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Warburg 2000 Conference
What other Conference 2000 Speakers had to say:

Elizabeth Pond , on Europe's 20th Century transformation:
The cold war was not a freezer, but an incubator of European cooperation. . . . Europe is not and never will be a homogenized federation, but it is already far more than a confederation."

Amb. Denis McLean, on sharing responsibility in wars of nationalism and separatism:
"The U.S. has a fundamental role to play in helping to put together the capabilities to meet these types of emergency. But so too have other countries."

Amb. Frank Crigler, on U.S. interest in conflicts far from our shores:
"We cannot disengage from Africa because America’s own roots run too deep there and because we as a people are too deeply touched by the fate of Africans."


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AGAINST THIS background let me now turn to what I see as the collective challenges in the peace and security field.

The vast majority of today's conflicts are essentially intra-state conflicts. This is a major change from when the UN Charter was drafted, when the emphasis was on preventing another bout of war between rather than fighting within states. We must develop better mechanisms and tools to deal with this comparatively recent phenomenon of intra-state disputes. Some of the main issues are the following:

  • Intra-state conflicts are extremely difficult to deal with by the international community as international law only provides a limited body of norms and rules for them.
  • Very often such conflicts involve non-state actors, such as rebel movements or mercenaries, making it extremely difficult to distinguish between aggressors and victims.
  • Often there are no clear front lines, making effective military intervention impossible.
  • Finally, as the overwhelming majority of victims are civilians, mostly vulnerable populations such as women, children, and the elderly, we have to find better ways to protect them.

As regards our normative challenges in the twenty-first century, the foremost task for the Security Council and to the UN system as a whole is how to forge unity behind the principle that massive and systernatic violations of human rights should not be allowed to stand. This has been stressed repeatedly by the UN secretary general.

Unless the Security Council can unite behind the aim of confronting genocide and crimes against humanity, we shall be betraying the very ideals that inspired the founding of the UN. Preventing and punishing these crimes is never a matter for one nation only. It is the duty of all humankind.

Until recently, when powerful men committed crimes against humanity, they knew that, as long as they remained powerful, no court could judge them. Now, an international norm is emerging slowly against the violent repression of citizen groups taking precedence over concerns of State sovereignty. It is becoming increasingly evident that no government has the right to hide behind national sovereignty in order to violate the human rights or fundamental freedoms of its peoples. The two UN Tribunals, the Pinochet case, as well as the recent indictment in Senegal of the exiled former President Habré of Chad on torture charges, are important steps towards the consolidation of this norm. This does not mean that the concept of sovereignty should be abolished. On the contrary, it remains one of the main building blocks of the present international order.

In the same vein, let me also briefly touch on the establishment of the International Criminal Court. With the adoption of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court on 17 July 1998 by an overwhelming majority — 120 states voted in favour of the statute and seven against — Iran, Iraq, Libya, China, Yemen, Israel, and the United States — the world has laid the foundation for the creation of a permanent International Court to judge the most serious crimes of concern to the international community: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and possibly crimes of aggression wherever and whenever they may be committed. As of February 2000, ninety-four countries have already signed the statute. The establishment of the International Criminal Court represents in my opinion a historic collective step towards human security.

We also have a major challenge on an international, regional, and national policy level. In order to make the future collective security system more effective, attention should shift from peace enforcement to conflict prevention.

Prevention is a better way of achieving collective security and ultimately sustainable peace than retroactive military intervention. The UN can play an important role in conflict prevention as the founding fathers of the Charter foresaw in I945. It is telling that the very first article of the Charter, Art. I para 1, bestows upon the UN the duty to "take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal to threats to the peace." We should reinvigorate our common efforts to revitalize this landmark provision.

The concept of conflict prevention has also received high-level attention recently. It was major theme during last year’s General Assembly general debate and was also the subject of an open debate in the Security Council in November 1999. The G-8 in its foreign ministers meeting in Berlin in December 1999 has decided on its part to make conflict prevention a priority on its policy agenda in the future, stating at the same time that the Unite Nations remains central in this endeavour.

The case for prevention is compelling: In most cases the question is not whether or not to intervene militarily, but when it is the ripe moment for any kind of UN involvement or engagement. The earlier a conflict is addressed, the more likely it is that

  • conflicting parties will be willing to engage in constructive dialogue and refrain from the use of force;
  • conflicting parties will agree to third party involvement;
  • conflicts can be settled or resolved by peaceful means; and ultimately,
  • root causes of conflict are effectively and comprehensively addressed.

In its November 1999 debate the Security Council recognized the importance of building a culture of prevention and called for the development of a broad and comprehensive long term UN preventive strategy involving all the major organs and agencies of the system. Over the past two years, intensive efforts have been underway to foster a culture of prevention in the day-to-day work of the Secretariat and the wider UN system. To this end, practical mechanisms are being developed to strengthen collaboration for early warning and conflict prevention within the UN system and with major outside actors — in particular member states, regional organizations, and NGOs. In July 1998, for example, the secretary general convened an important meeting with heads of regional organizations which identified specific modalities of cooperation in the field of conflict prevention.

More effective ways for undertaking preventive diplomacy are also being developed. These include fact-finding missions, visits by special envoys to regions, the exercise of the secretary general's good offices, and the establishment of "Groups of Friends" of the Secretary General composed of closely interested member states on specific conflict situations.

It is now also increasingly recognized that new conflicts cannot be prevented unless more systematic efforts are made to address deep-rooted economic, social, and other causes of conflicts. From this arises the concept of "peace-building," which encompasses developmental and other multidimensional efforts that are carried out under a political mandate specifically intended to prevent the eruption or resumption of conflict. Many UN agencies, programmes, funds, and offices are engaged in long-term preventive development activities and are being integrated into a preventive peace-building strategy.

A major element for long-term, successful preventive peace building is the promotion of democratization and good governance, and human rights. The UN has provided electoral assistance to scores of countries, helping them to hold elections and referendums, draft constitutions, and uphold the rule of law. In this context, the UN is increasingly stressing the nexus between peace, development, democratization, good governance and human rights.

BY WAY OF CONCLUSION, let me make a few remarks about the indispensability of multilateralism in the current era of globalization and growing interdependence:

     • First, the UN does not strive for world government or even the role of global cop.

     • Secondly, in an era of rapidly growing interdependence, even a country like the United States cannot solve its security threats on its own. Moreover, security must be seen as a broad concept, including human rights, health, and environmental aspects. No single country can cope with these challenges unilaterally. Acting unilaterally in this new environment not only runs counter to the purposes and principles of the Charter, but also opens the Pandora’s box of abuse of the core pillar of the international order — the prohibition of the threat or use of force as laid down in Art. 2 para 4 of the Charter.

     • Thirdly, the League of Nations is a prime example of what happened when multilateralism fails to enjoy the support of many international players. The absence of some of the powers from the League, most notably the United States, ultimately resulted in its demise and contributed to the outbreak of World War II. Thus, if the major power do not actively engage in multilateral policies, they might run the risk of sowing the seeds of future catastrophes.

     • Finally, and however much some individuals and governments may stress the sanctity of state sovereignty, in an era of increasing globalization and proliferating transnational problems, the relevance and utility of the United Nations can only grow. This is not a boast, but an acknowledgment that often there is no alternative. The strength of the UN lies in its universality, which brings with it impartiality, neutrality, and inclusiveness. It is up to member states to make more effective use of the Organization and ensure that it lives up to its potential as envisioned by its founding fathers.  

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Sir Kieran Prendergast, a former career diplomat with the British Foreign Office, has been under secretary general for political affairs of the UN. since 1997.

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