Biography Newsroom Writing & Statements

March 15-16, 1996.

The end of the Cold war and its bipolar confrontation and tension led to the promise of multilateral co-operation and co-operative security on the basis of the UN Charter principles. The diplomatic skill which went into constructing the coalition of forces to turn back the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait augured well for multilateral efforts for peace and development. Peace-keeping and preventive diplomacy became the buzz­words in the wake of the UN Secretary-General's ambitious "Agenda for Peace". However, Somalia and then Bosnia exposed the limitations in UN efforts to order the world in the likeness of the Charter and imposed a heavy strain on popular support for the sacrifices in human and material resources involved in the maintenance of international peace and security. Gradually an alarming ebb in the groundswell of support for multilateralism became evident. Multilateralism was perceived as having overstretched itself but the consequent criticism of the UN and the trenchant attacks on it in some countries goes well beyond the normal reaction of euphoria turning sour - of expectations not being realized. We need to ask ourselves what went wrong as we appr09ch the crucial subject of reforming the multilateral system in the 50th year of the UN and making optimum use of the unique opportunities presented by the post Cold War global I situation. The global agenda is as vast as it is urgent. Reforming the institutions to address it must be accomplished without dilatory debate.

At the Special Commemorative Meeting on the occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the UN, a Declaration was adopted by the General Assembly which celebrated a half-century of the UN's service to mankind and reaffirmed  the resolve of the nations of the world to "create new opportunities for peace, development, democracy and co-operation", and to "give to the twenty-first century a United Nations equipped, financed and structured to serve effectively the peoples in whose name it was established". The objectives of peace, development, equality and justice were described in the Declaration in clear and consensual terms. An important element was the recognition that the UN needed reform and modernization and that its organs had to be revitalized. This recognition is now being converted into positive action. Following a decision on the strengthening of the UN system, a resolution was adopted establishing an open-ended High Level Working Group of the General Assembly under the Chairmanship of its President to review and weave together the studies and reports within the UN system and outside it on the revitalization, strengthening and reform of the UN system. The work of that Group is now in progress and a report is expected at the next session of the General Assembly this year. A number of very useful ideas are being submitted by delegations in a constructive endeavor to reinvigorate the UN system and reinforce the consensual bedrock on which it is founded.

This exercise must be viewed as a normal essay in introspection in a system that has survived fifty years of tumultuous events. All institutions benefit from periodic analysis and self criticism. The UN can be no exception. That is not a devaluation of the splendid work performed by the men and women working in the UN system, with whom I was proud to be associated as colleagues for the five years I worked with them. The pressures on the system in the remarkable transition that we have witnessed from the Cold War and the fresh challenges that it has had to face make this critical scrutiny of international institutions all the more necessary. I have said this before in all address at Georgetown University last year, but it bears repetition. The global system of nation­ states as we have known it may be undergoing a transition as we witness the power of non-state actors, especially in the economic field - but also, increasingly, in the security area - to determine the ebb and flow of world trends. The interaction of people in cyberspace is also dramatically changing cultural patterns. Through this confluence of currents there is the overriding principle of multilaterlism in global politics, a principle that has never been easily reconciled with realpolitik. The pressure for the multilateral approach grew with decolonization after World War II. It has intensified after the Cold War ended and several new states entered the global system following the implosion of both the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. The tension of the Cold War contest between two blocs, which was a major disincentive to multi-lateralism, is now absent. Thus, we have a unique opportunity to reap the benefits of the multilateral approach to global problems. The "level playing field" of the speechwriters of international states-persons has been as much a mirage-like ideal as perfect competition in economic theory or democratic choices in electoral politics. The best being the perpetual enemy of the good, we must now persist in broadening the playing field as we strive to level it. For the more participants in a decision that affects us, the more likely the result will be intrinsically equitable and inherently durable. Multilateral diplomacy is especially vital in the field of international peace and security and in the negotiation of agreements leading to it. The Charter principle of the sovereign equality of all nations (Article 2: 1), whether major powers or microstates, is never easy to live with. But when we prioritize among the national security of states, we do so at our peril. The principle of peaceful coexistence also requires that one nation's security cannot be achieved at the expense of the security of others. Security must be universal if it is to be effective. It is also essentially indivisible - military and non-military, political and economic. In the practice of democratic politics within countries, the limitations of majoritarian principles have long been recognized. Consultation, compromise, and consensus have emerged as rational and realistic concomitants to voting in the democratic process. The same lessons are applicable in international organizations, whichever side has the votes, especially since we have seen in the UN General Assembly how voting patterns can change dramatically over decades. The interests of the few depend on the actions of the many as much as the interests of the many hinge on the actions of the few. It is this mutuality of interests that lock us all together in the international community - today more than ever before.

