George Bush photo

Remarks to the United Nations Security Council in New York City

January 31, 1992

Thank you, Mr. President, for your key role in convening this first-ever summit of the United Nations Security Council.

Fellow members and Mr. Secretary-General, congratulations to you, sir, as you take office at this time of tremendous challenge and opportunity. And for the United States, it's a high honor to participate, to speak at this history-making event.

We meet at a moment of new beginnings for this institution and, really, for every member nation. And for most of its history, the United Nations was caught in a cold-war crossfire. And I think back to my days here in the early seventies as a Permanent Representative, of the way then polemics displaced peacekeeping. And long before I came on the scene and long after I left, the U.N. was all too often paralyzed by cruel ideological divisions and the struggle to contain Soviet expansion. And today, all that's changed. And the collapse of imperial communism and the end of the cold war breathe new life into the United Nations.

It was just one year ago that the world saw this new, invigorated United Nations in action as this Council stood fast against aggression and stood for the sacred principles enshrined in the U.N. Charter. And now it's time to step forward again, make the internal reforms, accelerate the revitalization, accept the responsibilities necessary for a vigorous and effective United Nations. I want to assure the members of this Council and the Secretary-General, the United Nations can count on our full support in this task.

Today, for these brief remarks, I'll talk not on the economic and social agenda so eloquently addressed by President Borja, but rather I'll mention the proliferation of mass destruction, regional conflicts, destabilizing renegade regimes that are on the horizon, terrorism, human rights. They all require our immediate attention.

The world also challenges us to strengthen and sustain positive change. And we must advance the momentous movement toward democracy and freedom -- democratization, I believe Boutros-Ghali called this, our distinguished Secretary-General -- and expand the circle of nations committed to human rights and the rule of law. It's an exciting opportunity for our United Nations, and we must not allow it to slip away.

Right now, across the globe, the U.N. is working night and day in the cause of peace. And never before in its four decades has the U.N.'s Blue Helmets and Blue Berets been so engaged in the noble work of peacekeeping, even to the extent of building the foundation for free elections. And never before has the United Nations been so ready and so compelled to step up to the task of peacemaking, both to resolve hot wars and to conduct that forward-looking mission known as preventive diplomacy.

We must be practical as well as principled as we seek to free people from the specter of conflict. We recognize every nation's obligation to invest in peace. As conflicts are resolved and violence subsides, then the institutions of free societies can take hold. And as they do, they become our strongest safeguards against aggression and tyranny.

Democracy, human rights, the rule of law, these are the building blocks of peace and freedom. And in the lives of millions of men and women around the world its import is simple. It can mean the difference between war and peace, healing and hatred, and where there is fear and despair, it really can mean hope.

We look to the Secretary-General to present to this Council his recommendations to ensure effective and efficient peacekeeping, peacemaking, and preventive diplomacy. And we look forward to exploring these ideas together.

We have witnessed change of enormous breadth and scope, all in but a few short years. A remarkable revolution has swept away the old regimes from Managua to Moscow. But everywhere, free government and the institutions that give it form will take time to flourish and mature.

Free elections give democracy a foothold, but true democracy means more than simply the rule of the majority. It means an irrevocable commitment to democratic principles. It means equal rights for minorities. And above all, it means the sanctity of even a single individual against the unjust power of the state.

The will of the majority must never degenerate into the whim of majority. This fundamental principle transcends all borders. Human dignity, the inalienable rights of man, these are not the possessions of the state. They're universal. In Asia, in Africa, in Europe, in the Americas, the United Nations must stand with those who seek greater freedom and democracy. And that is my deep belief; that is the belief of the American people. And it's the belief that breathes life into the great principle of the universal declaration of human rights.

Our changed world is a more hopeful world, indeed, but it is not absent those who would turn back the clock to the darker days of threats and bullying. And our world is still a dangerous world, rife with far too many terrible weapons.

In my first address here to the United Nations as President, I challenged the Soviet Union to eliminate chemical weapons and called on every nation to join us in this crusade, His Majesty King Hassan of Morocco making this point so well right here today. What greater cause for this great body: to make certain the world has seen the last of these terrible weapons. And so, let us vow to make this year the year all nations at long last join to ban this scourge.

There is much more to do regarding weapons of mass destruction. Just 3 days ago, in my State of the Union Message here, I announced the steps, far-reaching, unilateral steps, that we will take to reduce our nuclear arsenal. And these steps affect each element in our strategic triad, the land, the sea, and the air.

In addition to these unilateral steps, we are prepared to move forward on mutual arms reduction. I noted his constructive comments here today, and tomorrow, in my meeting with President Yeltsin, we will continue the search for common ground on this vitally important issue. He responded with some very serious proposals just the other day.

We welcome, the world welcomes statements by several of the new States that won independence after the collapse of the U.S.S.R. that they will abide by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And yet, realism requires us to remain vigilant in this time of transition.

The danger of proliferation remains. And again, let me single out the earlier remarks by the President of the French Republic, President Mitterrand, on this subject, the clarion call to do something about it. We must act together so that from this time forward, people involved in sophisticated weapons programs redirect their energies to peaceful endeavors.

We'll do more in cooperation with our allies to ensure that dangerous materials and technology don't fall into the hands of terrorists or others. And we will continue to work with these new States to ensure a strong commitment in word and deed to all global nonproliferation standards.

Today, the threat of global nuclear war is more distant than at any time in the nuclear era. Drawing down the old cold war arsenals will further ease that dread. But the specter of mass destruction remains all too real, especially as some nations continue to push to acquire weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them.

Our triumph in the Gulf is testament to the U.N.'s mission. Its security is a shared responsibility. Today, this institution spearheads a quarantine against the outlaw regime of Saddam Hussein. It is the strong belief of my country that we must keep sanctions in place and take the following steps to preserve our common security: We must continue to focus on Iraq's capability to build or maintain weapons of mass destruction. And we must make clear to the world and, most important, to the people of Iraq that no normalization is possible so long as Saddam Hussein remains there, remains in power.

As on all of the urgent issues I've mentioned today, progress comes from acting in concert, and we must deal resolutely with these renegade regimes, if necessary, by sanctions or stronger measures, to compel them to observe international standards of behavior. We will not be blind to the dangers we still face. Terrorists and their state sponsors must know there will be serious consequences if they violate international law.

Two weeks ago, this Council, in unity, sent a very strong message to Libya. And let me repeat today Resolution 731, passed unanimously by this body, by the Security Council, calls on Libya to comply fully with the requests of three states on this Council. And I would just like to use this meeting today to call on Libya to heed the call of the Security Council of the United Nations.

Last year in the Gulf, in concert, we responded to an attack on the sovereignty of one nation as an assault on the security of all. So, let us make it our mission to give this principle the greatest practical meaning in the conduct of nations.

Today, we stand at another crossroads. Perhaps the first time since that hopeful moment in San Francisco, we can look at our Charter as a living, breathing document. And yes, after so many years, it still may be in its infancy, requiring a careful and vigilant nurturing of its parents, but I believe in my heart that it is alive and well.

Our mission is to make it strong and sturdy through increased dedication and cooperation, and I know that we are up to the challenge. The nations represented here, like the larger community of the U.N. represented by so many Perm Reps here today, have it in their power to act for peace and freedom.

So, may God bless the United Nations as it pursues its noble goal. Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: The President spoke at 12:18 p.m. in the Security Council Chamber at the United Nations. In his remarks, he referred to Prime Minister John Major of the United Kingdom, Acting President of the United Nations Security Council, and President Rodrigo Borja of Ecuador.

George Bush, Remarks to the United Nations Security Council in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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