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After the Tsunami: Prospects for Collective Security Reform in 2005

Keynote Address by Hon Gareth Evans, President of the International Crisis Group and Member of the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) Regional Outlook Forum 2005, Singapore, 6 January 2005.

It’s a pleasure to be back in this familiar environment, among so many familiar faces, and I very much appreciate the Institute’s invitation to address this prestigious Forum.

Old hands though many of us may be on the international conference circuit, we are not meeting at a time of security business-as-usual. The events of the last few years, the last few months – and now the last few days – have rammed home to us messages that should long ago have been loud and clear, but on which as an international community we have been lamentably slow to act:

that the world of 2005 is very different from that of 1945;

that the security threats we face reach far beyond states waging aggressive war;

that they involve human security as much as state security;

that they are interdependent and affect us all;

that we have a shared responsibility to deal with them; and

that we need fundamental and far-reaching changes to both our policies and our institutions if we are to exercise that responsibility effectively.

It was with a strong sense of the force of those messages that, in the context of this year’s 60th Anniversary of the UN, Kofi Annan appointed his High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change to report to him, as we did last month, on the security threats facing the world in the 21st century and how to better respond to them, and it is the conclusions of that report that I want to take this opportunity to discuss with you today.

In conducting our deliberations around the world over the course of the last year, we didn’t contemplate – who could have? - that, within a month of presenting our report, some 150 000 people across an entire region of the world would be tragically killed by a single natural catastrophe. None of us specifically envisaged a disaster on the cataclysmic scale of the Indian Ocean tsunami. But we certainly treated the threats posed by degrading, mismanaging or ignoring the natural environment as being right up alongside, as security threats, those posed by poverty and disease - and, equally, as ranking alongside the more traditional security threats so familiar to forums such as this: war between and within states, weapons proliferation, terrorism and organised crime.

We did draw attention, in so many words, to the way in which environmental degradation had enhanced the destructive potential of natural disasters and was doing so at an ever accelerating pace. And we did argue, again in so many words, that the international community – through the United Nations and the international financial institutions – had to do more to assist those states most vulnerable to severe natural disasters, making the point that investments in vulnerability protection could drastically reduce the number of deaths associated with them.

The tsunami disaster graphically and horribly confirmed one of the most fundamental themes running through the High Level Panel report – that however much different security threats might resonate differently in different parts of the world, reflecting differences in geography, power and wealth, nonetheless none of us can escape, ultimately, the impact of any of them. When it comes to facing security threats, and the obligation to respond effectively to them, we are all in this together.

The Indian Ocean tsunami disaster has not been the world’s deadliest – there have been worse even in recent memory with the Tangshan earthquake killing an estimated 600,000 Chinese in 1976 and the cyclone-driven floods killing some half a million Bangladeshis in 1970. But it is accurately described as the world’s first truly global catastrophe. Cheap travel and mass tourism meant thousands of lives lost from many more countries than even the ten immediately affected; modern communications, technically advanced and unconstrained by national boundaries, meant instant saturation coverage around the world (in spectacular contrast to the almost complete non-coverage of the catastrophe in China thirty years ago); and the scale and intensity of the reaction has been a moving demonstration that when people and their governments are confronted in a way they can immediately understand by human suffering, they do care, deeply, and will respond accordingly.

It is not just the events of the last ten days that have forced upon us the need for a fundamental rethink of our security priorities and performance – it’s the events of the last ten years or more:

The long history of failure through the 1990s to get it right on humanitarian intervention, from the lamentable inaction in response to the Rwandan genocide in 1994, to the action in Kosovo in 1999, defensible in principle but unsupported by the Security Council. The resurgence of unilateralist sentiment and behaviour, culminating in the coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The loss of confidence in the existence and vitality of the rules governing the use of force, including in particular the assertion of a much more wide-ranging right than ever previously been acknowledged to use preventively the self-defence power.

The absence of any apparent institutional capacity or willingness to deal with the problem of failed, failing and fragile states, a recurring element in explaining the resonance and reality of most classes of contemporary security threats.

The lack of support by key countries for international treaty regimes and multilateral institutions. The manifest dysfunctionality of intergovernmental organisations like the Human Rights Commission and ECOSOC, and in many ways the UN Secretariat itself.

All of this has put the United Nations, and indeed the whole multilateral system, under a great deal of strain. As Kofi Annan said in that very well-known speech to the General Assembly last year, we really are facing a “fork in the road”, in terms of the future of the collective response to security problems.

