial crisis. I know that savings have been decimated; that decades of hard-won progress in the fight against poverty are imperiled; that many of your workers have not been paid regularly; and that many others have no work at all. Above all, however, I know that you are meeting this crisis with determination, confident of your nation's ability to rise again and create prosperity anew.
  At the global level, however, there must also be a reaction to this crisis. We must learn the right lessons and apply them for the future. But what must that response be? Where do we look for guides to lead us back to the path of prosperity? How do we confront what my friend Jim Wolfensohn, the President of the World Bank, has called "the other crisis", namely, "the human crisis" caused by the financial one?
  President Wolfensohn has suggested a three-pillared response that encompasses, first, improving our ability to prevent future crises; second, improving our response to those crises; and third, ensuring the presence of safety-nets.
  As you know, every one of these pillars must be built on a solid political foundation, based on the political courage to make difficult political choices, for freedom and for prosperity.
  In President Kim Dae-jung, your people has elected a leader who, I believe, possesses the courage to make those choices; who understands that political institutions and established freedoms are the basis of any lasting economic prosperity.
  Upon election, he pledged, and I quote, to "open a new age of democratic economic order that respects market mechanisms and competition."
  He has advocated good governance; the need for a parallel development between a market economy and liberal democracy; and the importance of the rule of law and the law of contract as essential components of the "Second era of Nation-building." I have no doubt that by basing a new era of prosperity on the pillars of democratic government, your people will not only succeed, but become a model for other nations struggling to conquer the same challenges.
  Today, in many parts of the world, globalization is rapidly losing its luster. What began as a currency crisis in Thailand fourteen months ago has, so far, resulted in a contagion of economic insolvency and political paralysis.
  Globalization is seen by a growing number of people not as a friend of prosperity, but as its enemy; not as a vehicle for development, but as an ever-tightening vise increasing the demands on states to provide safety-nets while limiting their ability to do so.
  At a time when the very value of globalization is being questioned, it is prudent for us to reflect on the role of politics and good governance in sustaining a lasting and successful development. Before doing so, however, let me say that great efforts are being made in every part of the world to contain and reverse the negative impact of globalization.
  The fundamental recognition that lasting prosperity is based on legitimate politics has been joined by a growing appreciation of the need to maximize the benefits of the market while minimizing its costs in social justice and human poverty. To do so, regulatory systems must be improved in every part of the world; solid and sustainable safety-nets must be crafted to shield the poorest and most vulnerable; and transparency must be advanced on all sides.
  Today, we look back on the early 1990s as a period of savage wars of genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda that cruelly mocked the political hubris attending the end of the Cold War. Soon, we may well look back on the late 1990s as a period of economic and political suffering that equally mocked the political hubris attending the heyday of globalization.
  In time, something good may come of this shock, painful though it is right now. It will have reminded us that any peace, and all prosperity, depend on legitimate, responsive politics. It will have shown that markets, vital though they are, cannot resolve all divisions. There are real differences of interest and outlook; differences that can be resolved peacefully, but must be resolved politically.
  In a sense, it may be said that politics and political development as a whole suffered a form of benign neglect during globalization's glory years. Extraordinary growth rates seemed to justify political actions which otherwise might have invited dissent.
  Autocratic rule which denied basic civil and political rights was legitimized by its success in helping people escape centuries of poverty. What was lost in the exuberance of material wealth was the value of politics. And not just any politics: the politics of good governance, liberty, equity and social justice.
  The development of a society based on the rule of law; the establishment of legitimate, responsive, uncorrupt government; respect for human rights and the rights of minorities; freedom of expression; the right to a fair trial-these essential, universal pillars of democratic pluralism were in too many cases ignored.
  Today, in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, millions of people are suffering. Unless the basic principles of equity and liberty are defended in the political arena and advanced as critical conditions for economic growth, they may be rejected.
  That is why your commitment to building prosperity with the bricks and mortar of democratic politics must succeed; not only for you, but for all those peoples looking to your example to confirm their beliefs that they can retain freedom even while attaining prosperity.
  These are the battles that must be fought and won on political terms, if we are to win the argument against those who would seek solutions in tyranny. Freedom itself is too valuable, its spirit too important for progress, to be bargained away in the struggle for prosperity, in South Korea or anywhere else.
  Those who would defend the policies of openness, transparency and good governance must find ways to answer the critics at two levels: at the level of principle and at the level of practical solutions which can provide some kind of economic insurance against social despair and instability. One lesson is that economic integration in an interdependent world is neither all-powerful nor politically neutral.
  It is seen in strictly political terms, particularly in times of trouble, and so must be defended in political terms. Otherwise, the populists and the protectionists will win the argument between isolation and openness, between the particular and the universal, between an imaginary past and a prosperous future. And they must not win.
  Ladies and Gentlemen,
  If globalization is to succeed, it must succeed for poor and rich alike. It must deliver rights no less than riches. It must provide social justice and equity no less than economic prosperity and enhanced communication. It must be harnessed to the cause not of capital alone, but of development and prosperity for the poorest of the world.
  Political liberty must be seen, once and for all, as a necessary condition for lasting economic growth, even if not a sufficient one. Democracy must be accepted as the midwife of development, and political and human rights must be recognized as key pillars in any architecture of economic progress.
  This is, undoubtedly, a tall order. But it is one that must be met, if globalization is not to be recalled in years hence as simply an illusion of the power of trade over politics, and human riches over human rights. As the sole international organization with universal legitimacy and scope, the United Nations has an interest-indeed an obligation ― to help secure the equitable and lasting success of globalization.
  We have no magic bullet with which to secure this aim, no easy answers in our common effort to confront this challenge. But we do know that the limitations on the ability of any state or any organization to affect the processes of globalization call for a global, concerted effort.
  If this effort is to make a genuine difference, it is clear that the creation of lasting political institutions must form a first line of response. Such steps must, however, be combined with a clear and balanced acceptance of the roots of the precipitous collapse of so many economies. To some extent, this collapse was rooted in the flaws and failures of economies characterized by unsound policies, corruption and illiberal politics.
  However, we must not be blind to the fact that irresponsible lending practices and aggressive investment policies pursued by outsiders played their part, too. Without improvements in these practices, we cannot expect political reform to succeed in creating the basis for lasting economic growth. All sides matter; all sides must play a role.
  I have argued today that politics are at the root of globalization's difficulties, and that politics will be at the heart of any solutions. But where will solutions be found? In the heyday of globalization, it was assumed that all nations, once secure in prosperity, would turn to multilateral institutions out of maturity; today, I believe, they may turn to those same institutions out of necessity.
  The challenge facing the United Nations and its sister institutions ― the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund ― is to ensure that the difficulties facing globalization do not become an impediment to global cooperation, but rather give such cooperation new life and new promise.
  We must do this in two key ways: by emphasizing in all our development work the importance of civil society and institutional structures of democracy at the national level; and by seeking to strengthen the effectiveness of multilateralism. Working together, we must find ways to sustain free economies while securing genuine protection for the poorest and most vulnerable of our world.
  After World War Ⅱ, in the early years of your Republic and our Organization, there was a recognition that ultimately, economic problems were political and security problems. There was a recognition that prosperity and peace are political achievements, not simply natural consequences either of trade or of technological progress.
  In this era, we have learned our lessons, too: that democracy is the condition for true, lasting and equitable development; that the rewards of globalization must be felt not only at the centre, but also at the margins; and that without free, legitimate and democratic politics, no degree of prosperity can satisfy humanity's needs nor guarantee lasting peace ― even in the age of Globalization.
  Thank you.