Press Releases

    28 January 2004

    International Community Must Address Challenges to UN Charter Principles, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Asian Security Conference in New Delhi

    NEW YORK, 27 January (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text, as delivered, of the keynote address by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette to the Sixth IDSA Asian Security Conference in New Delhi:

    Let me thank you very warmly for inviting me to this Conference.  It is a pleasure to be in India.  Here, in the most populous parliamentary democracy in the world, with its rich tapestry of people and full gamut of problems, the principles and the work of the United Nations gain real meaning.

    India has made an enormous contribution to the United Nations, through the efforts of its Government, and the work of Indian scholars, soldiers and international civil servants.  The first woman to preside over the General Assembly -- one of only two, I might add -- was an Indian, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit.  For decades, India has been an articulate voice of the developing world in shaping the UN agenda.  Indians have served in more than 25 UN peacekeeping missions on four continents, and over 100 Indian soldiers have laid down their lives in the cause of peace.  This is a roll of honour of which Indians should be proud, and for which the United Nations is deeply grateful.

    So we at the United Nations think of India as a source of inspiration and support, and as a powerful advocate for developing countries.  But New York is a very long way from New Delhi, and despite the admirable work of your excellent Permanent Representative -- my good friend, Vijay Nambiar -- we often feel that we are not interacting quite as closely and intensely with this country, or indeed this region, as we would wish.

    So I am truly glad to have the chance to exchange ideas with the distinguished group of people gathered here, from India itself and from all over Asia.

    The theme you have chosen for this Conference -- the United Nations, Multilateralism and International Security -- is very topical.  And it is a theme on which, naturally, I have a good deal to say.

    What I should like to do in the next few minutes is to sketch for you the recent developments in the international security system; to explain how the United Nations is responding to them; and then to suggest what the main challenges are that the international community needs to address.

    The Changing Security Agenda

    Few would deny that the attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September 2001 marked the beginning of a new era in international security, or perhaps we should say insecurity.  As the Secretary-General put it in his Nobel lecture just three months later, we “entered the new millennium through a gate of fire”.

    I would say there are three particularly noticeable changes.

    First, terrorism, and the possible use by terrorists of weapons of mass destruction, has come to dominate the agenda of the United States, and also the European Union as reflected in the European Security Agenda.  Of course, terrorism has long been a serious threat, including for many developing countries -- not least India.  But since 9/11, the heightened concern about terrorism among many of the world’s most powerful countries has changed the security landscape.

    Secondly, in dealing with new threats, some leaders of the main Powers find little time, and meagre resources, to deal with other threats to peace and security.  Yet there are still conflicts fought with “conventional” weapons, often within rather than between States.

    And there is still a range of other dangers -- such as poverty, hunger, disease, crime, poor governance and environmental degradation -- which cause most of the suffering in the world, and which, to one extent or another, can contribute to the conditions which make war or terrorism -- or both -- more likely.

    And thirdly, under the weight of this range of old and new challenges, the normative framework established with the United Nations Charter in 1945 is under strain -- especially the rules governing the use of force by States.  I don’t mean to imply that these rules were consistently followed by all States between 1945 and 2001.  Obviously not.  But seldom, if ever, have the basic principles of the Charter been so directly challenged.

    The UN Response

    The United Nations is certainly playing its part in the global response to all three of these challenges.  And I would argue that in all three areas it is able to draw on earlier experience as it seeks to adapt to new circumstances.

    Certainly, neither international terrorism nor the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is a new issue for the United Nations.

    The UN has a long-standing involvement in efforts to combat terrorism. Traditionally, this was approached through establishing international norms that treated terrorism as a crime.  But already in the 1990s, and especially after the attacks on US embassies in Africa in 1998, the Organization began to consider terrorism as a serious threat to international peace and security, and the Security Council began to impose sanctions on States that it had reason to believe were sponsoring or giving sanctuary to international terrorists.

