11 November 2005
Though Imperfect, United Nations Has Unique Worldwide Legitimacy, Capacity to Deliver, Deputy Secretary-General Says in Davey Lecture on Reform
She Outlines Organization's Evolving Role as Changing World Poses New Challenges; Sets Out what Remains to Be Done
NEW YORK, 10 November (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the Davey Lecture delivered by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette in Toronto yesterday, 9 November, on the topic "The United Nations at 60: Too Old to Reform?":
It is a great pleasure to join you, and an honour to deliver this year's annual Davey Lecture. I am very grateful to the friends and colleagues of Keith Davey for endowing an occasion which gives me a wonderful opportunity to talk to a group of fellow Canadians about one of my favourite questions: whether the United Nations, which has just celebrated its sixtieth birthday, is too old to reform.
This is not a new question. At regular intervals, Governments and pundits alike call on the UN to "reform or else". And, invariably, the UN is described as an intrinsically ineffective and static bureaucracy.
According to that caricature, the Organization is impervious to the forces of the "real world"; and the resolutions adopted by the General Assembly or the Security Council always represent the lowest common denominator, are deliberately designed to have few or no "teeth", and simply perpetuate the status quo. And the UN is also accused of being opaque, keeping its deliberations under wraps, and resisting any form of public scrutiny. But the charge that it is incapable of change is probably the most damaging.
So, is UN reform a hopeless pursuit? Is the UN really so impervious to change?
Before answering those questions, I should point out that the word "reform" in this context means different things to different people. Those who call for reform of the United Nations may do so because they believe any or all of the following propositions:
-- that the current policies of the UN are not adequate to meet the challenges of our world as it is today;
-- that the Organization's energies and resources are not being spent on the "right" priorities (and I need not tell you that this view can be held concurrently with a wide range of different opinions on what those priorities should be);
-- that the composition and procedures of the UN's decision-making organs -- especially the Security Council -- do not adequately reflect the realities of today's world;
-- that the various UN entities are not as effective and well coordinated as they should be;
-- that the Secretariat is poorly managed and insufficiently careful about the way it spends the Member States' money;
-- or, finally, that the Organization is not meeting the highest standards of ethics and accountability.
As far as I am concerned, all of these propositions have some basis in truth. Reform is, and has to be, about all of them.
In the next 40 minutes or so, I propose to illustrate how, and how much, the UN has, in fact, changed in the course of its history -- and particularly since the end of the cold war. Then I will review the results of the September Summit, and conclude with a brief look into the future.
The creation of the United Nations Organization in 1945 was an extraordinary act of vision and statesmanship. The suffering inflicted on millions upon millions of people during two world wars had convinced the founding fathers that only a common commitment to a system of collective security, based on freely accepted principles and rules, would preserve the world from similar carnage in the future.
The Charter is, to this day, an inspiring document. It contains all the key concepts that continue to be the essential prerequisites for a peaceful and stable world: peaceful settlement of disputes, economic and social advancement of people, and respect for human rights.
But the application of these concepts in international relations has, of course, evolved considerably as circumstances have changed over the years.
In the first decades of its existence, the Organization contributed powerfully to the elaboration of international norms in all sectors of human activity -- from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the binding conventions that have followed it, to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Law of the Sea Convention.
Decolonization was a major enterprise successfully concluded.
Peacekeeping -- not mentioned in the Charter --- was a brilliant improvisation, in which Canada's Lester Pearson played a decisive part.
And the humanitarian and development work of the Organization took on new dimensions, as former colonies, many of them desperately poor, became sovereign UN Members, and conflicts -- many of them post-colonial, but prolonged and aggravated by great-Power rivalry -- caused widespread hardship and large numbers of refugees around the world.
The division of the world into two blocs, which the founders had failed to foresee, severely circumscribed, however, the potential for the Security Council to play the role they had envisaged. Indeed, during this period, many crises -- for instance, the Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia and the wars in Viet Nam and Afghanistan -- were kept off the Council's agenda altogether because one or more of its permanent members were directly involved. It was the paralysis of the Council that led to the adoption of the "uniting for peace procedure", and its use by the General Assembly during the Suez crisis of 1956.
