Preparing for Peace
The website of the Westmorland General Meeting 'Preparing for Peace' initiative
UN and the Future of Global Governance
a lecture series on Preparing for Peace, I hope you will forgive me if I begin
with the Iraq war. Not just because it is topical, but because it has clear
implications for the United Nations, multilateralism and global governance.
The war was begun in circumstances which in effect abandoned the multilateral
approach to international problems, and in the words of the UN Secretary-General
was "not in conformity with the Charter".
Its legality was questionable, and has in fact been widely questioned by
the vast majority of lawyers. Excuses
for it ring increasingly hollow.
Like all wars it will have effects on the global as well as the local
environment, and the problems involved in limiting damage to it.
It has also highlighted divisions between the world's industrial countries. Inevitably they take the leadership in global governance.
short the war has been bad for the United Nations and bad for multilateralism,
and bad for global governance.
the United Nations bounce back? Of
course it can. The United Nations has proved surprisingly robust over the
last fifty years. It has survived extraordinary changes in international
relationships, and adapted itself pretty well in the process.
I was the
witness of five main changes, or groups of changes during my time as British
Permanent Representative between May 1987 and September 1990.
First and most obvious were the changes in attitude caused by the ending
of the cold war. The process was
astonishingly rapid. Suddenly
Permanent Representatives were able to talk to each other with a measure of
common understanding and purpose. This
was particularly so within the Security Council, and among the Five Permanent
Members who found themselves at last able to fulfil most of the role given them
under the Charter. New combinations
developed among them: on some
issues I found myself closer to our former adversaries than our friends.
I was the informal chairman of the Five for almost two years.
Some of our first essays in the management of crises took place in my
apartment looking over the East River.
I was also the witness of the general replacement of confrontation by
co-operation among the vast majority of United Nations members. This was despite
the North-South polarity created by the break-up of the old colonial empires and
a vast increase in its membership. Many of the new members had seen the United
Nations less as a guardian of the status quo than as an agent of change to put
right inequities between states. The
arguments between rich and poor, between so-called developed and so-called
developing countries, over such notions as new world economic orders or new
world information orders had long proved sterile.
Those who sang hymns to development were rarely clear about what they
thought development meant. Many of
the underlying problems remain unresolved (and indeed have got worse since
then). A new approach to them was -
and is - clearly required.
the same time I was the witness of a new willingness to contemplate the use of
force in the name of the international community. A real test came in the
reaction to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and the creation of the coalition
under United Nations auspices to expel the Iraqis.
This coalition was a classic example of the United Nations exerting the
powers given it under the Charter. There had been a clear invasion of one
sovereign state by another. Since then, for example in the Balkans, the United
Nations has struggled to define its role in the face of far messier civil wars.
But despite all failures and shortcomings, the Security Council remains the only
global institution responsible for managing international peace and security.
I was also the witness of the development of new attitudes towards
national sovereignty, a political concept first given legal force by the United
Nations Charter. So far respect for
sovereignty has been a foundation stone of the United Nations and its various
institutions. Those who have the
least sovereignty are always keenest to protect it.
But over the years recognition of the constraints on it has become
general, and erosion of the practice if not of the concept of sovereignty is
widespread. Generally states are no
longer watertight - if they ever were - from international law and practice, the
behaviour of the global economy, transnational business and financial activity,
crimes, and, with the development of information technology, communications on a
Last, and most important, I was the witness of - and a participant in -
the process of drawing up a new agenda of points of global concern.
Most now realize the dangers our little animal species has created for
the good health of the planet, in particular the vertiginous increase in our
numbers, pollution of land, water and air, consumption of resources in
industrial countries, pressure on resources elsewhere, and destruction of other
forms of life. I was a member of
the ginger group which began the preparations for the United Nations Conference
at Rio (the first meetings of the group were in the British Mission).
