3 February 2005

United States Engagement Crucial for Strong, Successful United Nations, Says Deputy Secretary-General in Address to Women’s Foreign Policy Group

NEW YORK, 2 February (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the address as delivered today by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette to the Women’s Foreign Policy Group: “New Challenges for the United Nations” in Washington, D.C.:

Thank you, Paula, for that very kind introduction, and indeed for your presence here today. I am also very grateful to Patricia Ellis for inviting me to speak at the Women’s Foreign Policy Group, and to Kathy Bushkin and all at the United Nations Foundation for their work to make this event possible.  And thank you all for being here. I first spoke to this forum in 1998, soon after my appointment as Deputy Secretary-General, and I am very glad to be back.

When I spoke last time, I said, and it remains very true, that this forum’s goal of promoting women for leadership positions in international affairs is one that I had no difficulty whatsoever in identifying with. And here in the United States, where two of the last three Secretaries of State have been outstanding women, you are setting a good example -- something that we at the United Nations are also doing, though there is plenty of room for improvement.

I have come to speak to you today about the future of the United Nations. The United Nations is, of course, of great importance to the United States -- just as the United States is of great importance to the United Nations. A broad cross-section of American public opinion supports the principles and purposes of the United Nations. But many ask: Does the United Nations really work? Does it actually deliver? Or is it just an expensive talk-shop, a bloated bureaucracy full of windy bureaucrats?

In some ways, it may seem strange to ask that -- after all, today, around the world, the United Nations and the United States are working together in causes of great importance.

We saw some of the fruits of that cooperation last Sunday, when millions of Iraqis went to the polls to vote. These elections were held in less than ideal circumstances. But they were successful. The Iraqi people showed great courage in coming out to vote. The international and Iraqi forces made a vital contribution in ensuring a relatively safe and secure environment. And the technical preparations for the election were little short of heroic. I am proud of the work of the many dedicated United Nations staff, who worked over many months with the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq to help put in place the electoral system that was used on Sunday. Believe it or not, Iraq is now the ninety-fifth Member State which the United Nations has helped to conduct elections since 1992 -- a record of promoting democracy that should be more widely known.

The elections were an important landmark in Iraq’s political transition -- a transition that now must go forward. The United Nations is willing to expand its role, should the Iraqis ask us to do so. We are ready to help facilitate efforts to make the process of transition as inclusive as possible. We have technical expertise to offer the Iraqis as they draft their constitution. And we are available to help support an Iraq-wide media campaign to maximize transparency.

The United Nations also played a crucial role in the entire political transition in Afghanistan, including in the formation of the Afghan provisional government, the convening of the Loya Jirga, and the successful conduct of the recent presidential elections. There is still a lot to be done in Afghanistan, but it is on the right track, and we will continue our vital work there.

Today, United Nations peacekeeping operations are advancing the cause of peace all over the world -- from Haiti to Kosovo to Liberia to Sierra Leone. We have over 75,000 personnel deployed in 17 peacekeeping operations on four continents, and a significant number of special political missions in trouble spots around the world. We are now preparing for the likely deployment of an eighteenth peacekeeping operation in Sudan.

The United Nations is also spearheading an unprecedented global response to an unprecedented global catastrophe -- the Asian tsunami. With the coordination of the United Nations, the combined efforts of governments, international organizations and aid agencies have prevented an outbreak of deadly infectious disease that could have swept through the ravaged region and claimed many more lives. United Nations agencies have provided food to more than 1.1 million people, and clean water to half a million people.  Much of our work has relied on the generosity and logistical support of helpful governments, not least the United States. A very high priority is being given to transparency, so that donors can be confident their dollars are well spent. The Secretary-General is delighted that former President Clinton has agreed to serve as his Special Envoy for Tsunami-affected Countries, to help sustain world interest as we move forward in the task of helping rebuild destroyed infrastructure and livelihoods.

In all these endeavours, a United Nations framework brings legitimacy to international action and maximizes global cooperation. The United Nations also provides unrivalled expertise, often learned the hard way, on what works, and what does not, when the international community tries to help countries recover from the devastation of war or disaster.

Yet people still question the relevance of the United Nations, and harbour doubts about its effectiveness -- questions which were exacerbated by the divisions among Member States over the war in Iraq. Many who supported the Iraq war saw the Security Council’s failure to authorize action as symptomatic of the United Nations’ inability to provide a muscular response to today’s threats. Many who opposed the Iraq war were disillusioned that the United Nations appeared helpless to prevent it. Be that as it may, the consequence is clear:  people on all sides have lost some of their confidence in the United Nations.

That loss of confidence has, of course, been exacerbated by the allegations over the “oil-for-food” programme -- serious allegations that have cast a shadow over an operation that brought relief to millions of Iraqi civilians. The Secretary-General is determined to get to the bottom of these allegations -- and I will speak about them a little later. My point, for now, is that public confidence in the United Nations has taken a battering -- confidence that we must work hard to regain.

