of State Colin L. Powell
Remarks to the Nat'l Foreign Policy Conf. for Leaders of Non-Gov't Orgs.
Loy Henderson Conference Room
Department of State
October 26, 2001
8:55 A.M. EDT
MR. BOUCHER: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome. I'm Richard Boucher, the Assistant
Secretary for Public Affairs here at the State Department. And I just wanted
to say thank you all for coming. We have a great day planned, I think, of folks
to talk to you, and more important, folks to listen to you and to hear from
you about what we're doing and what we can do, together with you in the future.
I want to thank everybody for coming. I especially want to thank the Coalition
for American Leadership Abroad for their help in organizing this conference
and for everything that they do throughout the year to support us.
And now, it gives me a great pleasure to introduce to you a man who has not
only a distinguished and long career of public service and military service,
but who founded a nongovernmental organization, who helped that organization
grow and prosper and extend itself throughout the United States, who helped
that organization establish linkages to organizations overseas.
So your man on the inside, the representative of the NGO community inside the
State Department, ladies and gentlemen, the Secretary of State.
SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you very much. Well, thank you very much, Richard, and
good morning everyone and welcome to the Department of State. And I want to
begin by thanking the Coalition for American Leadership Abroad for cosponsoring
this important conference, and also to thank the many cooperating organizations
that made it possible for us to have this event.
I especially want to thank everyone in the audience for coming, particularly
those of you who traveled from afar in order to contribute to this conference,
and I hope to take away from this conference information that will be valuable
to you as you pursue your very, very important work around the world.
During my career in public service, both in the military and now as Secretary
of State, I have the privilege of working and dealing with a variety of nongovernmental
organizations in the prosecution of my service. In Vietnam, I saw many nongovernmental
organizations that were there to help people who were hurting, as well as to
help those of us who were serving in combat, whether it was the Red Cross or
the USO. And then as a four-star general, when I was in charge of all the Army
forces in the United States, and one of my responsibilities was to respond to
natural disasters, and we had the terrible hurricane in Florida in 1992, I saw
firsthand what it was like to see this organization go into action, all of these
collective groups coming together into a great organization to help the people
in South Florida recover from that disaster.
Or perhaps it was even earlier, during the aftermath of the Desert Storm conflict,
when we had that terrible tragedy up in northern Iraq and eastern Turkey, where
thousands upon thousands of Iraqis had tried to escape into the mountains of
Turkey, and they were in desperate, desperate condition. And I saw how military
forces responded. But all we could do was sort of protect them for a while,
give them some emergency aid. What really saved them, and what really permitted
us to get them back into their homes, were the great nongovernmental organizations
that came to their rescue, that brought in food, that brought in hope, that
brought in warmth, that brought in comfort, that brought in a sense of promise
that allowed them to get back to their homes and to begin their lives, even
though it's under a regime that doesn't treat them with the kind of dignity
that they deserve.
And then when I left the military and was no longer quite concerned with these
sorts of matters, I found that here in my own home in the United States, there
was a need that went beyond what the government could do, there was a need to
work with young people in this richest country in the world, young people who
are in need, young people who wondered if the rest of their fellow citizens
cared about them. And at the invitation of all of our living Presidents, I became
Chairman of America's Promise, the Alliance for Youth, a non-profit organization,
a nongovernmental organization, certainly. But one that was very much in the
spirit of what you do, reaching out throughout America, reaching out to people
in need, and for those of us who have something, those of us who have been blessed
by our society, those of us who have the wherewithal in terms of time and talent
and treasure and resources and all the other things that we have available to
share with people less fortunate, to share with those in need.
I tried to do that in a very small way with America's Promise. And I'm pleased
to say that it survived my departure quite well. Some would say it is even thriving
in the absence of -- (laughter) -- the former chairman of America's Promise,
and for that I am very, very grateful. And I'm very, very grateful to the thousands
of people around America, and now increasingly overseas, who have picked up
this promise theme and used it in their own countries. We have the Jamaica Promise
about to get started, which I think is quite fitting, since I am -- my parents
anyway are certainly from Jamaica.
So I know what you are about, I know what you do, I understand the value of
your work. And that is why I am so pleased that we can have this opportunity
to communicate with one another. It's a cliché to say that who you are
is where you sit. It also has the virtue of being true. So I am grateful to
have had the opportunity to sit where you sit, if only for a while, as the head
of an NGO non-profit.
And from where I sit now, I can tell you that America could not succeed in its
objectives of shaping a freer, more prosperous and more secure world without
you. Because in this increasingly globalized era, issues that we face are so
deeply intertwined, so complex and so transnational that no power, not even
a superpower, can solve them on its own. The very nature of the 21st century
world and the problems that this world has brought to our door makes cooperation
between government and NGOs not only highly desirable, but absolutely essential
More than ever, governments and intergovernmental organizations must work in
partnership with NGOs if compelling problems are to be effectively addressed.
