WASHINGTON -- His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales, better known as Prince Harry, and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon offered complementary perspectives on international conflict Monday night at the annual Atlantic Council Awards Dinner.
Prince Harry and Mr. Ban accepted awards for humanitarian leadership and international leadership, respectively, before a black-tie dinner crowd of more than 800 at the Ritz-Carlton. The guest list included foreign policy heavyweights such as former Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Henry Kissinger, former National Security Advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, and former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.). Violin soloist Anne-Sophie Mutter accepted an award for her contributions to the arts, and Unilever CEO Paul Polman was honored for corporate leadership.
Founded in the early 1960s as a non-partisan, intellectual off-shoot of the N.A.T.O. alliance, today the Atlantic Council regularly convenes scholars and policy makers for talks and research projects, and it maintains a centrist, internationalist bent.
But for an organization that came to prominence during the Cold War, the takeaway from Monday's dinner was just how much the face of international conflict has changed in five decades.
On one hand there was Harry, a captain in the British Army who trekked to the North Pole last year to raise awareness for wounded British veterans, mostly from the war in Afghanistan, where he served in combat.
"This award is for the guys," he said. "So many lives have been lost, and so many changed forever by the wounds that they have suffered."
"The very least we owe them is to make sure that they, and their brave families, have everything they need in their darkest days. And in time, regain the hope and confidence to flourish again," continued Harry, who received a fittingly warm introduction, complete with a military salute, from Gen. Powell.
While Harry's speech reminded the audience of the shared sacrifice of British and American soldiers in uniform, Mr. Ban's speech had a much wider scope. He accepted his award with "deepest admiration" for the more than "120,000 United Nations peacekeeping operations staff from more than than 120 countries" deployed that night around the world, working "tirelessly for peace" in "very dangerous and difficult circumstances."
The U.N.'s top priorities, he said, were responding to human rights abuses in Syria, nuclear testing in North Korea, "dangerous" tensions between Israel and Iran, "militant groups" in Mali and Guinea-Bissau and crises in Sudan and South Sudan, which he said were "on the brink of a conflict that not long ago claimed two million lives."
Largely absent from Mr. Ban's speech was talk of the crucial role played by Europe and the United States in funding the U.N. Instead, Ban kept the crowd spellbound for 20 minutes with a powerful talk about what is top-of-mind for him right now -- notably former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's envoy mission to Syria and the successful conviction of former Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The evening closed with a brief violin performance by Mutter, her second of the night. About 40 guests who started to leave seemed surprised that the program didn't end after Ban, the "starring act." But they stopped dead in their tracks when Mutter began playing -- and stood still until she finished.
It was a fitting finale to an evening designed to make people pause and reflect.