It was essentially to make the case for taking one particular route - to recover credibility for collective security, and to recover traction for cooperative internationalism, rather than unilateralism and all the dangers that that implies - that the High-Level Panel, chaired by that most distinguished son of South East Asia, Anand Panyarachun, was formed. Let me outline for you how we went about our task, and leave it to your judgement as to how well we succeeded

Our approach was to begin by identifying the six major categories of threats the world will confront in the decades ahead: war within states; war between states; weapons proliferation; terrorism; organised crime; and, as a separate basket, the human security threats posed by poverty, disease and environmental crisis. We sought to explain the interconnections between them and the extent to which there have been shortfalls in performance in responding to them. For each of the threats in question, we outlined our preferred policy solutions, with a strong emphasis throughout on prevention, but also making clear the circumstances in which, if prevention failed, the use of force may be defensible and unavoidable. And we concluded by making a number of quite specific recommendations for institutional change – not for its own sake, but where we felt this was critically necessary if we are to do a better job at meeting the range of threats we will continue to confront.

Overall, we make a total of 101 recommendations, Some have taken the view that’s rather too many for a report of this kind, but I like to think of that reaction as being about as well merited as the Emperor Joseph’s response after hearing Mozart’s first opera in Vienna : “No doubt a very fine piece of music, Mr Mozart, but too many notes.” No doubt you will make your own judgement in due course on the question of the quantity as well as the quality of our recommendations: I hasten to assure you that I will be playing this morning only some selected passages, not the whole score.


Focusing for present purposes on the threats of war within and between states, weapons proliferation and terrorism threat, what do we say on meeting the challenge of prevention?

As to preventing deadly conflict we make clear the necessity, for a start, to have better and more effective regulatory frameworks and legal regimes, whether we’re talking about disarmament or resources regimes, regional security organisations, international legal regimes generally, or judicial regimes like the International Criminal Court (where our chorus is not likely to be music to Washington’s ears: we say very clearly that the creation of the Court is a good thing, and the Security Council should actually stand ready to use the authority it has under the Rome Statute to refer cases to it).

We also talk in this preventive context about better information and analysis, recognising that much of the burden of providing that has been borne in recent years by organisations like my own International Crisis Group rather than by the international institutions themselves. Preventive diplomacy, mediation, more effective professional mediation through better-trained and generally better-chosen special representatives and envoys are all parts of the proposals that we spell out here.

In relation to the proliferation and use of the world’s most dangerous weapons – nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological - we express our anxiety about a possible ‘cascade of proliferation’ in the years ahead, advocate a four-layered response. This means paying attention, first, to the familiar supply-side issues (curbing the availability of fissile material and technology); secondly, to the demand side (addressing all those issues that motivate states to acquire nuclear and other weapons – everything from real security threats to perceived double standards in arms control regimes) ; thirdly, to better strategies to enforce verification, with adequate resources deployed in support of properly working international regimes; and fourthly, better public health defences, which are critical in particular for biological warfare.

On the subject of terrorism, the international media have focused on our proposed new definition – a very important issue if the UN system and the treaty system associated with it is to carry the normative clout that it must, in building a worldwide response to this problem. We were able to agree, notwithstanding all our different backgrounds, on a definition of terrorism the bottom line of which is that it means violent action against civilians or other non-combatants for essentially political motives - a major contribution, given the years of stalemated argument that have prevailed in the UN to date. But perhaps an even more important part of our report dealing with terrorism was to say that there must be a comprehensive policy approach. It’s not just a matter of policing, or intelligence, or in extremis military action: it is a matter of addressing underlying root causes, and in particular some of the political grievances that are so clearly at the heart of much of this contemporary phenomenon troubling us all so much.

Use of Force

If prevention fails, across most categories of contemporary security threat the question arises as to the use of force. The Panel report, in what some have suggested may prove to be its most important contribution, addresses squarely every one of the issues that have divided the international community in recent years, arguing that any use of force must satisfy tough criteria of both legality and legitimacy.

On legality, we make clear that the scope of permissible unilateral self-defence is quite limited, no greater than it has traditionally been acknowledged to be. Article 51 of the UN Charter says a state can act in self-defence without going to the Security Council in the case of actual armed attack, and 200 years of international law practice extends that to imminently apprehended attack. But that’s where legality runs out: pre-emptive self-defence in cases of imminent threat may be justified, but preventive self-defence in relation to a distant threat, however real, is not. If someone, somewhere, is building a nuclear reactor which you think is going to make bombs directed at you, there might be the scope, and even necessity, for military action to be taken against that threat. But that is a matter for the Security Council. For any one country to be able to interpret the right of self-defence so broadly is to open the gates for everyone to do the same, and that way lies anarchy.