To most Governments at that time, and for two or three decades thereafter, absolute respect for the sovereignty of States seemed the best protection against disorder, and the very fact that this principle was repeatedly violated in the context of rivalries between the two blocs served to strengthen that conviction.
But, at the end of the 1980s, two new phenomena transformed the international scene, and the UN with it: the end of the cold war, and globalization.
The end of the cold war unblocked the Security Council, by making it possible for the permanent members to reach agreement on a much wider range of issues, at the very time when globalization was making the national frontiers more porous and multiplying the range of non-State actors -- from non-governmental organizations and multinational corporations to crime syndicates and terrorist groups -- who play a part in international relations. If anyone doubts the capacity of the UN to change and innovate, they need only look at the variety of ways in which it has responded to these changes in the world since around 1990.
In the first 45 years of the UN's history, only 13 peacekeeping operations were set up. In the 15 years since then, twice that number have been deployed. And the change has been qualitative, as well as quantitative.
During the cold war, most peacekeeping operations involved a simple interposition of soldiers between the armed forces of warring States, to monitor the observance of a ceasefire, pending the negotiation of a peace agreement. In many cases, this had the unintended effect of reducing pressure on the parties to make the necessary compromises, with the result that the peacekeepers were left in place much longer than originally envisaged. (The exceptions that prove this rule were the highly complex operation in the Congo in the early 1960s and, to a lesser extent, the deployment in southern Lebanon from 1978 onwards.)
Today, a high proportion of the conflicts in which the Security Council decides to intervene are essentially internal to a single Member State, even if they often have repercussions, and sometimes causes, beyond its borders. Côte d'Ivoire, Burundi, Liberia and Haiti are all current examples of such situations in which a UN peacekeeping mission is deployed.
Such operations are almost always complex missions charged with restoring institutions, organizing elections, training the police, etc., after a civil war, in implementation of a peace agreement already reached between the parties. Lessons have been learnt from the traumatic failures in Somalia and Bosnia in the early 1990s. The Security Council is now aware of the dangers involved in deploying peacekeeping troops in situations where there is no peace to keep, but also of the fact that armed factions in civil wars often have less discipline and unity of command than the regular armed forces of States engaged in international war. As a result, it typically gives UN peacekeeping forces a mandate under Chapter VII -- the "enforcement" section of the Charter -- which allows and indeed requires them to use force not only in their own defence, but also to deal with armed elements that threaten the civilian population, ignoring agreements signed by their putative leaders. We call this "robust" peacekeeping.
Over the past 15 years, variations on this new model have helped bring peace to quite a few countries, including Mozambique, El Salvador, Sierra Leone, and today Burundi. They have not created a paradise anywhere, but the populations of those countries are much better off than they were -- and they now have at least a chance to consolidate peace and develop their economies by their own efforts.
An even more striking innovation occurred in 1999, when the UN was asked not just to keep or consolidate the peace but actually to take over the Government of two territories: East Timor -- which a UN-mandated transitional administration shepherded through to independence in 2002 -- and Kosovo, where the UN is still in charge of the non-military aspects of government, but talks on the territory's final status are now about to start.
But peacekeeping is not the only tool to which a less divided Security Council has had more frequent recourse. The 1990s also saw a proliferation of UN economic sanctions -- sometimes accompanying the use of armed force, more often intended to influence the behaviour of recalcitrant States or non-State actors without going to that extreme. The most famous and certainly the most draconian example was the regime imposed on Iraq from 1990 to 2003, which effectively deprived that country of any legal source of income and thereby cut if off from the rest of the world economy. From that experience, the international community learned that such comprehensive sanctions, if maintained for any length of time, are even more punitive for the civilian population than for the government at which they are aimed. It was, of course, the effort to find a way out of this dilemma that led the Council to adopt the oil-for-food programme, which did succeed in restoring and maintaining a minimum standard of living for most Iraqis, but at a political and moral cost that has only this year been fully exposed. Personally, I doubt if such a regime will ever again be adopted, but the Council has meanwhile been experimenting with more sophisticated and carefully targeted types of sanction, such as travel bans and the freezing of bank accounts of individuals.
