Sir Kieran, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, delivered the Keynote address at the Warburg 2000 Conference luncheon at Simmons College February 29.
|I SPEND MOST OF MY DAYS not as a cop or a posse member, but as the United Nations equivalent of a firemanrunning from one blaze to another, from Guatemala and Haiti in the Western Hemisphere to such trouble spots as East Timor, Kosovo, Congo, and Afghanistan. But I believe that every practitioner of conflict management also needs opportunities for intellectual leavening, which is why I am here today, although sadly for a much shorter period than I would have wished.|
I would have liked to listen to those of you who might want to make a case for the indispensability of unilateralism in a post-Cold War world in which American exceptionalism remains as strong as ever. As an international civil servant, and by personal conviction, I take a different view. I intend to use this occasion to highlight some of the virtues and benefits of multilateralism and collective action and to suggest what role the United Nations can play in this regard.
I would like to put to you four main arguments:
First, in an era of globalization and rapidly growing interdependence, devising an effective collective security system becomes ever more important. A collective security system in the twenty-first century must be based on a broadened definition of securityhuman securityas well as a redefinition of national interest to include common interests of the intemational comunity. Sovereignty, while remaining the cornerstone of the intemational order, has never been an absolute concept and is subject to constant change emanating from the twin pressures of globalization and the evolution of international law.
Secondly, though far from perfect, the UNs record is far from insignificant. This is immediately evident if one considers the invention of peace keeping and the great universal legitimacy and authority of the UNs major organs (SC, SG, GA, ECOSOC, ICJ). There is also our longstanding experience and expertise in preventive diplomacy and peacemaking, as well as in the human rights and humanitarian fieldnot to mention our work in the economic, social and environmental spheres.
Thirdly, although the UN plays a vital role in the peaceful settlement of disputes, such as in early warning, mediation, fact-finding, election monitoring, disarmament, peacekeeping, and peace-building, it neither plays, nor does it aim to play, the role of global policeman; in many conflicts other actors are in a much better position to assist in conflict resolution and enforcement. We are, if you like, a helper of last resort.
Fourthly, and finally, there is a growing awareness that the international community must develop a new culture of conflict prevention. I would argue that my concept of collective security of the twenty-first century must include prevention as one of its core pillars. The UN is well placed to play a key role in this regard due to its universal membership and the broad range of expertise among its departments and agencies. This new international security concept has been one of the strategic priorities Secretary General Kofi Annan has set for the UN in the twenty-first century.
Let me now turn to the theme of the conference and expand on these four arguments. The title of this conference suggests that there are many who believe that collective security can only be achieved by a posse or by a global cop. But the world is more complex than this stark choice would have us believe.
The UN is indeed asked to act as a posse on occasion. But the organization neither aims at, nor does it have the capacity to become, a global policeman. There is no political will among member states to allow this to happen. What the UN can do is provide international legitimacy when military action becomes necessary. At the same time, there is a wide measure of agreement that enforcement actions like Iraq or Bosnia are best left to others acting under the authority of the Security Council.
The UN Charter is the nearest thing we have to a constitution of the international community. It includes the comprehensive prohibition of the threat or use of force (Article 2, para. 4 of the Charter). This allows for only two exceptions. First, the right of:every member State to individual or collective self defence if an armed attack occurs, but only until the Security Council has taken the necessary measures to maintain international peace and security (Art. 51). And secondly, Security Council action under Chapter VII of the Charter.
This far-reaching ban on the use of force in international relations has contributed greatly to the creation of a relatively peaceful world order since World War II. The fact that on occasion there are countries that violate the rules should not be construed as an indication that these rules or principles are useless or meaningless.
But does our scope of activities entail that the UN could play the role of a global conflict manager with universal enforcement powers and capabilities? I do not think so.
The UN neither has the capacity to address all conflicts in the world nor would it be wise to involve the UN in all disputes and wars. In many conflicts, member states, regional organizations, civil society organizations or prominent individuals are much better placed to act constructively as a third party. Northern Ireland (Senator Mitchell), the Baltic States (OSCE), and the Middle East (Oslo Peace Process) are cases in point.
Yet the UN can play a vital role in dispute settlement. Mozambique, Guatemala, and East Timor among others are testimony to this.
In the final analysis, the UN should be perceived as an authority of last resort for enforcement when all the most powerful nations in the world agree the Security Council and particularly its five permanent members. In addition, and ultimately more importantly, the UN is becoming an emerging focal point for preventing conflicts.
In this context it should be stressed that overall, military enforcement is for the most part, a very blunt tool.
But in extraordinary circumstances, military enforcement will remain necessary to contain and manage conflicts that have got out of control and are clearly outside the Iimits of peaceful settlement of disputes.