Welcome to the United Nations

Remarks to the Chiefs of Defence Conference

27 Mar 2015
Ban Ki-Moon

I am pleased to welcome you to this historic conference.

Never before have so many Chiefs of Defence gathered from every region on earth for the same purpose.

I call on you to make this event truly momentous by helping the United Nations rise to the urgent challenges of our times.

Peacekeepers deploy on the frontlines of human misery – in some of the most dangerous places on earth.

The threats are growing.

Before 2000, there were only four times when more than 100 peacekeepers lost their lives in a single year. Since then, we have suffered that tragic toll ten times, consecutively ten times. It’s very sad and tragic that we are losing so many colleagues in the mission to keep peace and security for the peoples [of the world].

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let us observe a moment of silence in tribute to the memory of all the courageous women and men who have lost their lives while serving the cause of peace.


Thank you.

Distinguished Generals and Senior Officers,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is again a great honour and pleasure for me to welcome you.

Since we are sitting in a very solemn mood, let me start with a lighter tone.

I am truly honoured that I am amongst so many stars; I don’t know how many stars we have. I am told at least 350 stars. Maybe I hope our colleagues will count how many stars we have today.

When I served my military service in Korea, I served as a private. I am a retired Sergeant. There is a huge difference between a Sergeant and a General - four star generals and three star generals. For me, even [the rank of a] Lieutenant was a big boss.

In my life as a public servant, I have carried some titles as general. I was first Consul-General, that is a diplomatic consular title, but my title was Consul-General. Many people addressed me [as] ‘Dear General Ban’ without knowing all this title. Then I was Director-General moving up; now I am Secretary-General so I am one of you in fact. We have Under Secretaries-General and Assistant Secretaries-General at the United Nations. The United Nations has many Generals.

But I am deeply grateful to many military advisers like Lieutenant General Maqsood Ahmed and we have many Force Commanders Generals with whom I have been working together with very closely. I am very proud.

Again another joke - I am the second strongest, powerful Commander-in-Chief in the world, only next to President [Barack] Obama of the United States. Why? We have 130,000 soldiers stationed abroad. That is only second to the United States [which] is deploying more than 100,000 soldiers abroad. No country except the United States maintains or deploys that many soldiers abroad. It’s only the United Nations. I am very proud to be the Commander-in-Chief of United Nations Peacekeeping Operations.

Thank you.

Joking aside let me be more serious.

Dear colleagues,

Around the world violence is devastating innocent civilians, threatening to destabilize regions and affecting the national security of every Member State represented here today. I know that you are coming from more than [100] countries and I thank you again.

The global security landscape is dangerously complex – marked by terrorism, organized crime, civil conflicts and even health crises.

Over the past two decades, the Security Council has given peacekeepers increasingly challenging mandates.

In northern Mali, our Mission works under constant threat of asymmetric attacks from armed groups.

We are called on to maintain security in the Central African Republic, where there is no clear line between civilians and combatants.

Even in traditionally static missions, such as UNDOF [UN Disengagement Observer Force] in the Golan Heights, there can be sudden changes in the operating environment.

Our peacekeepers must first and foremost protect civilians from violence. They also support stabilization and the extension of state authority. They strengthen the rule of law. They address gender inequality. They protect human rights.

With such diverse responsibilities, peacekeepers can bring comprehensive stability – when they have the right capabilities and political will to succeed.

The needs are rising – but the resources fall short.

I have appointed a High-Level Independent Panel to address the serious difficulties we face.

For all the challenges, United Nations peacekeeping remains uniquely placed to combine political, security and early peacebuilding functions under a single strategy.

The truly international character of UN peacekeeping brings unparalleled legitimacy.

Today, more than 130,000 military, police and civilian staff serve in 16 peacekeeping operations around the world.

This is our largest deployment in history. It must be matched by a stronger international partnership for peacekeeping.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Peacekeepers need to be able to rapidly deploy into active conflicts that may escalate at any moment.

Missions also need the capacity to move peacekeepers quickly and safely to where they are most needed.

In complex, dynamic and dangerous places, blue helmets need intelligence capabilities and other support to fulfil their mandates.

I am here to appeal for two elements that are fundamental to success.

First, contributions.

When the Security Council calls on us to deploy peacekeepers, the United Nations needs to be ready. This means more diverse and more quickly available contributions from Member States. It also includes additional “boots on the ground” from developed countries with more technologically advanced militaries.

Second, political will.

We need unity and backing. Effective performance demands broad consensus on why, where and how peacekeepers carry out their mandates.

Distinguished Chiefs of Defence,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The stakes are high for struggling individuals and fragile societies. There are so many people whose human rights, whose safety and security and whose human dignity are endangered and abused brutally every year.

If we can effectively help countries and people in conflict, find sustainable political solutions, we can prevent those conflicts from spreading.

If we can stabilize countries that have been embroiled in war for decades, we can help deliver security and prosperity to thousands of people in dire need.

If we can help states provide security to their citizens and govern inclusively, we can resolve the grievances that breed extremism and feed global terror networks.

As you know, we are very much troubled by this terrorizing campaign by ISIL/Da’esh. Now they are spreading; they are outpacing our capacity. That is why I am urging all the countries [that] may have influence and capacity to render their full support. At the same time, I am asking political leaders around the world to look at the root causes of all this extremism and terrorism.

It may not be your direct responsibility to prevent this extremism and terrorism but we need everyone’s hand in deck. When there is an absolute necessity to take military action, then I am asking them to take military action to defeat those terrorists and extremists but I don’t believe that military actions are the only options or the only ways.

We need to address all these issues from the root causes. In many cases, failed leadership, corruption, injustice, inequality - all this makes [drives] people to the corner. All these grievances [and] complaints – this provides [the] perfect breeding ground for extremism and terrorism to take root. We have to eliminate this kind of situation.

That is why United Nations counterterrorism is going to submit to the General Assembly in September a comprehensive plan of action to counter this violent extremism and terrorism.

I am also reaching out to [the] world’s religious leaders, faith leaders [and] educators to teach their followers [and] their students what is the exact meaning of human rights; what is the meaning of good, inclusive governance. And I am asking all political, military, economic and particularly religious leaders around the world to address this issue. And then I believe that your job will be much easier. I don’t want that your responsibility [become] heavier and heavier, and more and more difficult.

In that regard this meeting, for the first time in UN history, when all distinguished, highest, senior-most generals and military leaders are gathered in one place.

I hope you will have good and constructive discussions so that we all will be able to make this world safer and better, where nobody’s human rights will be abused, where everyone will be able to live in peace and harmony.

I count on your responsibility and strong engagement, and at the same time political will.

Thank you. Merci.