Annan stressed the importance of individual involvement in global issues to the 2,000 people seated in the Macalester Field House. He said global problems like poverty, inequality, nuclear proliferation, bird flu and AIDS are too big for any one country, no matter how powerful, to tackle alone. He praised the progress at the 2005 World Summit in September that produced, among other things, a set of eight goals to improve the lives of people around the world.
"They represent a set of simple but powerful objectives that everyone from Minnesota to Malasia can support and understand," Annan said.
The goals include cutting the rate of poverty in half, reducing the spread of AIDS and establishing universal primary education by the year 2015.
Annan also expressed regret, however, the summit was not able to produce agreements on reducing the number of nuclear weapons. He was also disappointed the participants would not expand the number of members in the UN Security Council, which, he says, has a narrow power base. The Security Council currently contains only China, France, Britain, Russia and the United States as permanent members.
Following his speech Annan took questions from Macalester students. One student asked Annan to indentify his greatest challenge during his 10 years as Secretary General.
"The greatest challenge was the destructive debate and division among the membership in the lead-up to the Iraq war," Annan replied.
Annan said those divisions have not healed. He also said the UN has so far not been able to fulfill its peacekeeping role in Iraq.
"We failed," he said. "Not only did we fail. At the end of the war I felt we should all do whatever we can to get Iraq right because we can't afford a destabilized Iraq in the center of the Middle East--a very crucial and sensitive part of the world."
Annan has come under fire recently after revelations Saddam Hussein manipulated the UN's Oil-For-Food Program to embezzle millions of dollars. The scandal implicated Annan's son, who headed a company under contract to the program. Senator Norm Coleman, R-MN, launched an investigation of the program and called for Kofi Annan's resignation.
Talking with reporters after his address, Annan said any missteps were overblown.
"The UN has received some unfair and unjustifiable criticism, an organized political campaign against the organization, particularly around the Oil-For-Food, where issues of mismanagement were exaggerated to point the organization [was portrayed] as a den of thieves, which is entirely wrong," he said.
Annan said the UN's work is complex and he treats Senator Coleman's views with what he called "sympathetic understanding."
In the end, Annan said, the UN's worth extends well beyond the issues of security that many people in the United States view as a priority.
"You've seen the action we took on avian flu, you've seen the work we did after the tsunami struck, also the earthquake in Asia, you know the work on economic development, on poverty, the work we're doing on HIV/AIDS," Annan said. "All these are extremely important to many people around the world."
This was Annan's second visit to Macalester since taking over the UN. His speech is the inaugural address to commemorate the start of the Institute for Global Citizenship. He also enjoyed a private tour of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.