We go on to say, for situations other than legitimate self-defence, Chapter VII of the UN Charter fully empowers the Security Council - and nobody else but the Security Council - to authorise the use of force : preventively, reactively, in relation to external threats, or - in relation to internal threats - in the exercise of the concept of the responsibility to protect. We say very clearly that the power is there, the legal authority is there, for the Security Council to so act. It is not there for anyone else. By extension, there’s a small role for regional organisations under Chapter VIII, but even there they have to come back to the Security Council and receive authorisation for any military action that might be taken in a regional context in the exercise of that role, so the Security Council remains centre-front.

But, of course, that’s not the end of the argument. Legality is only part of the story. There is also always a question about legitimacy: the common sense and the morality of legal action. And here the contribution the Panel has made is, I think, a very important one, identifying five criteria of legitimacy for any authorisation by the Security Council, and by extension any individual country making a decision itself to go to war.

The first criterion is seriousness of the threat: is the threat of harm to state or human security of a kind sufficiently clear and serious to justify, prima facie, the use of military force? In the specific case of internal threats – the so-called humanitarian intervention situation – we raise the bar deliberately higher, and ask does the threat in question involve genocide or other large-scale killing, does it involve ethnic cleansing or serious violations of international humanitarian law, either actual or imminently apprehended? This threshold criterion of seriousness of course implies that evidence will be produced to justify the claim in question.

The second criterion is proper purpose: is it clear that the primary purpose of the proposed military action is actually to halt or avert the threat in question, whatever other purposes or motives might be involved? Often there are other purposes, other motives: often countries need those other motives in order to mobilise their populations in support of what might otherwise may be unpopular action. But the primary motive must, we say, be to actually halt or avert the threat in question.

The third criterion is last resort: has every non-military option for meeting the threat in question been explored, with reasonable grounds for believing that other measures won’t succeed? It is not a matter of saying that you actually have to work your way through, as a practical, physical matter, every other possible option; it’s a matter of asking have the options been explored and whether there are reasonable grounds for believing other measures simply would not succeed.

The fourth criterion is proportionality: is the scale, the duration, the intensity of the proposed military action the minimum necessary to meet the threat in question? Finally, there is the very important criterion of balance of consequences: is there a reasonable chance of the military action being successful in meeting the threat in question, with the consequences of the action not being likely to be worse than the consequences of inaction? I don’t think you need me to take you through how that criterion might conceivably have been objectively applied, with what results, in some recent military adventures.

We say these criteria should be adopted as guidelines by the Security Council in a formal declaratory resolution, and adopted indeed by the General Assembly. The point about them, and we say this in so many words, is not that they will produce, with push-button inevitability, clear cut agreement in every case: of course there will be national interests in play and all sorts of reasons why states will come up with other arguments, with results that are not always very clear, and not always agreed.

The argument is simply that over time, and with the pressure that the criteria will create for states to explain and defend their positions, there will be more likelihood of consensus being achieved both as to what are the proper cases to go to war, and what are the proper cases not to go to war. And if that consensus is achievable, there’ll be much less likelihood that states will want to bypass the Security Council entirely and put at risk the whole collective security system.

Maybe it is wildly optimistic to think that any of this can happen, but many things can happen over time if you change the norms, the language, the expectations countries have of each other. If you just get the press asking over and over again, the same questions - and the right questions for once - better international behaviour might just conceivably be attainable.

Institutional Reforms

What of institutional reform? Most public attention has focused, inevitably, on our proposals to restructure the Security Council. What we say about this, in a nutshell, is that you can’t go on having a situation where the Security Council of 2005 and beyond is that created on the basis of the world as it was in 1945. Not to have an India, a Japan, a Brazil, any major African country, guaranteed a regular presence on the world’s pre-eminent body for deciding great issues of war and peace, is to have a Security Council that is not remotely representative of the balances of credible power, authority, and contribution, in the world as it is today. The report comes up with two clear, self-contained alternative models for achieving that representativeness, and there seems a fair chance that, after twenty years of frustratingly inconclusive debate in New York, one choice or other will be made this year.

One of the most important institutional changes that we recommend is the creation of a brand-new institution, a Peacebuilding Commission, to address very specifically the generic problem of failed, failing, and fragile states under stress, particularly but not only in the context of post-conflict peace-building. The idea is to create a new structure as a subsidiary organ of the Security Council which would bring together the relevant UN organs and agencies, the relevant major donors, including the Bank, the Fund, relevant regional organisations, and relevant bilateral donors, to address in a systematic, coherent, focused, sustained way the full range of policy responses to state fragility and failure with which we are now so familiar. It would have a variable geometry structure, meeting from time to time to discuss high policy issues with the Secretary-General himself, and perhaps the President of the World Bank, for example, present at the meeting, but most of the time operating at a working level with a structure designed to be appropriate for the particular country or regional situation that the commission is dealing with.

