SPIEGEL: Mr. Secretary General is the name of your organization, the United Nations, wrong? There is nothing united about it.
Annan: If we are not as united as we should be, that is because it is a reflection of the world we live in. And that's why it was so exciting to be in Berlin during the World Cup. That little soccer ball united the whole world. That's why we are a bit envious of FIFA, and not only because they have 207 members and we have 192, but because the whole world pays attention. I wish the world could have the same kind of competition when it comes to fighting children's diseases, AIDS and poverty, when it comes to human rights and getting to compete to see which country has the best human rights record. It would be a great competition.
SPIEGEL: The number of contestants would presumably be limited.
Annan: There are divisions. The Iraq war introduced deep divisions. They are healing, but they are not healed yet. But we are able to come together at times when it is necessary. For instance, we all agree on what needs to be done in Darfur and we are working to get it done. We all agree that we should fight poverty, that we should fight HIV/AIDS. We all agree that we should fight for better human rights, but different countries interpret that differently and appoach that differently. But it is not bad to have an ideal, to have standards against which you measure the performance we all aim for. It always starts with a dream.
SPIEGEL: In the meantime, the World Cup has ended but your problems remain. Isn't it becoming increasingly difficult to achieve consensus?
Annan: It is hard. Sometimes it's hard to get agreements across the board. But one has to persevere. When people say: "The secretary is like a CEO," I would love to see a CEO manage his company with a board of directors of 192 and has to get things done as effectively and efficiently. We have to cope with problems across borders and deal with conflicts between and within nations -- from weapons of mass destruction to terrorism. Of course, depending on where you sit, your sense of threat is much different. This is why I was happy when a high-level panel I set up came up with a much broader definition of the threats that exist today. Because normally when you talk of threats, you talk of war -- civil wars or those between nations. The member states accepted that threats have to be looked at in a much broader context, and that includes environmental degradation, poverty, infectious diseases, weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and international organized crime. And there are threats from modern society.
SPIEGEL: What is the greatest threat?
Annan: Depending on where you live, your threat is much different from the other person. If you ask a New Yorker today, because of the way the press plays it, he will say terrorism is his biggest fear. But for somebody living on a small island state, then it is climate change, the rise of the sea level, for his whole island may be washed away. If I go to southern Africa, they tell me it is HIV/AIDS and somewhere in Asia it is poverty. This is also why you will find it difficult to find agreements, because if you want someone to be concerned about your threat, then you should be concerned about his.
SPIEGEL: What makes you so confident that the United Nations is better equipped to deal with problems like AIDS than with more traditional challenges, such as the dispute over the Iranian nuclear program?
Annan: First of all, we don't claim a monopoly over resolutions of all conflicts. There are conflicts which sometimes can be better handled by a regional organization or by neighbors. But there are many issues that can only be handled by the UN. HIV/AIDS, for instance, has become much more than a health issue. HIV/AIDS is a development issue, it's a security issue. In some countries, it's killing the police force, the military, doctors, nurses and teachers. So you have a situation where it's not only destroying the present, it is also taking away the future. By getting involved in the fight and establishing the Global Funds for Fighting HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis -- which raised $5 billion to fight the diseases -- we are making a difference. But we should not forget our main mission of peace and security.
SPIEGEL: Are you similarly confident that the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, and the UN can help find a peaceful solution to the dispute over Iran's nuclear program?
Annan: In my discussions with the Iranians, I have told them this: If your intentions are peaceful then you should have no problem working openly and professionally with the IAEA and to lift this cloud of uncertainty surrounding their program and their intentions. They should be allowing IAEA inspectors to go in and do their work. And you have to remember that the technical agency, the IAEA, is also part of the United Nations. So the greater United Nations -- the IAEA, the Security Council and myself -- are all working together to try to solve this issue.
SPIEGEL: You recently met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Did you see any signs that they will agree on the proposal presented by the Europeans and the United States?
Annan: I told them: They should give a clear signal that the proposal on the table is fair and constructive and a solid basis for negotiations and the settlement of the conflict. Yes, they claim that they need some clarifications. But that is fine. I would be happy if they sent out that signal.
SPIEGEL: So do you think this is a fair offer?
Annan: This is much better than the one that was on the table before. I think it is a good basis and they themselves have described it as a "positive step" and "constructive." I want them to act on that basis. Of course I can only advise and not dictate to them. I know (Iran) is an ancient and a proud country, but I hope they will listen to the advice that is being offered.
SPIEGEL: Are you content with the amount of pressure the United Nations can exert to foster a solution?
Annan: In this context, when we talk about the UN, what are we really talking about? We are talking about my country, your country, other countries and their collective will to stand together and apply pressure or offer incentives to steer things in the right direction. When the nations of the world come together, with collective will, on an issue and they speak with a united voice, they have a much greater impact. When there is division, then the impact is much, much less.
SPIEGEL: Let's return to soccer. You have the stadium, but every nation is a team playing by its own rules.
Annan: I try to make them come and work together.
SPIEGEL: Is the secretary general the main referree?