Another area where the UN has shown itself capable of considerable innovation in the last 15 years is that of criminal justice. The appalling crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda led the Security Council to set up two ad hoc international tribunals, one of which has been the first international court to convict people (including a former prime minister) of genocide, while the other has been the first to indict and try a former Head of State. These courts marked a major step forward in the long struggle against impunity for the most heinous crimes, but their proceedings have been both long drawn-out and very expensive. Learning from their experience has led to two further major innovations.
One is the creation of mixed tribunals, in Sierra Leone and Cambodia -- a model which allows a war-torn country to take responsibility for judging its own war criminals, with international involvement to ensure that global standards of justice are observed. This model will almost certainly be followed, and refined, in other countries in the years ahead.
The other, more spectacular innovation is, of course, the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC). This is not an organ of the United Nations, but the UN convened and serviced the international conference which adopted the Rome Statute in 1998, and the Secretary-General is the depositary of instruments of ratification, the hundredth of which has just been received. That means that not only has the Court been duly constituted but also its jurisdiction is now recognized by well over half the Members of the United Nations. A Relationship Agreement between the UN and the Court came into force late last year, and just yesterday, for the first time, the President of the Court, our compatriot Philippe Kirsch, presented a report on its activities to the General Assembly. As I'm sure you know, the Rome Statute allows the UN Security Council to refer situations to the Court, and in March this year it made the first such referral, relating to the situation in Darfur. Following this, in June, the ICC's Chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has opened an investigation. All these, I think, are significant examples of the UN adapting itself and its practices to meet the needs of new situations.
Another example is the multiplication of human rights monitoring missions. These are now component parts of all UN peacekeeping missions, as well as being deployed separately in such countries as Colombia and Nepal. Human rights are today more central to the actions of the UN than at any previous time in its history. The post of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was established in 1993, and its present occupant -- another compatriot of ours, Louise Arbour -- has now embarked on an ambitious reform plan to reflect the fact that her Office has moved from being simply an advocate and a support to the deliberative work of the intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights to become a dynamic operational entity, which deploys and supports hundreds of human rights workers around the world.
Finally, yet another new reality, to which the UN has had to respond in recent years, is the growth of international terrorism. Already before "9/11", the Security Council had imposed sanctions on Al-Qaida, and set up a special committee to monitor its activities. But immediately after the attack on the United States, the Council went much further with the historic resolution 1373, which imposed stringent obligations on all countries, established a list of terrorist organizations and individuals, and created the Counter-Terrorism Committee -- now serviced by a Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate within the Secretariat -- both to monitor Member States' compliance and to help them bolster their capacity to enact and implement anti-terrorist legislation.
In short, over the decades and especially in the last decade and a half, the UN has proved to be a surprisingly flexible instrument, to which its Member States can and do turn for an incredible array of functions.
That is why it was asked to shepherd Afghanistan's transition from the anarchic, medieval wasteland of the Taliban and the warlords to the still struggling but hopeful nascent democracy that it is today. The UN-mediated Bonn Process put together the Interim Government. The UN-convened Loya Jirga set the basis for an Afghan Constitution. And in UN-run elections, Afghans have now, for the first time, freely elected their President and Parliament.
It is also why, despite all the acrimony surrounding the Security Council's refusal to endorse the US military action in Iraq in 2003, the UN was asked a year later to choose the Interim Government of Iraq, and this year to help organize the elections and referendum. Indeed, the UN now has unparallel expertise in electoral matters. In the past 12 years, it has supported democratic elections in half the world's nations.
That, again, is why this year it was the UN that was asked to verify the withdrawal of Syria from Lebanon and, for the first time ever, to carry out a full criminal investigation into the assassination of a former prime minister -- a task it is performing with all the toughness, thoroughness and fairness that this delicate task requires in a highly charged political environment.
That is why we now have over 70,000 soldiers deployed in missions, more than any country other than the United States.
