British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Madeleine Albright, and Paul Volcker discuss multilateralism

Photo of Madeleine AlbrightPhoto of Paul VolckerIn a unified call to solve the world’s most pressing problems, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and former Chairman of the Board of Governors of the U.S. Federal Reserve Paul Volcker, stressed the importance of the participation of many countries in a multilateral approach to tackle the global financial crisis, climate change, threats from terrorism, and poverty and inequality.

“I believe that the world must come together to deal with problems that we know exist but problems that I believe are soluble,” Prime Minister Brown said in a March 25th conversation called "A New Multilateralism for the 21st Century" at NYU's Helen & Martin Kimmel Center for University Life. “Now global leaders recognize the need to cooperate and see the solution doesn’t just lie in their country.”

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The prime minister said the economy could double in the next 20 years if individual countries restructure their banking systems, have a set of policies addressing impaired assets, and standards of conduct governing areas such as executive compensation. He also suggested that countries must agree about the injection of resources into the economy and that funds need to be made available to deal with Central and Eastern European banks.

The other speakers acknowledged that multilateralism may be difficult but is necessary.

“London and New York are not the only financial centers in the world,” Volcker said. “Getting a consensus to move together is important. This can’t be done alone.”

Albright, who joked she was known as “Multilateral Madeleine” at the U.N., said she was glad the Obama administration has abandoned the use of the phrase “War on Terror.” “The people who attacked us on 9/11 and in London and Mumbai are murderers,” she said. “They want to be known as warriors, but they are murderers. We want to find a different way to deal with this; assertive multilateralism is basically working together on this problem.”

She also stressed the importance of addressing the growing gap between the rich and the poor.

Referring to climate change and the enormous amount of money that must be invested in the next 10 to 12 years to avoid the most serious risks, Richard Stewart, University Professor and John Edward Sexton Professor of Law, asked the speakers what financial and political mechanisms will get developing countries on the path to participate and develop sustainable economies.

Prime Minister Brown responded that there should be two priorities for the climate conference in Copenhagen in December: getting all countries to accept intermediate, rather than long-term, deadline targets for compliance in areas such as reduction of carbon emissions and having a financing mechanism available to commit funds over a longer period of time.

“The big cost will be if we don’t do anything,” Volcker said. “The cheapest thing we can do is to undertake some of these costs now.”

One student in the audience asked Albright about the significance of the different pins she is known for wearing. Albright responded that when she worked at the UN, Saddam Hussein called her a snake, so she began wearing a snake pin. Now, she said, when asked by colleagues what is on the agenda for the day, she tells them to read her pin. She said she was wearing a pin of grapes today because “I don’t want to see a return to the ‘30s and The Grapes of Wrath.”

The event was part of the UK/US Study Group, created by Prime Minister Brown to advise him informally on the role of British and American universities in the context of this century of change. NYU President and Benjamin F. Butler Professor of Law John Sexton thanked Prime Minister Brown for creating the group, of which NYU is a member. “The heart quickens and warms every time we encounter you,” Sexton said to Prime Minister Brown. “NYU delights as a university in your conceiving this day.”

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