    Clearly, the attacks of September 11 obliged the Council to move into higher gear, and to refine its approach, partly in response to growing evidence of terrorist networks that were not directly linked to any specific State.  The immediate result was the adoption of Security Council resolution 1373, which imposed binding obligations on all States to take steps to prevent terrorism and its financing, and established the Counter-Terrorism Committee, which has become the main vehicle for ensuring compliance.

    This Committee seeks to ensure that Member States have the necessary legislation and executive machinery in place to comply with the requirements of resolution 1373.  It also aims to improve the flow of information on international best practices, codes and standards in counter-terrorism, and to ensure that States which need assistance in this area receive it.

     The Committee plays an important role in helping the international community address more effectively the linkages between terrorism, money-laundering and organized crime, which are among the most serious challenges to security and peace in our era.

    In addition, the United Nations has made an important contribution to the struggle against terrorism through the political and technical assistance it has given to Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban regime.  We all recognize the importance of preventing Afghanistan from relapsing into chaos, which would allow it once again to become a haven for terrorists.  This battle is by no means yet won, but the UN has played and is playing a major part in it, by helping Afghans to move, through a complex constitutional process, towards a stable and representative form of government.

    Weapons proliferation is likewise a long-standing concern of the United Nations.  In fact, the Organization’s aims in this area go beyond mere containment:  the long-term objective is disarmament, to rid the world completely of all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.  In recent years, the lesser but related goal of preventing proliferation, especially of nuclear weapons, has been an increasing concern, along with the fear that chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons may be acquired and used by non-State actors.

    The nuclear non-proliferation regime is a vitally important part of these efforts.  Of course, by itself the regime could not completely prevent nuclear weapons from spreading -- not only because it might not be possible to prevent some States from violating their legal commitments not to acquire these weapons, but also because a small number of countries, including this one, were unwilling to accede to a Non-Proliferation Treaty that they saw as discriminatory.

    However, by acceding to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, parties not only subscribe to a regime to outlaw the spread of nuclear weapons.  They also subscribe to a regime aimed at providing sufficient transparency to identify potential problem cases.  And they commit themselves, under article VI of the treaty, to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

    I recognize that many in this audience believe that such good-faith negotiations have not been forthcoming.  But that does not invalidate the aspiration.

    Of course, the need to deal with terrorism and weapons of mass destruction does not make any less important a range of more conventional threats -- threats which the developing world feels most acutely.  In addressing these threats, the United Nations is heavily engaged in peace operations around the world.

    In the Balkans, we have been able to bring our missions in Bosnia and Prevlaka to a successful conclusion, while continuing to provide stability in Kosovo, where the Security Council has given us ultimate responsibility for all aspects of civilian administration.

    In 2002, we were also able to bring Timor-Leste to full independence, and had the satisfaction of seeing it take its seat in the General Assembly as our 191st Member State.

    Our mission in Sierra Leone is now downsizing with a view to withdrawal, after the end of the RUF insurgency and an election generally acknowledged to have been free and fair as well as peaceful.

    In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the foreign armies have now withdrawn, a Government of National Unity has been established, and the UN mission is helping to stabilize the country as it moves -- still hesitantly -- towards lasting peace.

    Indeed, almost wherever in Africa there is hope of ending a conflict -- and that is now true in quite a few countries -- we find that the United Nations is called on to deploy its peacekeeping and peace-building experience.  We now have an important mission in Liberia; discussions are continuing on a possible UN-led operation in Côte d’Ivoire; we are also likely to be asked to help the parties implement a peace agreement in the Sudan; and there may well be calls for a mission in Burundi, if the present hopes of peace there are fulfilled.

    Our ability to meet the peace-keeping demands placed on us has been strengthened by the response of Member States to the Brahimi report.  Our missions are better integrated, we are able to deploy more rapidly, and we are doing a better job of ensuring that lessons are learned for future operations. An important component of these reforms was the improvement of our stand-by arrangements and on-call lists of troops and civilian police.  As you may know, the head of our Civilian Police Division is an Indian -- indeed, another Indian woman -- Kiran Bedi.