The world turns to the UN for such tasks because the Organization has unique worldwide legitimacy and, imperfect though it may be, has the capacity to deliver. Building or rebuilding viable institutions in a post-conflict environment is a daunting task for any entity, whether national or international. It was, therefore, interesting -- and for me, highly gratifying -- to read a recent study by the RAND Corporation which found that the UN does this so-called "nation-building" work better than anyone else.
Am I saying that the UN is fine as it is? Absolutely not -- and I will come in a moment to the issue of further reform. But what I am saying is that the UN's record in the last 10 years or so has been a lot better than one would think, and shows that the UN can and does change, that lessons are both learnt and applied. The Brahimi Report on UN peace operations five years ago led to the introduction of major reforms and strengthened our capacity to manage large peacekeeping missions. The UN peacekeeping budget now stands at $5 billion a year -- not an insignificant sum but, compared to the cost of war and chaos, a very cost-effective way of bringing security and hope to hundreds of millions of people. The UN Peacekeeping Department's ratio of 130 personnel in the field for every one at Headquarters is much higher than any that of any other organization. In fact, if truth be told, it is too low for comfort.
The UN has also improved significantly its capacity to provide humanitarian relief during the natural and man-made catastrophes which seem to be an increasingly common feature of our era. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Food Programme, and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) are central to any humanitarian response, and have an impressive rapid-response capacity -- not to mention the courageous and highly experienced people they can deploy anywhere in the world.
And besides providing relief itself, the UN is now almost universally recognized as the most experienced coordinator of relief work by others in disaster zones. That is why the world turned to the UN to coordinate the relief effort after the tsunami, and why President Bush invited the UN to help in Louisiana and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.
Needless to say, this many-faceted frontline role has had its costs, particularly in the sad shape of casualties, both military and civilian. This, too, is a "new reality" to which the UN has recently had to adapt by reforming its staff security system and acquiring a more professional capacity to protect its people in the field.
Meanwhile, the UN has also taken a leading role in the global fight against HIV/AIDS. It was the initiative of the Secretary-General in 2001 that created momentum to unify the international efforts, and led to the creation of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The resources mobilized have gone from less than $1 billion to more than $8 billion in five short years, and the number of people in Africa with access to antiretroviral treatment for AIDS has risen from 25,000 in 2001 to 500,000 today -- though, alas, this is only 11 per cent of the number who need it.
Now avian flu is presenting a new challenge to the world. The UN system, through the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), is again playing a leading role. The Secretary-General has appointed a Special Coordinator, and the whole UN system is being mobilized to ensure that countries are prepared to respond, in case prevention fails and a pandemic develops.
The UN is also rallying the world in the fight against poverty and all its attendant miseries, from illiteracy to child mortality. The Millennium Development Goals, adopted at the Millennium Summit five years ago, set out clear objectives for the year 2015 in the global effort to roll back poverty and disease, enable women to play their essential role in development, and to safeguarding our global environment. They have proved a powerful tool for mobilizing public support and coordinating the efforts of all the many actors in the development field. That this was possible is due, in large part, to the enormous efforts made, since Kofi Annan took office as Secretary-General nine years ago, to bring the fragmented UN system -- including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) -- to work more closely together.
To conclude this long list of ways that the UN has changed in the last 15 years, I must mention its direct engagement with those non-State actors that are potential partners in achieving its objectives.
The present Secretary-General has engaged the private sector through the Global Compact, which challenges corporations to meet their responsibilities as global citizens. Since he launched the Compact at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 1999, nearly 2,000 businesses and leaders of prominent civil society and labour organizations have joined. The initiative has spurred corporate social responsibility initiatives, promoted new outlooks on the public role of business in developing countries, and improved the dialogue between civil society and the private sector.
At the same time, the UN has forged partnerships with leading philanthropists such as Ted Turner and Bill Gates. It has co-opted leading pharmaceutical companies in the battle to find vaccines and to provide antiretroviral drugs to people in poor countries, and leading information technology companies in the battle to bridge the digital divide and enlist new communications technologies in the cause of development.