Other obvious points were new threats to human health, in particular AIDS
and now SARS, a vast increase in the numbers of refugees, and resurgence of
ethnic and religious strife, the more assertive role of non-governmental
organizations, and not least an increasing polarization of the world’s rich
and the world’s poor.
some respects we seem to have reached a watershed.
So far I have described the gradual, sometimes hesitant movement of the
world community towards international codes of conduct and law, and willingness
to cooperate in coping with global issues, whether of peace and war, or of
sustainability in all its aspects. But
now we have to face up to what, I suppose, was a natural consequence of the
ending of the cold war in the late 1980s and early 1990s:
the emergence of a single superpower – the United States – which is
increasingly setting its own agenda, laws, and rules of conduct.
process goes back to the end of the First World War. I
saw some of it for myself during the years I was at the United Nations in New
York. Over the 1980s the United
States was an ever more grumpy and reluctant partner in international affairs.
For many Americans the rest of the world seemed a long way away, and the
US interest in international management was in sharp decline.
More than ever the criterion for any action was national interest rather
than global interest.
tendencies have become much clearer in the Administration of President Bush
Junior. The way in which the United
States with British support, tried to bully the Security Council into endorsing
a war against Iraq, and then, having failed, launched it all the same, is
present in all our minds. Now the
same countries are trying to legitimize the outcomes. Already
unilateralism had already taken over in Washington.
John Major had to twist President Bush Senior’s arm to get him to the
Rio Conference in 1992; but no one could persuade President Bush Junior to go to
the Johannesburg Conference ten years later.
His Secretary of State got pretty rough treatment as a result.
story is the same in other fields. The
United States withdrew unilaterally from the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty; it
failed to ratify the Biodiversity Convention or to accept the Biosafety
Protocol; it refused to join the International Criminal Court (maintaining
somehow that Americans were different from everyone else); it failed to ratify
the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; and it refused to accept a new
protocol to the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention.
attitude of the Administration towards climate change aroused particular
indignation elsewhere. The science
is not now in question. Nor are the
potential hazards for the world as a whole, including the United States.
There is a marked contrast.
On the one hand is the US scientific community which has been - and still is -
to the fore in much of the research on climate change and its likely impacts
worldwide. The same goes for some individual US states, and many in the US
On the other is the Administration with its withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol
and negative attitude on climatic as well as other environmental issues.
As was recently written by the editor of Science magazine,
non-participation of the United States in the global effort on climate change is
more than a national embarrassment. It's dangerous."
are of course many inconsistencies in US policies.
For example most Americans have an almost religious belief in free trade
and market economics, but the Administration indulges in a wide range of
subsidies and protectionist measures. It
is not of course alone in doing so. But
it has the utmost difficulty in accepting the judgements of the World Trade
Organization, and is far from putting into effect what was agreed at the Doha
meeting last year. Recent tariffs
on steel, and subsidies to US agriculture have outraged the international
community. It is now trying to
force the European Union to accept agricultural products which include
genetically modified organisms.
the rest of the world the most conspicuous feature of US foreign policy is the
exertion of military power, unencumbered by
much diplomacy or respect for the corpus of law and custom built up in the
twentieth century. It seems strange that capitalist America should so endorse
Mao Tse-tung’s saying that “political power grows out of the barrel of a
gun.” Yet the United States spends more on defence and military technology
than most other countries put together. Increasingly
it looks like the world policeman operating under its own book of rules.
The world has known superpowers before, whether they be Persia, Greece,
Rome, China, Spain, France, or Britain in their day, but the power of each has
always been based to some extent on bluff, and they have pushed others into
redressing the balance. Imperial overstretch was a regular feature.
I expect it will be so in the future as in the past.
Already the United States has an enormous and growing trade deficit, with
a weakening currency, and is losing its technological superiority in most fields
except defence. Its Empire like all
empires, will be ephemeral.
of the future? Empires are fed and driven by an ever increasing need for
resources. At this point the problem for the United States and the world as a
whole becomes glaringly obvious. I hope that many of you some will take time to
read the remarkable statement published after a meeting of scientists in the
four international global change research programmes at Amsterdam in July 2001.