As I speak, just as surely as our diplomats and military, American NGOs are
out there serving and sacrificing on the front lines of freedom. You are providing
food and shelter to refugees and to the internally displaced, helping to build
vibrant civil societies and creating the conditions for sustainable development,
You speak for the voiceless. You speak for those who have no other voice. You
speak for those who wonder if anyone cares, if anyone will represent their interests,
anyone will put forward their hopes and dreams. You shed light on human rights
and environmental issues. You conduct public education programs that help stem
the spread of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. You protect civilians
from land mines. And you promote tolerance by your actions, by showing that
we care about all of humankind. You promote tolerance in a world where conflict
can cause untold misery and destabilize entire regions.
Your very presence in these places, your diversity, your dedication to serving
humankind sends a powerful message about America and our value system to people
all over the world. Not a preaching method, not a method and a message that
says do it our way because we know best, but look at the way we do it, look
at the values we bring, look at what we believe in, look at our respect for
individual rights and human dignity. And see how we use these values to talk
to you, to work with you, the downtrodden of the world, those of you in need.
America cares. America has a value system that requires it to care. It is our
obligation as Americans to participate in this kind of work, government and
Not least of all, you offer valuable insights to policymakers. You bring us
ground truth from the field. You share your expertise. You give us new and different
perspectives. We in government certainly have no monopoly on wisdom, far from
it. And we would do well, indeed, to listen and learn from all of you, perhaps
even more than we do already. And that's why I'm so pleased to have you here
As a former head, once again, of a non-profit, I realize that getting heard
by decision-makers is often easier said than done. And even if they are willing
to hear you out or take time to read your materials, there is no guarantee that
they will take your suggestions. Not even my suggestions does my government
always take, believe me. Trust me on that. (Laughter.) Well, most of the time,
I'm also very much aware that holding a yearly conference such as this, even
one so well organized and packed with high-level talent, is not nearly good
enough. If we at the State Department and in other branches of government and
other departments of government are truly serious about outreach and about cooperation,
outreach and cooperation and working with you has to happen every day at every
single level in all of our bureaus and all of the pieces and parts of our Department
here, and at our embassies overseas.
And I want you to know that I have made it clear to my staff here and to all
of our ambassadors around the world that I am serious about making sure we have
the best relationship with the NGOs who are such a force multiplier for us,
such an important part of our combat team.
I have also made it clear to the members of the diplomatic community who work
for American interests around the world that they will not be doing their jobs
-- they will not be doing their jobs for the American people if they do not
keep abreast of the work and the ideas that NGOs operating in their areas of
responsibility in the countries to which they are accredited. And I have made
a point of instructing all of our ambassadors, especially the new ones going
to posts for the first time, I have instructed them to make every effort to
work with NGOs, international and especially indigenous, and to factor the contributions
that NGOs make into their planning and into their programs.
Needless to say, cooperation between governments and NGOs is not the same as
co-opting you. Always, we must respect your independence. After all, it is the
very fact of your being independent and not an arm of government that makes
you so valuable, that permits you to do your essential work, and that gives
you the flexibility that you need to do it.
Nor are governments and NGOs substitutes for one another, even if they work
toward common goals. I learned this very vividly when I was the Chairman of
America's Promise. People kept saying, well, we have America's Promise; therefore,
the government doesn't have to do this any longer. You are substituting for
the government. The answer was no, we're trying to leverage the work of the
government. It's a partnership. And one does not take the place of the other.
We have to make sure we keep this point very much in mind.
NGOs, for example, can minister to those in misery. They can work person by
person within communities, building capacity for societies from the ground up.
They can focus deeply on specific issues and track them for long periods of
time. You have stability in the work and in the programs that you do. Particularly
in this age of instant communications and rapid change, you provide a certain
consistency, a certain coherence over time that allows you to handle such grassroots
But even in this day and age, when countless actions take place outside the
sphere, even outside the control of governments, there are still some functions
that only governments have the power to perform, the ability to perform: making
laws, setting policy at the national and international levels, managing the
international financial system -- and yes, when necessary, taking military action.
For our part, President Bush and his Administration fully recognizes that America
has weighty global responsibilities, of course. We recognize that a great deal
of the world's future rests upon American leadership, and we will not abdicate
our responsibilities. I think the President has shown this ably in just the
last several weeks, with his response to the events of the 11th of September;
with his trip recently to Shanghai to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation
summit meeting, where he gave a message of hope and free trade and openness
to the nations of the Asia Pacific region; to his trips recently to Europe,
where he made it clear to everyone that the United States will be engaged; and
in his meetings this past weekend with the presidents of China and Russia, to
show that we want to work bilaterally to make the world a better place, to continue
into this post-Cold War era, and even post-post-Cold War era that we are now
entering, where it's all behind us.