Annan: He is a sort of referree, but without red and yellow cards. He cannot raise them, but he can raise his moral voice.
SPIEGEL: That is, at best, a yellow card.
Annan: You're right. A united Security Council would be a red card.
Next page: "We all learned important lessons in Iraq."
SPIEGEL: The biggest team, the United States, likes to play by its own rules.
Annan: There is a certain tendency on the part of some Americans to treat the UN as a multilateralism à la carte where you pick and choose where it suits you and when it doesn't suit you, you pull back. In Iraq, they want us to work closely with the Iraqis and lead an international compact for economic reform. They are within the UN on Iran and they are working closely with us on avian flu. In these cases they are working very closely with us because they have nowhere else to go. You cannot put together a coalition of the willing.
SPIEGEL: Have the Americans changed their behavior as a result of problems in Iraq?
Annan: There has been a very important lesson that everyone has learned from Iraq. Future American administrations will be much more hesitant to embark on a military action. It will also make Congress much more reluctant to appove military action and much more demanding of the justification and rationale for going to war.
SPIEGEL: It seems that every US generation in recent history has had to go through the experience of losing a war.
Annan: Yes, and it is a bit sad to put it that way. One has to learn from history. Quite frankly, it is almost impossible to have a sense of vision without a sense of history. If history is learned, then it doesn't have to repeat itself over generations.
SPIEGEL: The overwhelming majority of countries believe that the Security Council needs to be reformed, but initial efforts to bring about reforms have failed. Will Germany still get a permanent seat on the Security Council in the foreseeable future?
Annan: I knew you would ask this question. In my report to the Security Council, I gave them two options: One was to create six additional permanent seats or six non-permanent seats. I did not indicate who should get it, but as the debate went on it became clear that the G-4 (Germany, Japan, Brazil and India) came together and hoped the Africans would join them, but the Africans could not decide which two (countries) would join them and get the seats. There were two blocks, those who call themselves "Uniting for Consensus" who did not want permanent seats and the G-4 who wanted permanent seats.
SPIEGEL: So the decision is being postponed indefinitely?
Annan: If they were to somehow find a compromise, it would gather a vast majority of the membership around it and you would have Security Council reform in a relatively short period of time. If the two stick to their position, however, it could be difficult. At a recent lunch, I told 30 ambassadors they had a choice as to what they do about the perceived imbalance of power in the organization. Either they decide that they will seek a compromise that will get us to the table and expand the council and then look for the perfect solution. Or they decide to seek the perfect solution and stay outside the Council chamber until they find it. But they will not find that solution for a long time. If they seek a compromise, we will have Security Council reform.
SPIEGEL: Are you confident that Germany will receive its seat?
Annan: Yes, I believe Germany will receive a seat.
SPIEGEL: Despite the experiences of Rwanda and Srebrenica, genocide seems to be taking place once again, this time in Darfur. Why must the UN respond with such incredible helplessness?
Annan: You can also add Somalia to that list, where we had a huge force, which later withdrew. Since then, no international group has wanted to go and no country has been prepared to put troops in Somalia. Still, we worry that if we allow countries to become failed states, as happened in Afghanistan, terrorists can take them over. In Darfur, the whole world is aware of what is happening. Unlike Srebrenica or Rwanda, where some said they did not know what was going on, here the world is watching. The international community wants to do something. I urged Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to allow the UN force to be deployed. To be effective we need the support of the Sudanese government, but that is not forthcoming. The Sudanese have developed suspicians about this new deployment, they suspect it is a Trojan horse. They fear big powers have plans to hide behind the UN and stay forever. We are working hard with the Sudanese to try to get them to agree and to know that we are coming to help them.
SPIEGEL: Wouldn't it work without their consent?
Annan: Most governments only want to deploy a peacekeeping force where there is a peace agreement and there is peace to keep. They are very hesitant about putting their men and women in harm's way. It is extremely difficult to get the troops if you do not have the consent of the country where you are deploying.
SPIEGEL: But once you have received this consent, do you take steps to ensure that it can't be withdrawn too quickly again? You apparently plan to keep the European troops in Congo longer than only until Christmas.
Annan: The EUFOR (European Union Force) operation in Congo is a great addition to our operations in the country. It will help provide stability in the preparation of the elections. It shows the solidarity and commitment of Germany and Europe to the operations in Africa. The force has a fixed time commitment, but what is important is that, even after EUFOR leaves, the international community remains engaged. Peacebuilding is a medium- and long-term project.
SPIEGEL: Do you sometimes wish that you had your own army?
Annan: That would be ideal, but nobody wants to pay for it. And it raises plenty of legal issues and I'm not sure a number of the Big Boys would want to have a fairly independent army at the disposal of the UN, and some smaller countries may also be nervous. And they would want to have control. In a way that would be great. The way we are forced to operate now is kind of like telling the mayor of Berlin: we know you need a firehouse, but don't worry, we will build you one when the fire breaks out.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Secretary General, we thank you for this interview.
Interview conducted by SPIEGEL editors Stefan Aust, Hans Hoyng and Georg Mascolo.