    But despite this improvement, the rising demand for UN peace operations risks overstretching not only our capacity to manage such missions, but also the resources that Member States are able or willing to make available.  Already there has been a marked shift in the composition of our peacekeeping forces, with the share provided by OECD countries declining and that of developing countries rising.

    I would be sorely remiss if I did not here acknowledge the role of India -- which, along with Pakistan and Bangladesh, now provides the bulk of non-African peacekeepers deployed in Africa, and is thus one of the few hold-outs against a trend towards the regionalization of peacekeeping.  The nations of this region have played critical roles in many difficult and dangerous UN missions -- and their ongoing commitment to peacekeeping is something the Secretary-General deeply values, and that our Organization sorely needs.

    Regional arrangements for maintaining peace and security are, of course, envisaged in Chapter VIII of the UN Charter, and it certainly makes sense for Europeans to take the lead in peace operations in the Balkans.  But the fact is that resources are not distributed among the world’s regions in the same proportion as needs, and there is a manifest imbalance between the 30,000 NATO peacekeepers deployed in tiny Kosovo and the 10,000 UN peacekeepers deployed in Congo, which is the size of Western Europe, and where some 3.5 million people may have died as a result of fighting since 1998.  If the United Nations stands for anything, it must surely be for greater solidarity between strong and wealthy nations on the one hand and relatively weak and poor ones on the other.

    Such solidarity is not only a matter of peacekeeping.  The United Nations is also the forum where, in the millennium year, leaders from all over the world assembled and pledged, in the Millennium Declaration, to “spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty, to which more than a billion of them are currently subjected”. 

    Nor did they content themselves with such a broad and general declaration of intent.  Instead they broke it down into a number of specific time-bound pledges, which have become known as the Millennium Development Goals.

    Unhappily, the commitment to follow through on these Goals has been uneven, resulting in a loss of momentum in the drive to attain them.  It has fallen to the UN Secretariat, and especially the Secretary-General, to act as advocate for giving them renewed urgency.

     His efforts in this respect are tireless, particularly in the struggle to halt and reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS.  I only hope that the world will listen to him, so that, as we adapt to the new threats and new landscape in which we live, we do not do so at the expense of dealing with equally urgent challenges, many of which are felt acutely by billions on this planet.  As you in this capital know so well, we must meet the challenges posed by terrorism and poverty simultaneously, and with equal vigour.  In working on each, we strengthen our response to the other.

    All this vital work will be jeopardized if the framework within which it happens is weakened.  As an international community, we therefore must address the challenges that have arisen to our normative framework and the principles of the Charter.  And here it goes without saying that the United Nations does so by drawing on its earlier experience and history.

    It would be unthinkable for us to jettison the bedrock principles of collective security on which the Organization was founded, and which constitute its very raison d’être.  But we should be equally untrue to ourselves if we fell back on a “strict constructionist” reading of the Charter and denied any need to find new ways of applying our principles in changing times.

    The truth is that the peoples of the world have always made best use of the United Nations when they were most creative in adapting its rules and mechanisms to the needs of the hour.  For example, peacekeeping itself -- which has come to be widely recognised as the trademark activity of the UN -- is not mentioned in the Charter at all.  It was improvised, within the broad framework of the Charter, first as a way of stabilizing regional conflicts during the cold war and then, from the late 1980s onwards, as a much more complex range of tasks associated with rebuilding institutions and recreating trust in societies emerging from conflict.

    We need to be equally creative in addressing the new challenges of the twenty-first century.  This is an issue on which the Secretary-General has sought to set the agenda.  But the necessary changes can only be made through a consensus of Member States, urged on and backed up by a broad global movement of civil society.  It is in the hope of forging such a consensus that the Secretary-General recently named a High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change.  And it is to that agenda that I wish to devote the final part of my talk.

