A prize that's deserved

Nobel: If the United Nations, Kofi Annan don't bring peace to a troubled world, who will?

October 14, 2001

THE 2001 Nobel Peace Prize to both the United Nations and Secretary-General Kofi Annan is a vindication of that body, but also of its critics. It rewards Sen. Jesse Helms and the Reagan and Clinton administrations, which forced reforms on the U.N. and dumped former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali for Kofi Annan. This prize says the reforms worked.

It honors Mr. Annan for whipping up world concern about AIDS and for holding the chaotic U.N. Conference on Racism, but also for making the U.N. the center of a global coalition against terrorism.

This is the eighth Nobel Peace Prize that is U.N.-related, the sixth to a U.N. agency, the first to the U.N. itself, the second to a secretary-general, the first to one in his lifetime, the sixth to a person of African ancestry, the fourth to an African and the first to an African who is not South African.

Some people have said the trouble with the United Nations is its bureaucracy. Mr. Annan, from Ghana, is a career U.N. civil servant. He may have been part of the problem. His stint at the head of peace-keeping was found remiss at failing to prevent genocides in Rwanda in 1994 and in Srebrenica, Bosnia, the next year.

He is certainly part of the solution. He is the first U.N. career bureaucrat ever promoted to the top job. Perhaps the member nations should have tried that before.

Sometimes a Nobel Peace Prize is a laurel to cap a career, the world's thanks for a job well done. Sometimes it's a risky encouragement to a career in progress or peace prospect on the bubble.

This one is both. Mr. Annan has completed one five-year term and embarked on a second. His biggest challenges are ahead. Only Thursday night, President Bush was asked about nation-building in post-Taliban Afghanistan and said the United Nations should lead it.

Mr. Annan enjoys the trust of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He has strong moral authority in Pakistan and India. His services will be required in crises not yet imagined. No one has to tell him to be the moral goad of the comfortable to improve the lot of those whom globalization left behind. He does it on his own.

To Mr. Annan, 63, and to the United Nations, seven years younger, the Nobel Peace Prize is a fitting slap on the back in mid-career and also an encouragement to do better.

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