We say quite a lot not only about particular bodies within the UN system, but about the Secretariat itself, and the need for support, right across the peace and security spectrum, for the Secretary-General. We argue for the creation of a new Deputy Secretary-General’s office. There is one such position already, pre-occupied very much with development and internal administration issues, and we say that the combination of peacekeeping, political affairs, peace operations, the operation of the Peacebuilding Commission, and all the things that we are recommending about information and analysis capability within the Secretariat, with much better support across the spectrum of these issues, demands a recognition of the reality of the workload involved, and some re-organisation.

We argue for a competent and professional Secretariat, with much greater management flexibility on the part of the Secretary-General, who must be the most micro-managed chief executive in any international or any commercial organisation anywhere in the world, in the sense that the board of directors – the General Assembly committee – determines just about the allocation of every item of expenditure and which body goes where. The Secretary-General should have the capacity, to put people where they’re needed – and then be fully accountable, fully transparent in those decisions, subject to a full auditing exercise thereafter.

Among many other institutional recommendations, the report does address the better functioning of regional security organisations, to ensure stronger support for them, where necessary by countries in a position to offer it, and better coordination with other institutions in the collective security system. To some extent the principle of ‘subsidiarity’ runs through the report – the notion that more responsibility is going to have to be exercised both by individual states and regional bodies, though not as an excuse for any abdication of responsibility where necessary by global security institutions.

Apart from some specific discussion of the needs of the African Union, the report does not address the state, for better or worse, of particular existing regional organisation any more than it analyses and makes recommendations about particular contemporary conflicts. But I think all of us on the panel hoped that the discussion generated by our report would extend to the obvious gaps in the role, coverage and capacity of regional organisations in dealing with security issues, not least in most parts of Asia and the Indian Ocean region.

Had, for example, IOR-ARC – the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (which I suspect a good many people even in this highly enlightened audience have barely heard of ) - lived up to the hopes of those who founded it in the mid-90s, we might well have had in place, along with many other forms of practical regional cooperation, an earthquake/tsunami early warning capacity of a kind which exists elsewhere in the world but not at all in this region. It’s certainly a project which should be tackled now - and an example of the innumerable potentially useful roles regional organisations can play across a whole spectrum of state and human security issues.

What Next?

Finally, what next for this report? What is going to happen to it, now that it’s out there in the public domain? Who is going to be discussing it officially, when and where?

Our 101 recommendations divide themselves up logically into a number of different tranches, going off logically in a number of different directions. Some are addressed to specialised agencies and non-UN inter-governmental bodies, like the IAEA or the World Health Organisation, and they’ll go there. Some of them are very much within the Secretary-General’s purview without needing to go to international summits or heads-of-government level, e.g. – the terrorism strategy which we ask him to devise, or involve internal reforms within the administration : budgetary and staffing issues are subject to the constraints of the GA and the member states, but nonetheless ought to be able to be resolved internally, without summitry and all the rhetoric and delay that goes with that. Other recommendations will go directly to internal UN inter-governmental bodies like ECOSOC or the Human Rights Commission to consider.

But there is a tranche of issues that can really only be resolved with real buy-in at the highest government level. Perhaps the rules and norms governing the use of force are among the recommendations in that category. What will happen in this respect is that the Secretary-General will in March 2005 be putting together a report to the Millennium Review Summit - the heads-of-state meeting which is occurring at the beginning of the next General Assembly in September - in which he identifies a small but highly salient number of recommendations which need to be endorsed at that level to have the necessary policy momentum. And he is proposing to bring together in that report a small number of our recommendations, together with a number of recommendations on how to address the Millennium Development Goals implementation, which is the subject of a separate report from Jeffrey Sachs’s Harvard team, which is coming to him this month.

We hope that from these various different channels of action that will follow from this initiative, something will happen. The stakes are really very high. There are plenty who are sceptical that the multilateral system, the UN organisation itself, and the major states who actually of course determine so much of what happens would ever be capable, separately or together, of even beginning to respond to the challenges the High Level Panel identified.

But my very last word is this. We have no alternative. The truth of the matter is that we have run out of choices. As the world learned, very much to its cost, when the League of Nations fell apart in the 1930s, if we did not have an effective global collective security institution, we would simply have to reinvent one all over again. So let’s start with what we’ve got, and let’s make it work. I think the High-Level Panel has shown the way forward: its now up to political leaders, and those who influence them – as so many of you do who are present here today - to deliver.