And here America's leadership of a global coalition, here in this crisis with
the Taliban and with al-Qaida and Usama bin Laden and terrorism, America's leadership
of the global campaign against this kind of threat to civilization, this kind
of threat to the very essence of what you do, taking care of people, it is terrorism
that is directed against people; it represents no faith, no religion. It is
evil, it is murderous. That's why the word "terrorism" fits this,
and that's why the word "terrorist" is the right noun to apply to
people like Usama bin Laden.
And the United States with a grand coalition is responding to this 21st century
challenge. We are exerting leadership, but we are working with a wide range
of others, both traditional partners and allies, as well as new ones, including
those willing to move beyond past animosities to reach new shared goals.
Already, in forming the anti-terrorism coalition, we have revitalized alliances
and we have worked with the United Nations and with regional organizations representing
the entire globe to leverage strength. And we have opened doors to qualitatively
different relationships with a number of countries that we might not have thought
of having such relationships just a few years ago.
Collectively, the international community is taking crucial steps to share information,
improve security through greater cooperation by working with law enforcement
agencies in all of these countries, intelligence agencies, and financial agencies,
to cut off the financial lifeline that terrorism depends upon.
In this global campaign, the United States welcomes the help of any country
or any party that is genuinely prepared to work with us. For we will not relax
our standards, and we will not abandon our principled interests in human rights,
accountable government, free markets, nonproliferation, conflict resolution.
We believe that a world of democracy, a world of opportunity, a world of stability
is a world in which terrorism cannot thrive.
But the response to the September 11th attacks does not only reflect the determination
of governments to combat the scourge of terrorism. Over 5,000 souls from 80
nations were lost. It was an attack against the world, not just against the
United States. The outpouring of sympathy and support from ordinary men and
women all around the world, from every continent, culture and creed -- every
region, every race, every religion -- the expression of sympathy and support
has been overwhelming.
And in the weeks that have followed the attacks, NGOs from across America have
worked to help the victims and their families to channel public outrage against
the terrorists, and not against fellow citizens who happen to be Muslim. This
is a sign of the strength of our nation, of our society.
So, too, I know that many of your organizations have been working around the
clock to get aid to the millions of innocent Afghans who have suffered under
the Taliban regime, a regime which seems to care more about Usama bin Laden
and his terrorists, these invaders of their country, than they do about their
And when the time comes, as it most surely will, when the time comes to build
a better future for the people of Afghanistan, I know full well that NGOs will
play indispensable roles in helping Afghans overcome the devastation of decades
of war, to establish habits of good governance, and to create conditions for
I'll make two points before I close. One is a proposition, and the other is
a plea. First, the plea. It is often said that American diplomacy has no domestic
constituency. People aren't interested in foreign affairs or diplomacy outside
of our borders. And that is why, some say, it is so difficult to build support
for foreign aid programs or for strengthening our diplomatic capacities, both
in terms of infrastructure and personnel.
Ladies and gentlemen, few people know better than you how important sustained
American diplomatic engagement is to the world. And few are better positioned
here at home to get that message out to the American public. I know that you
do that, but I ask you to do even more. I ask you to help me take the message
to the American people, that the front line of our defense, the front line of
our efforts is the American diplomatic effort, use of foreign aid, use of our
diplomats and Peace Corps volunteers, and others from so many American governmental
agencies, out doing the job for the American people. This is important work.
And I hope that as you go around and speak to your constituencies and speak
to the public, that you let them know how important it is to support America's
diplomatic front line efforts.
And finally, a proposition. Take it from someone -- moi -- who has been in and
out of government, and who has had the phenomenal opportunity to be the leader
of an NGO, and looks forward, perhaps, to another day in the future when I may
lead another NGO. My proposition is this. At some point in your lives, and especially
in the lives of members of your family, or perhaps children and grandchildren,
encourage them to do a stint in government service. There is a good chance that
that kind of experience in government service can help you or someone that you
know, a family member or kid, become a better member of an NGO when they leave
government service. There is no doubt, absolutely no doubt, that the kind of
experience you have or those you know have bring that experience into government
will help us do a better job, and I think will help you do a better job after
that period of service.
Because, you see, it's a partnership, a partnership for those of us in government
and those of you represented here this morning out of government, NGOs, non-profits
and profits. But all committed to the same, singular purpose to help humankind,
to help every man and woman in the world who is in need, who is hungry, who
is without hope, to help every one of them fill a belly, get a roof over their
heads, educate their children, have hope, give them the ability to dream about
a future that will be brighter, just as we have tried to make the future brighter
for all Americans.
So you do noble work, and I congratulate you for that noble work, and I thank
you for coming here today and sharing your experiences with us. Thank you very