September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
Secretary Colin L. Powell Remarks to the National Foreign Policy Conference for Leaders of Nongovernmental Organizations; 8:55 a.m. EDT; October 26, 2001

Remarks to the National Foreign Policy Conference for Leaders of Nongovernmental Organizations

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Loy Henderson Conference Room, U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC
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 and necessary.

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, sustainable growth.

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 non-government together.

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 today.

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, anyway. (Laughter.)

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 work.

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 own citizens.

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 longer-term development.

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 much.


9:20 A.M. EDT


Released on October 26, 2001

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