And the same period has seen unprecedented cooperation between the UN and non-governmental organizations, which have been enlisted as partners: first, in advocating for policy changes and to get higher priority given to urgent global issues; second, in actually delivering humanitarian relief and development assistance on the ground; and third, in defining the development and environmental agenda by playing a major role in policy formation at both the national and the intergovernmental levels.
In short, a great deal has changed in the last decade or so. The UN of today would be unrecognizable to the founders of 1945. Yet, despite all this, two years ago the Secretary-General felt obliged to tell the membership that the Organization had reached "a fork in the road", and that major reform was needed. Why?
First, there were serious divisions among Member States on fundamental issues arising out of the Iraq war -- notably about the circumstances in which it is legitimate for States to resort to the use of force.
Secondly -- and relatedly -- there was a need to develop an appropriate policy framework and tools to meet the new threats to international peace and security.
Thirdly, the UN's decision-making processes needed to be overhauled, so as to better reflect the realities of the twenty-first century.
And fourthly, it was important to address serious shortcomings in the UN's management system, and to equip the Secretariat with the managerial tools it needed to run effectively the big, complex missions with which, increasingly, it found itself entrusted.
To push this agenda forward, the Secretary-General established two expert panels to examine security threats and development, respectively. Both reported in the course of last winter.
The report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change is perhaps the most comprehensive, coherent and realistic set of proposals for improving global security ever presented to the United Nations. And the report of the Millennium Project on "Investing in Development" sets out, in a similarly impressive way, what more needs to be done, both within developing countries and at the global level, to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by the target year of 2015. The Secretary-General drew on both reports in putting together his own agenda for change, the "In Larger Freedom" report, which appeared in March.
His proposals deliberately covered a broad canvas -- because he is convinced that development, security and human rights are not only vital ends in themselves, but also depend on each other, and also because he recognized that each Member State would be more likely to support the priorities of others if it saw that its own priorities were being given equal weight.
In the lead-up to the September World Summit, some observers were predicting that the agenda would collapse under its own weight, amid acrimony and division. Indeed, on some important items -- most notably, the proposed reform of the Security Council -- consensus could not be reached. Yet, the outcome was by no means negligible.
Let me first draw your attention to the Summit's achievements in the area of development -- which for most Member States is by far the most important. The Summit stimulated important commitments, from both donor and developing countries, to take actions to advance the Millennium Development Goals. It focused on the importance of governance and economic growth, as well as an enabling world environment, in achieving these results. And it called for some important measures to improve coherence and coordination among different UN agencies.
Indeed, I wonder how so many people can call the Summit a failure, when it clearly endorsed the Millennium Development Goals, and prompted a doubling of aid to Africa, as well as commitments from many donors -- but regrettably not, as yet, Canada -- to timetables for scaling up their overall development assistance to 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product. If progress continues, I think there is real hope that this will be remembered as the decisive moment when mankind at last broke out of the vicious cycle of global poverty.
Particularly important was President Bush's statement at the Summit, in which he not only gave strong endorsement to the Millennium Development Goals, but also made a potentially historic offer to give poor countries the chance to trade their way out of poverty, through a successful Doha Round that would eliminate tariffs on their goods and end unfair agricultural subsidies. I believe that trading opportunities are indeed no less important, as an enabler of development, than financial assistance or debt relief; and that, so long as developing countries are not given the chance to compete on a truly level-playing field, we shall all be fighting poverty with, as it were, one hand tied behind our back. The World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting in Hong Kong next month thus takes on crucial importance.
On security, the results were more disappointing. The Summit's biggest failure was the total absence of agreement on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. And on the use of force -- the issue which the Secretary-General had especially highlighted in 2003 -- Member States could do no more than reiterate the language of the Charter, without doing anything to reconcile their different views on how it should be interpreted.
Nor were Member States able to agree, as the Secretary-General had hoped, on a definition of terrorism. The Summit did produce a clear, unqualified condemnation of "terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever and for whatever purposes". But it left it to the General Assembly to conclude a comprehensive convention against international terrorism -- on which negotiators are now making good progress -- and to develop the elements that the Secretary-General identified in Madrid last March into a comprehensive global counter-terrorist strategy, enabling nations and regional bodies to respond to this threat in a consistent and coordinated way. He is ready to provide an updated version of the elements of such a strategy, if so requested, when the Assembly decides to discuss the issue.