    Challenges and Change

    Not all the questions we need to answer are related to terrorism or weapons of mass destruction, and not all of them have surfaced only since 2001.  Already in the 1990s we had to debate very difficult questions, as we witnessed atrocities committed against the civilian population in a series of domestic conflicts. 

    When the government of a sovereign State subjects its own citizens to genocide, ethnic cleansing or other comparably grave violations of their human rights, does the international community have to look on passively, or should it intervene?

    Is State sovereignty an absolute, immutable principle, or should one judge it by its success in achieving its ostensible objective, which is the security of the State’s population?  Do we have, as the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty put it, a “responsibility to protect”, when does it arise, and what does it entail?

    And if the international community does decide to intervene, do we have the necessary resources?  Can we live up to our ambitions?

    To these questions the post “9/11” context, and the war in Iraq, have added new ones -- but ones that raise some of the same issues.

    It is asked, for instance, whether the inherent right of self-defence, enshrined in Article 51 of the Charter, can any longer be limited to the time when an armed attack occurs, or even when one is imminent.  Some say this is no longer tenable, since an “armed attack” with weapons of mass destruction could be launched at any time, without warning, or by a clandestine group.

    Rather than wait for that to happen, they argue, States have the right and obligation to use force pre-emptively, even on the territory of other States, and even while weapons systems that might be used to attack them are still being developed.

    According to this argument, States are not obliged to wait until there is agreement in the Security Council.  Instead, they reserve the right to act unilaterally, or in ad hoc coalitions.

    It is not difficult to see that this logic represents a fundamental challenge to the principles on which, however imperfectly, world peace and stability have rested for nearly six decades, and could easily lead to a proliferation of the unilateral and lawless use of force, with or without justification.

    But saying that will not get us very far, unless we also face up the concerns that drive some States to take unilateral action.  The Charter is not a suicide pact.  States cannot be expected to adhere to it unless they are convinced that genuine threats will genuinely be dealt with by collective action.

    In a way this is the same issue as the one we faced in the 1990s, even if the context is different.  Whether the concern is a humanitarian one -- a sense of obligation to halt or prevent the massacre of large numbers of people -- or one of self-preservation from a sneak attack with deadly weapons, it is clearly, in the minds of those who feel it, a categorical imperative that cannot be ignored.  If it is not addressed collectively, within the framework of the Charter, another response will be found.

    Therefore, it is incumbent on those of us who believe firmly in the need to preserve and strengthen our collective security system to prove that that system can deal effectively with those concerns.

    That is the essential task of the High-Level Panel, which has been widely referred to -- but misleadingly -- as a panel on “UN reform”.  It may indeed propose changes in the rules and mechanisms of the United Nations -- including, of course, to the Security Council itself, the expansion of which is long overdue.  But if so, those changes will be a means to an end, not the end itself.  The object of the exercise is to find a credible and convincing collective answer to the challenges of our time.

    I am very glad that a distinguished Indian thinker and practitioner of peace and security, General Satish Nambiar, is a member of this Panel, because I am sure that India has a vital contribution to make to this crucial reflection on some of the most urgent problems of world order.

    I have talked quite a lot about the United Nations, and about international security.  I’m not sure if I have mentioned multilateralism by name, but I believe all my remarks have been informed by a profound belief in that approach.  We live in an increasingly interconnected world, in which no nation -- even the most powerful -- can solve all its problems by itself.  I am absolutely convinced that many of the tasks confronting us can be accomplished only by working through multilateral mechanisms, among which the United Nations, by virtue of its global reach, is surely pre-eminent.  But multilateralism will not just happen.

    It requires an enormous effort of will, by many people in many countries, to define common purposes and forge a common strategy for achieving them.  It is in that effort that the United Nations is now engaged.  Its success depends on the commitment and creativity of people like yourselves, in every region of the world.  As I look around this hall, I believe we have no reason to despair.

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