If that confidence is to be restored, 2005 needs to be a year when, either by or through the United Nations, some major issues are tackled head-on. In September this year, world leaders will gather in New York to put new energy into implementing the Millennium Declaration, adopted five years ago. When they meet, they will have before them, for decision, far-reaching proposals to promote peace and security and fight global poverty. And they will be asked to make decisions to renew the very architecture of the United Nations itself.

When the United Nations was set up in 1945, its primary goal was to stop aggression by any State against another. Sixty years later, the threats we face extend far beyond inter-State aggression. The attacks of September 11 were a deadly wake-up call -- and a warning of much greater dangers should we not act to forestall them. We face multiple threats that either did not exist, or were far less potent, when the United Nations was founded. They include not just wars between States, but wars within States, terrorism and organized crime, genocide and massive violations of human rights, the existence and spread of weapons of mass destruction, extreme poverty, environmental destruction, and killer diseases, such as HIV/AIDS.

Many of these threats can cross borders in an instant, and they are interconnected to an unprecedented degree. No State is insulated from them, and no State acting alone can meet them. That is why our collective defences are only as strong as their weakest link. We are living in a new world -- and we must act now to update our security thinking and strengthen our collective defences.

That is the message of the recent report, commissioned by the Secretary-General, entitled A More Secure World -- Our Shared Responsibility. It is the report of a High-Level Panel of 16 eminent men and women, including a distinguished American, Brent Scowcroft. The report makes 101 recommendations which, taken together, would form a new security consensus, and modernize the United Nations.

The very fact that a group of leading figures from the world’s major Powers, and indeed from all corners of the globe, could agree on such a blueprint should give us confidence. There is no reason why world leaders should not be able to do the same.

I will spare you a discussion of all 101 recommendations -- but I do wish to highlight a few of them.

First, the Panel calls for a stronger United Nations stance in the fight against terrorism. In the aftermath of 9-11, the Security Council swiftly passed resolution 1373, which imposed uniform, mandatory counter-terrorist obligations on all States, and established the Counter-Terrorism Committee to monitor compliance and facilitate technical assistance to States. But we still lack a comprehensive anti-terrorism convention, primarily because States have not, so far, been able to agree on a definition of terrorism. The Panel has now proposed a definition, covering any targeting of civilians and non-combatants designed to intimidate Governments or international organizations. The Secretary-General supports the Panel’s call for Member States to use that definition to enact a full anti-terrorism convention.  This would make clear that the United Nations has zero tolerance of terrorism.

The Panel also makes concrete proposals to tighten nuclear non-proliferation regimes and strengthen security against bioterrorism -- measures which, when combined with others which I will come to in a moment, would strengthen global efforts to prevent threats from arising in the first place.

But sometimes, prevention will fail. We need to find common ground on when and how we should decide that the use of force is required. I am not speaking here of self-defence. Under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, every State has the inherent right of self-defence, including the right to act if it faces an imminent threat. I am speaking of instances, not covered by the traditional understanding of self-defence, where a collective decision to use force may be necessary.

Take, for example, the threat of genocide and massive violations of human rights inside a State -- threats, alas, which are still with us. We cannot allow sovereignty to be used as a shield behind which States commit such atrocities. And we must have the political will to prevent such terrible crimes from happening -- something that was tragically lacking a decade ago in Rwanda. Where States fail to exercise their responsibility to protect their citizens, that duty must be assumed by the international community.  As the High-Level Panel noted, it would be a major step forward if United Nations Member States were to endorse the notion of a responsibility to protect.

This is not the only area where our understanding of when the use of force might be appropriate needs to evolve. In this day and age, the Security Council must be equally proactive in ensuring that other nightmare scenarios, such as a nuclear terrorist attack, do not unfold. It must stand ready to authorize force in appropriate circumstances.

Whatever the cause, the Panel suggests a number of guidelines to help make Security Council decisions more consistent -- something that would also, I believe, make Council decisions more respected and, therefore, more effective.

The Panel also calls for renewal of the institutions of the United Nations. The Security Council, for instance, reflects the world of 1945, not the twenty-first century. The Panel calls for expansion of the Security Council from 15 to 24, so that those who contribute most are represented on the Council, and the voices of all regions are heard. A more democratic world body is an important part of a more democratic world. At the same time, the Panel proposes that the veto not be extended so that decision-making will not be made more difficult.

We all know that Council reform will be difficult -- but it cannot be delayed indefinitely. I also wish to stress that United Nations reform is much larger than Security Council reform. The General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council need to modernize the ways they work, and focus on those areas where what they do truly adds value. We also need to strengthen the United Nations’ effectiveness in standing up for human rights. While the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights does sterling work on a shoestring budget, and is now led by my fellow Canadian, the talented and passionate Louise Arbour, the United Nations Human Rights Commission needs reform to be a more effective defender of human rights in all countries.