The Summit did make one very important decision on security issues, when it agreed to establish a Peacebuilding Commission. All of us must have been shocked, over the last 15 years, by the spectacle of countries apparently emerging from a bitter, destructive conflict, only to slip back again because the international community lost interest too soon and moved on to other crises. But there was no international institution specifically devoted to peacebuilding. This institutional void will now be filled, with a Commission in which all the international players can come together to work out a common strategy for each country, and will have to keep its progress under review.
But perhaps the Summit's most important achievements were in the field of human rights. Sixty years after the liberation of the Nazi death camps, 30 years after the Cambodian killing fields, and 10 years after the horrors of Rwanda and Srebrenica, all Member States of the United Nations have now at last accepted their responsibility to protect their own populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. And they have expressed their readiness to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, when peaceful means are inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their own populations.
On the conceptual level, this is a historic breakthrough -- and Canada deserves full credit for the part it has played in bringing it about. But it by no means guarantees that the Security Council will act swiftly and decisively -- in Darfur, or anywhere else where action is needed. It is not a substitute for the political will and military strength that Governments will always have to muster when push comes to shove.
Similarly, the decision to create a new Human Rights Council is very important. But the Summit did not spell out the details that you and I would have liked to see. Everything will be discussed in the General Assembly, which has just begun consultations on it. Ensuring that this vital reform is carried through within the year, in a meaningful way which will bring real hope to millions of oppressed people throughout the world, is up to those who really care about human rights, inside and outside government.
It is up to them, too, to ensure that the plan of action for strengthening the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the decision to double the paltry 1.8 per cent of the UN budget that that Office currently receives, are actually carried through, thereby helping to place human rights on a par with development and security among the UN's activities.
And it is also up to Member States to ensure that the new Democracy Fund is properly resourced. Here, we have got off to a good start, with contributions totalling $42.5 million, from 15 countries.
On all these human rights issues, Canada is well placed to play a leading role.
Finally, on management issues, the Summit gave the Secretary-General a green light to propose a host of new reform initiatives. These include a review of all mandates more than five years old; a review of all rules on the management of budgetary, financial and human resources; a one-time buy-out of staff; and an independent external evaluation of the entire oversight system. The Summit also supported the steps the Secretary-General was already taking to strengthen ethics, protect whistle-blowers, improve procurement and increase transparency. And it requested him to come back to the General Assembly with proposals on the conditions and measures necessary to enable him to carry out his managerial responsibilities effectively. This represents an important chance for the Secretary-General to set out the changes needed to radically overhaul a set of rules and systems that were designed for a different era -- an era when the UN was essentially a static conference secretariat, rather than the multi-purpose operational machine that its Member States now expect it to be. Flexibility has to be combined with transparency, and with genuine, meaningful accountability of the Secretariat to the Member States.
Even if we successfully complete all the reforms on our current agenda, there will still be more to do, because change and reform are a must, at all times, for any organization that wants to keep on top of its game. The next frontier, I believe, must include a major effort to review and rationalize the way the whole UN system is managed and financed, so that all the different agencies, funds and programmes can be mobilized by Member States in a single, integrated international effort to support the developing countries.
And it must also include a further strengthening of UN peacekeeping that goes beyond the Brahimi Report. We have to accept that our present level of peacekeeping activity is not a fluke but is likely to prove a long-term norm, because it corresponds to a long-term need to give countries where governance has failed and peace has broken down a second chance. This means that many more steps need to be taken to build a truly professional system of support for peacekeeping missions.
I hope I have by now said enough to convince you that the 2005 World Summit was neither the beginning nor the end of UN reform. The UN has always adapted to new circumstances and new tasks, and it must continue to do so. The need for reform is inscribed in its DNA, and permeates its entire being. It can and will be up to the task -- provided its Member States are willing to support it.
* *** *