Multilateralism and multilateral endeavours in international relations are not popular subjects at this moment, least of all in Washington. The complexity attending the problems, the responses of some institutions and their leaders, and the occurrence of some failures have led to a mood of corrosive cynicism over multilateralism in general and the United Nations in particular. The symbiotic link between men and institutions was captured by Jean Monnet, the inspirational genius of to day's European Union, when he said, "Nothing is possible without men, but nothing is lasting without institutions." Transposed into the world of nation-states, the UN system and its specialized agencies are both the sum total of the UN's component nation-states and of much more. It is of course axiomatic that while past and present successes have had many parents, failure is an orphan. This does not deny the many successes still being achieved by the multilateral system or reject the need for institutional reform.

The need for the principle of multilateralism is undisputed as we move into an increasingly integrated global system. For example, we speak today of the "global commons," recognizing, often with alarm, how ecologically interdependent we are. But for the Montreal Protocol, the chlorofluorocarbons used throughout the world would have created a hole in the ozone layer bigger than its present size of Europe. As the safety of nuclear material in the former Soviet Union gives cause for anxiety and the number of terrorist groups with kamikaze mindsets and espousing diverse causes increases, we must look to international cooperation and multilateral diplomacy for patiently negotiated solutions that will be universally and consistently implemented.

It was my privilege, almost a year ago, to preside over a successful multilateral endeavour as the parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons - the most widely subscribed to disarmament treaty - decided, without a vote, to reinforce and render permanent the international legal norm against the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the cause of the total elimination of these weapons. I am deeply convinced that a mutuality of national interests combined with a shared realism and common vision can unite the nations of the world in more successful multilateral endeavours. There are many issues and situations that unite nations. The identification of these amongst the swirl of controversy and disagreements, and their translation into specific courses of collective action are tasks that multilateral diplomacy must engage in. That engagement follows the course of public opinion in the member states. In the US alone a survey of public opinion conducted in December 1995 revealed strong support for the UN and confidence in the capacity of the organization to face future crises. Multilateralism was clearly favoured over unilateralilsm. Fifty-four per cent said the UN was doing a "good job" which was a 10% increase over the last survey done in 1992. Sixty-nine per cent favoured the use of UN forces to deal with conflicts. On Bosnia 50% preferred a UN peace-keeping force with US troops while 17% wanted a NATO enforcement force with the US present. The extreme step of a US withdrawal from the UN was opposed by more than a 3-to-l margin. At the same time support for financing the UN was generally lukewarm with expenditure on health, drug control, environment and food being preferred over development aid, world economic governance, promotion of democracy and peace­keeping.

It is clear then that perceptions of the UN projected through the media are not necessarily shared by public opinion. The same disconnect appeared in a survey, conducted last year by the University of Maryland where public support for development aid was shown to be greater than commonly assumed. The message however is clear ­while public opinion remains committed to multilateralism and the UN, reform is essential in order especially that we may have an effective and well-run organization that is cost-beneficial. The same public mood against big national government intruding into their lives and costing them more in taxes applies to multilateral organizations and we must draw salutary lessons from this if we are not to alienate public opinion entirely. The UN is not the Superman that some countries wish for. Nor is it the wimpish Clark Kent that others desire. There is no dearth of ideas. Collegial management, co-ordination, delegation, optimum use of regional organizations are among them. Reform - ­constructive reform - is eminently desirable and doable. I am aware that the US and other delegations have submitted useful and practical suggestions to the Working Group on UN reform and I am confident that we can expect a report on which action can be taken this year to craft a UN for the 21st century. That report will undoubtedly set limited tasks for the UN confining the organization to do what it is best at doing rather than overstretching its resources and credibility. Inevitably nations perceive their national interests differently and sometimes in conflict with each other. The challenge of multilateral diplomacy is to harmonize these differences. Article I of the UN Charter declares that among the purposes of the UN is "to be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations" in the attainment of commonly desired objectives. The desire for the independence of the UN - and for its financial viability - is an understandable one as it serves the harmonized cause of all nations and of the entire international community. But a UN out of step with the national interests of its member-nations and of world public opinion would be dysfunctional. It would also be a signal that the UN is on its way to becoming what it should not and was never intended to be - a world government. For this task patient, skillful and visionary guidance by all is vital ensuring that the UN works in close harmony with all the nations of the world fulfilling their aspirations in the tasks that each of them by themselves cannot accomplish without the moral and political sanction of international decision-making and the pooling of material and intellectual resources globally. The UN must be seen demonstrably serving the national interests of all its member States. The fact that it is being perceived by some as not doing so is as much a problem of image as it is of reality. It is a problem that reform can overcome. It must.

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