A particularly important recommendation is the Panel’s call for the creation of a United Nations peace-building commission. Even though peace-building is one of the most important contributions the United Nations makes to global security, the Organization lacks an institutional focus for its work in countries under stress or emerging from conflict. A peace-building commission would help the Organization draw together its political, peacekeeping, economic and human rights responses, and take a more holistic and strategic approach to the task of helping stabilize States that are sliding toward violent conflict or trying to emerge from its shadow.

The High-Level Panel report stresses the need for our world to get much more serious about combating global poverty.  After all, a world in which billions remain trapped in poverty will never be fully secure, even for its most privileged inhabitants.

The eight Millennium Development Goals agreed in 2000 are the benchmarks for measuring progress in development by 2015. They include:

-- Halving the proportion of people who suffer from extreme poverty and hunger;

-- Achieving universal primary schooling;

-- Increasing the power and status of women;

-- Slashing infant and maternal mortality;

-- Halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and malaria;

-- Getting all countries to ensure environmental sustainability; and

-- A global partnership between rich and poor countries, based on free and fair trade, debt relief, investment, and financial aid.

So far, overall progress towards the Goals has been too slow -- and many nations in Africa, in particular, are lagging behind. Yet, while the Goals might sound utopian, they are not. Our world can make big steps towards them, and countries can meet them.

If you doubt that, let me cite just one example:  important recent progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Three million people died of AIDS in 2004 alone. But just last week, the World Health Organization reported a 60 per cent jump in the number of people receiving treatment in the developing world in the last six months alone.  That is the direct result of a huge influx of international development aid and the growing determination of governments to combat the pandemic.

Africa is the region hardest hit by AIDS -- but even in Africa, there are important success stories.  In Senegal, for instance, a national AIDS programme, strongly backed by the country’s religious leaders, including Muslim clerics, has kept infection rates to below 2 per cent. And in Uganda, the Government’s “big noise” campaign means that virtually every man, woman and child now knows what it takes to avoid infection.

For those of you particularly interested in development, as I think all of us engaged in foreign policy simply must be, I commend to you a report commissioned by the Secretary-General and issued a few weeks ago -- the Report of the Millennium Project. The report is not only very readable -- it is an enormous intellectual contribution to the development debate, and a global call to arms.

The report proposes a host of affordable initiatives that would have a quick and measurable impact in reducing poverty -- from mass distribution of inexpensive malaria bed-nets, to ending relatively modest user fees for education, to expansion of school meal programmes, to replenishment of soil nutrients on small farms.

If we are to make greater inroads in global poverty, both poor and rich countries have responsibilities to meet. Poor countries must show real determination to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, embrace good governance and promote private sector investment. Rich countries must act to provide debt relief, access to markets, and increased development aid.

It is heartening that a number of donor governments have now put forward concrete plans to reach the international goal of devoting 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Product to official development assistance. I hope more rich countries will follow suit. If they do, our world can begin to lift poverty from the backs of billions. This would be the smartest investment that we could make, bar none, to make our world not just fairer, but safer.

I have spoken about the challenges before Member States in 2005 -- but we in the Secretariat know that we must act, too. Since assuming office, Secretary-General Annan has instituted a quiet revolution at the United Nations. In everything from budget to peacekeeping to human resources, the Secretariat is today more modern and better coordinated than before, and is more effective when entrusted with complex tasks by Member States. But more remains to be done. The Secretary-General is preparing further management reforms, which he will announce shortly. Some he will be able to act on himself. Others will require support and decisions from Member States.

We are also expecting, tomorrow, the first report of the independent investigation led by the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve of the United States, Paul Volcker, into the allegations surrounding the oil-for-food programme. It is very important to find out what happened and why; to hold any wrongdoers accountable; and to introduce whatever changes are needed to ensure proper oversight and accountability in the future. We hope there will be greater clarity on these matters once the first Volcker report comes out.  The Secretary-General is firmly committed to acting on its findings.

So 2005 is a big year for the United Nations. After a period of deep division, heavy criticism, sober reflection and careful analysis, we must turn a new page. In the period ahead, the United Nations and its members face big challenges:

-- Can they build a collective security system capable of meeting the challenges of the twenty-first century?

-- Can they make the smart investments that will eradicate global poverty and free billions of people from the scourge of hunger and disease?

-- And can the United Nations itself be updated and renewed?

I am realistic enough to know that this is a very ambitious agenda. But I sense, on all sides, a new understanding that division is in no one’s interest, and only allows the threats and challenges we face to grow.

I also know that the Secretary-General is determined to do everything he can to help to bring about the changes I have spoken about, and to make the United Nations as effective and accountable as it can, and must, be.

I do not need to tell any of you how important the role of the United States will be in moving forward the process of renewal and reform. US vision and values helped give birth to the United Nations, and America’s engagement has always been crucial for a strong and successful United Nations. That remains true today, and it will be true tomorrow.

I am quietly hopeful that real progress is possible in 2005. I believe the United Nations’ best days are ahead of it. And I hope that, after my remarks today, you do too.

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