There it stated squarely that
“Human activities have the potential to switch the Earth’s System to
alternative modes of operation that may prove irreversible and less hospitable
to humans and other life. The
nature of changes now occurring simultaneously in the Earth’s system, their
magnitudes and rates of change are unprecedented.
The Earth is currently operating in a no-analogue state”.
“The accelerating human transformation of the Earth’s environment is
not sustainable. Therefore the
business-as-usual way of dealing with the Earth’s System is not an
option. It has to be replaced - as
soon as possible - by deliberate strategies of management that sustain the
Earth’s environment while meeting social and economic development
wonder that Crutzen and Stoermer have labelled the present epoch since the
beginning of the industrial revolution as the Anthropocene. It
carries with it many implications: among
them the paramount need for greater global cooperation, and risks of conflict
arising from competition for resources.
about resources is the more important of the two major global themes that have
emerged in the last twenty years. The other relates to how humanity consequently
divides these resources and the increasing globalisation of world trade. At
present about 20% of the world’s people consume between 70% and 80% of its
resources. The dividing line between rich and poor is not only between countries
but also within them. Even in India and China, the rift is between globalized
rich and the localized poor. There has been debate whether globalization has
exacerbated this divide. Successive UNDP Human Development Reports, especially
that of 1999, suggest that it has. As
the UN Secretary General well said in assessing progress on the Millennium
Development Goals last July:
is no autopilot, there is no magic of the market place, no rising tide of the
global economy that will lift all boats, guaranteeing that all goals will be
reached by 2015.”
we are talking about global problems that require global solutions, and here the
United Nations is key. Otherwise risks of conflict arising from them – for
example over water – greatly increase. Multilateral
approaches to sustainability have a long history which can be split into three
first phase was between the UN Conference on the Human Environment at Stockholm
in 1972 and that on Environment and Development at Rio in 1992. This phase led
to: the creation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1973; two
World Climate Conferences in 1979 and 1990; and the report of the Brundtland
Commission on Environment and Development of 1987.
second phase was between 1992 and 2001. The achievements of the Rio Conference
included a declaration containing three important principles: that the polluter
should pay; that the often misunderstood precautionary principle should be more
widely applied; and that environmental considerations should be at the centres
of decision-making. Then there were legally binding Conventions on Climate
Change and Biological Diversity and later Desertification which have been
followed by subsequent Conferences of the Parties. There was Agenda 21, or a
voluminous list of action points for this century. The UN Commission on
Sustainable Development was created. Finally it was agreed to revise World Bank
lending and to reformulate the Global Environmental Facility.
third phase takes us to where we are today.
Since Rio the Conventions then created have mostly been ratified, and
there have been several Conferences of the Parties. But generally the results
have been disappointing. Reports
prepared for the Johannesburg Conference last autumn indicate that most global
environmental problems are getting worse.
of Johannesburg? Did global governance attain a new level of maturity? The
encompassing theme should have been how to exercise human responsibility for the
state of the planet in our own interest as well as that of other creatures in
the global ecosystem. The result
was well described by Geoffrey Lean, the doyen of British environmental
journalists, as, "disaster averted: opportunity lost". The political
declaration said little new, and was a triumph of repackaging. As for the Plan
of Implementation, you will have your views on its value and only time will tell
its true worth. Of course there were good points, but in my view the best
comment on the plan as a whole was: "many trees but little wood."
Johannesburg global problems were sold short and the United States was not alone
in contributing to the result.
we are at a watershed, some, not least in this country, have been inclined to
blame the United Nations for what has happened, or not happened, in New York.
This is not only unjust but also simply wrong. In my view the United Nations and its institutions suffer
from four main handicaps. Until recently, in spite of recent shortcomings, the
UN system has had almost excessive political credibility.
Far more responsibility is loaded on it than it can possibly carry.
Secondly the tasks it is given are often confused or imprecise, not least
because member states themselves do not know how to cope with them. Thirdly it is not given the financial and other resources it
needs to function effectively. The
reason it did not succeed in Kosovo was that it did not have anything like
sufficient resources. Last it is
not allowed to carry through necessary internal changes and reforms.
is a curious and unbridged gap between the often repeated wish of governments,
expressed in the Security Council, the General Assembly and elsewhere, for the
United Nations to defend international order, fulfil its obligations under the
Charter, and take on new responsibilities; and the means - political, financial
and administrative - by which it could do so.
Governments often blame the United Nations for failures. More
legitimately the United Nations blames governments.
though many governments say they want or expect more of the United Nations, and
say they accept the substance of a new global agenda, most also want to hold on
to their sovereignty - and money - as long as possible, and in some cases keep
the United Nations from interfering in their affairs. In short governments lack
the political will to tackle the issues themselves and are even less willing to
let the United Nations take a lead for them.
all sounds very gloomy. But perhaps
current circumstances may oblige governments to do what they were reluctant even
to think about before. Certainly
the value of the United Nations has been underlined by current efforts to give
it what both President Bush and Mr Blair said would be a “vital role” in the
reconstruction of Iraq. What it
means remains to be seen. Clare
Short’s resignation last week showed what she thought of the latest
Anglo-American draft resolution now before the Security Council. All sides at least recognize that the issue needs explicit
political and financial support from all members in or out of the Security
Council. Others would go still
further, and give the United Nations the central role in negotiating at long
last a settlement over Palestine.
for the role of the United Nations and its agencies in dealing with the major
issues of sustainability, climate change and protection of the environment,
there is simply no other place or institution capable of organizing and
promoting planetary action. Conferences of the Parties to such global agreements
as the Kyoto Protocol and the Convention on Biological Diversity will continue
and the UN Secretary-General has asked the UN Development Programme to monitor
the Johannesburg and Monterrey targets and the Millennium Development Goals.
Last month during the 11th meeting of the UN Commission on Sustainable
Development a working cycle was established for the review of the Johannesburg
Johannesburg may have been a failure, but the problems it failed to deal with
will not go away. They will be of gathering importance in the future.
My own priorities are that we need to
look again at economics, and the way we measure wealth, welfare and human
progress in terms of the Earth's good health;
redefine development, and give more respect to the different needs - and
possibilities - of different countries;
apply the principles of common but differentiated responsibility, accepting that
industrial countries have much bigger responsibilities, and above all should
give the example in their domestic policies. Getting rid of perverse subsidies
would be a good start.
underline the need for partnerships at all levels: governments, business, local
communities, and establish new guidelines and codes of conduct. For
example tensions over water can lead to compromise rather than conflict.
some respects this is happening already. Governments were not the only people
meeting in Johannesburg though others received little media attention. The work
of non-governmental organizations of all kinds, judges, business and industry,
local and regional authorities may have been less tangible but in the long run
it may prove to have been more significant. I am very encouraged that you have
been taking such an interest in the future of the United Nations.
the multilateral approach is the only approach.
Wars must not be allowed to crowd out, even temporarily, the need to
think about the big issues and work together in trying to resolve them.
An enormous amount needs to be done.
If the United Nations did not exist, we would have to invent it.
it is more than an institution; it is an ideal. We need to hold on to the
uplifting idea of the United Nations as the magic world in which humankind is
one. Here symbols are vital.
Seen from space as a passenger in the solar system, the earth is a tiny
bright dot, or from closer to it, the blue water world.
No matter that the myth does not always correspond with the reality, nor
that its principles and standards are not always observed.
The truth behind any set of myths, principles and standards is acceptance
of aspirations held in common. That
is the goal of multilateralism and the ultimate strength of the United Nations.
We damage it at our peril.